The state of North Carolina is home to some great college rivalries, with Duke-UNC the most recognized of the bunch. But in the shadows of the Tar Heel State lays the seeds of what could be another fun rivalry brewing between Group of 5 programs. Appalachian State and Charlotte are set to renew their budding rivalry with a season opener in Week 2. The Mountaineers look to once again to push for a shot at an elusive New Year's Six Bowl invite, while Charlotte is more focused on taking their next steps as a program.
These two turned in a wild game last year, a 56-41 Appalachian State victory, that flew under the radar for many. Could we see fireworks between the 49ers and Mountaineers once again?
Charlotte at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -17
When Charlotte Has the Ball
Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds had a big game last year against the Mountaineers, so Appalachian State knows first-hand just how dangerous he can be. Reynolds passed for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the 56-41 shootout. He also has the ability to keep plays alive with his feet, so finding a way to contain Reynolds will be a priority for the Mountaineer defense.
Reynolds' top target will be Victor Tucker, a Biletnikoff Award watch list player who is moving his way up the record books for the still-young football program. Despite the massive offensive production against Appalachian State last season, Charlotte's results were a bit of an anomaly for the Mountaineers. Appalachian State led the Sun Belt in total defense by allowing 336.1 yards per game.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
Appalachian State has reason to feel comfortable with their quarterback too. Zac Thomas isn't one to put up gaudy numbers (182 passing yards and three touchdowns against Charlotte last season, completing 14-of-20 pass attempts), but it is his consistency and ability to make the plays needed to keep plays alive where he thrives. He is especially accurate and careful inside the red zone, where he completed 77.8 percent of his passes last season with 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Thomas will be without one of his top targets, as wide receiver Corey Sutton opted out. Sutton, who was coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2019 campaign, was one of the top returning wideouts in the Sun Belt before opting out.
Appalachian State should be able to win the line of scrimmage with a senior-led line. While the line provides protection for Thomas, it will also allow the Appalachian State running game to figure out who will be the emerging leader on the ground as the search for a replacement to Darrynton Evans continues into the season between Marcus Williams Jr., Daetrick Harrington, and Cam Peoples. Peoples is the one to keep a close eye on.
If Week 1 was any indication, we could be in store for a bit of a messy game as the offseason practice schedule leading up to the start of the season was anything but ordinary. Appalachian State was forced to shut down practices in recent weeks, which could make for a slightly disjointed effort for the Mountaineers. But if nothing else, Appalachian State has been a bit of a model of consistency on the football field the past few seasons. Even with a coaching change, the structure is still in place, and Zac Thomas is not easily knocked off his game. We could get another high-scoring tilt-a-whirl matchup between these two programs, but Appalachian State will manage to weather the storm and get out of this one with a win.