The Sun Belt's East is one of the deepest divisions in college football for the 2022 season, and considering the consistent success at Appalachian State, it's hard to pick against coach Shawn Clark's team this fall. Quarterback Chase Brice returns as one of the Sun Belt's top quarterbacks to team with a deep backfield and standout offensive line. The Mountaineers have some turnover on a defense that limited teams to 22.1 points a game last fall but should still rank among the best in the conference.
Previewing Appalachian State's Offense for 2022
The Mountaineers are primed for another potent scoring season with seven starters returning on offense. Quarterback Chase Brice proved a far better thrower during his first season at Appalachian State than he was during his failed season at Duke in 2020. The one-time backup to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson completed 62.1 percent of his passes, firing 27 touchdowns against 11 interceptions with the Mountaineers last season.
Of course, he threw to three senior receivers in 2021, and all three are gone. Brice does have a returning starter at tight end in Henry Pearson.
App State will have a powerful rushing attack at its disposal with a pair of veteran running backs in Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples. Essentially co-starters a year ago, they combined to rush for 2,052 yards and 18 touchdowns. Four starters are back along the offensive line as well, setting the Mountaineers up for success via both the pass and the run.
The offense might be asked to win some shootouts this season, and App State has the weapons for the task.
Previewing Appalachian State's Defense for 2022
The Mountaineers must replace three of their top six tacklers. Among the six returning starters are senior linebackers Trey Cobb (75 tackles) and Nick Hampton. Third on the team with 69 tackles last season, Hampton looks like a sure bet to increase that total.
Cornerback Steven Jones Jr. is sticking around for his super senior year. He intercepted five passes last season, returning three for touchdowns.
Nose tackle Jordon Earle, a senior, anchors the middle of the defensive line. App State will give senior Hansky Paillant significant snaps at defensive end after he played in 26 games as a reserve over the last two seasons. The Mountaineers will also need production from sophomore defensive end Deshawn McKnight.
The Mountaineers will have a pair of new starting safeties after Kaiden Smith and Ryan Huff departed after the '21 season.
Related: Sun Belt 2022 All-Conference Team
Previewing Appalachian State's Specialists for 2022
Chandler Staton's five-season run as App State's placekicker is finally done, leaving sophomore Michael Hughes in line to handle the duties. Staton's holder the last three seasons, super senior Clayton Howell, will handle the punting duties, just as he did in 2018 when he was a freshman All-American after averaging 43.6 yards per attempt.
The Mountaineers have plenty of talent and experience on offense to make their usual challenge for the Sun Belt championship. While the defense has more question marks, App State has enough former reserves with experience who should be ready to handle expanded roles as new starters.
App State jumps into the season with two big games, as North Carolina comes to Boone before the Mountaineers play at Texas A&M. The Mountaineers' annual Sun Belt grudge match with Coastal Carolina is on the road this season on Nov. 3. Another season in the Top 25 could be in the offing for one of the Group of Five's most consistent programs.
National Ranking: 48
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