One season after going 9-3 and claiming a share of the Sun Belt championship, Appalachian State finds itself in familiar territory entering Saturday's regular-season finale against Louisiana.
While the overall record (7-4) may not be as impressive as last year, the Mountaineers are still playing for a share of the conference crown thanks to their 6-1 record against Sun Belt foes. Arkansas State and Troy also are tied for first place and playing each other on Saturday, so a win by Appalachian State would make it a shared title, and make the Mountaineers back-to-back champions in the process.
Louisiana also is playing for something on Saturday — bowl eligibility. The Ragin' Cajuns (5-6, 4-3 Sun Belt) need one more win to qualify for the postseason after coming up short last week at home against Georgia Southern (34-24). For Louisiana to have any hopes of going to a bowl game, the Ragin' Cajuns must dash the Mountaineers' title hopes.
History suggests an Appalachian State win, as the Mountaineers are 3-0 against Louisiana, including last year's 24-0 victory.
Louisiana at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Appalachian State -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Louisiana's stellar wide receiving corps
The Ragin' Cajuns trio of Jarrod Jackson, Keenan Barnes and Rhyeem Malone lay claim to each having tallied 100-yard receiving games in 2017. Malone collected 100-yard games against Tulsa (119), New Mexico State (113) and Georgia Southern (106); Barnes posted back-to-back 100-yard games with 102 vs. the Golden Hurricane and 118 on the road against Texas A&M, while Jackson shredded ULM for 113 yards.
Jackson, Barnes and Malone have combined for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns this year, and they'll go up against an Appalachian State defense that currently ranks second in the Sun Belt and No. 50 in the FBS in passing yards allowed at 212 per game.
2. Appalachian State's senior leaders
Quarterback Taylor Lamb, offensive lineman Colby Gossett and linebackers Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer carry more than 40 starts into senior day at Kidd Brewer Stadium, where they'll look to cap their home careers with a win.
Lamb will go down as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in school history, as he's gone 34-13 as a starter. His 86 touchdown passes are a school and Sun Belt record. Boggs leaves behind a legacy as he is just one of three current FBS players to boast 300 career tackles, 10 sacks and seven interceptions. Stringer has tallied a career 206 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and six pass deflections.
Appalachian State's senior class has gone 35-14 overall and a sparkling 26-5 in Sun Belt games to go along with two bowl victories.
3. Ragin' Cajuns running back Trey Ragas
A freshman, Ragas' play this year has given Louisiana fans reason to be excited about the future of the program. Georgia Southern held the talented youngster to just 41 yards last week, but he enters this game third in the Sun Belt with 799 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Ragas is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and he's posted 100-yard rushing games against Tulsa (130) and New Mexico State (132). Appalachian State's rushing defense is among the best in the Sun Belt and the nation for that matter, ranking third and No. 39, respectively, at 145.7 yards per game allowed.
Appalachian State's senior class boast a 26-5 Sun Belt record, proving conference losses by the group are an outlier and not the norm. Throw in a chance for another Sun Belt title, and the momentum of playing at home on senior day, and Louisiana will have its hands full as it tries to clinch bowl eligibility.
The Mountaineers' 7-4 record this year is a bit of a disappointment, but a win against the Ragin' Cajuns followed by a bowl appearance will give the Appalachian State faithful plenty to brag about with the possibility of another nine-win season still in play.
The Mountaineers' talented senior class adds one more accomplishment to their resume by claiming a share of the Sun Belt title with one more win at home.
Prediction: Appalachian State 35, Louisiana 20
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Top photo courtesy of www.ragincajuns.com)