By David Coulson
BOONE, N.C. — For over a month, the Appalachian State football team had known it would be playing in a bowl game in December. Finally on Sunday, the Mountaineers found out the destination — Montgomery, Alabama and the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
The only difference is that ASU will draw a different opponent — the University of Toledo from the Mid-American Conference for the Dec. 17 game that will be played at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and televised by ESPN to a national television audience.
As a popular television series of the 1960s used to proclaim, same Bat time, same Bat station.
With potential landing spots ranging from New Orleans, to Mobile, Alabama, to Orlando, Florida, Appalachian’s 2016 season will end at the same place as its 2015 finale. The Mountaineers can only hope for the same type of result like last year’s 31-29 final-second victory over Ohio University.
I’m excited we’re going bowling again,” said App State coach Scott Satterfield, just a few minutes after receiving the news on Sunday afternoon. “We had a great experience last year, going to our first bowl game. The city was great to us.”
Winning a Sun Belt Conference co-championship and surviving the toughest schedule in school history to finish 9-3 had many ASU fans hoping for a new bowl experience, with New Orleans and Orlando among the preferred locations. But other factors played into the final placement of the Sun Belt’s five bowl-eligible teams.
And after the R+T Carriers New Orleans Bowl chose Louisiana-Lafayette to face Southern Mississippi and the Dollar General Bowl picked Troy to meet Ohio U. in Mobile, the promoters of the Camellia Bowl were more than happy to extend a bid to the Mountaineers, whose fans turned the Montgomery streets black and gold during last season’s bowl trip.
The Sun Belt was also awarded with three other bowl placements.
Idaho will face Colorado State in the Famous Potato Bowl on Boise State’s iconic blue turf at Albertsons Stadium and co-champion Arkansas State will meet Central Florida in the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando and South Alabama will play Air Force in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson.
“It’s an interesting process,” said ASU athlete director Doug Gillen, noting that matches, potential ticket sales and television ratings all play into the selection process. “We continue to be an appealing team. Bowls like to have (conference) champions.”
Last year’s Camellia Bowl drew 21,395 fans to the historic, 25,000-seat Cramton Bowl — a majority of them Mountaineer supporters — and the ESPN TV broadcast pulled in 1.9 million viewers.
Gillen said he doesn’t expect there to be a drop-off in Appalachian ticket sales with a return to Montgomery and he added that his school will “draw better in Montgomery than we might have in New Orleans. If you look at our history, Chattanooga (for the FCS national title game) three years in a row, some of the folks I talked to, it was more people every year.”
Satterfield knows Toledo well. He left his alma mater, Appalachian, to become the co-offensive coordinator for the Rockets during the 2009 season and became fast friends with then-assistant and current Toledo head coach Jason Candle before Satterfield moved on to Florida International for two years.
Satterfield returned to App State in 2012 as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach to Jerry Moore and took over the Mountaineer program for the 2013 season as ASU was transitioning to FBS.
Toledo had a 6-1 start and finished 9-3 overall, while placing second to undefeated Western Michigan in the MAC’s West Division.
“Toledo is a blue-collar program like we have at App,” Satterfield said. “I’ve been gone (from Toledo) enough years now that they have a whole new team.”
The Rockets feature a high-powered offense (fourth nationally with an average of 529.8 yards per game), led by junior quarterback Logan Woodside. Woodside has thrown a school-record 43 touchdown passes with just nine interceptions and ranks fourth in passing yards and second in passing efficiency in FBS.
His most dangerous target is 6-foot-5, 270-pound tight end Michael Roberts, who has 15 TD catches.
“I think they’re probably, offensively, a little bit like Troy,” Satterfield said by way of comparison. “They’re a tempo offense. They like to throw the football, but they can run as well.”
Defensively, Satterfield admitted the Rockets are not as strong, though they have a reputation for bringing plenty of pressure and forcing turnovers.
Appalachian will take a rested team into its bowl game.
“We were the only Sun Belt team to be off the last week (of the regular season),” Satterfield explained. “We’re in better shape now than we were last year (for the Camellia Bowl).”