The Appalachian State Mountaineers and North Texas Mean Green are set to kick off bowl season Monday afternoon in the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl. It will be the sixth consecutive bowl game for Appalachian State, which is 5-0 in these appearances over that span. First-year head coach Shawn Clark led Appalachian State to an 8-3 record this season, with last week's 34-26 victory over Georgia Southern pushing the team to 6-2 in Sun Belt play. However, one of those blemishes — a 34-23 loss to Coastal Carolina — occurred on the teal turf of Brooks Stadium, site of the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
North Texas enters 4-5 overall and 3-4 in Conference USA play following a 45-43 victory over UTEP last Friday. Head coach Seth Littrell has now led the Mean Green to four bowl games in his five seasons. He is 1-3 in bowls with a 52-13 loss to Utah State in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl the most recent.
Myrtle Beach Bowl: Appalachian State vs. North Texas
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Brooks Stadium (Conway, S.C.)
Spread: Appalachian State -21
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Zac Thomas has thrown for 6,865 yards and 58 touchdowns in his career while making 37 starts to date. Thomas could deem himself ready to take a shot at the NFL, but like every college football player this season, may opt to return for an extra year of eligibility. This season, Thomas has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,075 yards and 19 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and has added 277 rushing yards and two scores. He now has more than 1,200 career rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns to his credit.
Top receiver Thomas Hennigan also is a potential future pro. Hennigan leads the team with 45 receptions for 571 yards, and if he can hold off fellow senior Malik Williams (41 rec., 536 yds.), would be the leading receiver for the Mountaineers in back-to-back seasons. Both Hennigan and Williams have caught three touchdown passes, one fewer than team leader Christian Wells, who ranks third on the team with 220 receiving yards on 14 receptions. Speedster Jalen Virgil has 210 yards and three scores among his 20 catches, and tight end Henry Pearson has contributed 13 receptions for 133 yards and two scores.
Appalachian State ranked second in the Sun Belt and ninth nationally in rushing offense during the regular season, averaging 243.55 yards per game. Credit the Mountaineers' offensive line for paving running lanes for a rotating group of running backs. Senior Marcus Williams Jr. and junior Daetrich Harrington were expected to be the lead backs for the Mountaineers this season, but both have missed multiple games with injuries and are unlikely to play in the bowl. Camerun Peoples has emerged to lead the team with 807 yards and is tied with Harrington (595 rushing yards) for the team lead with seven touchdowns. Freshman Nate Noel has stepped up in recent weeks and provides a big-play burst (6.13 yards per carry). Only Williams (6.48 ypc) was more explosive in the regular season. Overall, Appalachian State is 19th in FBS in yards per carry a 5.29.
When North Texas Has the Ball
Quarterback has been a position in flux for North Texas with both Jason Bean and Austin Aune making starts and often sharing snaps. Bean has completed 53.2 percent of his passes for 880 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions, while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt across seven games. He is a dynamic runner, adding 336 rushing yards and five touchdowns while picking up an electric 7.81 yards per attempt. Aune has completed 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions, and 8.9 yards per attempt. He has scored twice among his 27 carries, which have gained 29 yards. Bean has started five games in a row but attempted just one pass against UTEP before he gave way to Aune, who finished 19-for-29 passing with 302 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. The uncertainty surrounding this position will carry into the bowl game for the Mean Green. Aune won't play on Monday afternoon, which means Bean should get the majority of the snaps under center.
Receiver Jaelon Darden is a major reason both quarterbacks have succeeded in 2020 but he won't be an option against Appalachian State after announcing his intentions a week ago to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. The nation's leader in touchdown catches (19), Darden leads Conference USA and ranks among the top five nationally with 74 receptions and 1,190 yards. He caught eight passes for 173 yards and four touchdowns in the win over UTEP, cementing his status as the school's all-time leader in all three categories.
Darden's departure makes Deonte Simpson (25 rec., 517 yds., 4 TDs) the team's top receiver entering the bowl game. Austin Ogunmakin (16, 218), Greg White (8, 169, TD) and Roderic Burns (7, 116) could also get more looks, but talented playmakers Jason Pirtle and Jyaire Shorter — who combined for 14 touchdowns in 2019 — may not. Pirtle (12, 108, TD) hurt his shoulder early Dec. 3 against Louisiana Tech, and Shorter (4, 97) has been out since Oct. 3 due to a foot injury.
North Texas has a solid running back trio of DeAndre Torrey, Oscar Adaway III and Tre Siggers to help pick up the slack. Torrey leads the team in attempts (113), rushing yards (656), and touchdowns (6), but did most of his damage midseason, including back-to-back 100-yard performances against Middle Tennessee and Rice. Adaway missed three games but has surpassed the century mark three times in six appearances, and he ranks second on the team with 475 yards and leads the trio with 6.51 yards per attempt, but only has two touchdowns — both coming in the season opener against FCS opponent Houston Baptist. Siggers has scored just once on the ground and ranks third on the team with 338 rushing yards across seven games, but he led the way with 94 yards against UTEP.
We don't yet have all the matchups set for bowl season, much less point spreads set by oddsmakers for each game, but it's unlikely we'll see a bigger favorite than Appalachian State in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. The Mountaineers were ranked in the AP Top 25 earlier this year, sit at No. 11 on the FBS leaderboard in total defense (313.5 ypg), and feature one of the most experienced and successful quarterbacks in the country. Meanwhile, North Texas enters with a losing record, without its potential All-American wide receiver, a defense that has allowed 41.3 points and 509.4 yards per game this season (which rank No. 123 and No. 125 nationally, respectively), and with questions as to which quarterback offers the Mean Green its best chance to win.
We often expect the unexpected in bowl games, and since it's 2020, we're likely in for a wild few weeks. Still, it seems unwise to believe that North Texas will pull off what would likely be the biggest upset of the postseason.