By David Coulson
Appalachian State will be celebrating two significant commemorations this year of the accomplishments of its football program — the 20th anniversary of its undefeated and untied regular season squad of 1995 and the 10th anniversary its first national championship team in 2005.
And as coach Scott Satterfield looks forward to those celebrations, he is hoping that the 2015 Mountaineer football team will add to that rich legacy.
“I’m liking the fives,” said Satterfield, as the Mountaineers opened practice this week for the new season and kicked off things with a media day event on Thursday. “Maybe we can win our first Sun Belt championship and go to our first bowl game in 2015.”
Satterfield was an All-Southern Conference quarterback and a captain of that 1995 unit that won 12 consecutive games before being upset in the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs.
And he was the quarterbacks coach and defacto offensive coordinator — calling most of the offensive plays from the Kidd Brewer Stadium press box — of the Mountaineer teams that won three consecutive national championships, beginning in 2005.
Satterfield and his team have reason for high expectations this season. The team overcame a 1-5 start last year to win their final six games en route to finishing third in its first season in the Sun Belt.
With 44 lettermen and 22 starters returning from 2014, a full complement of 85 scholarships for the first time and significant newcomers adding depth to their lineup, Satterfield and the Mountaineers have the elements in place to reach those lofty goals.
Two elements were crucial in App State’s second-half run in 2014, returning to the foundations of the team’s running game and finding a way to increase pressure on defense.
“When we run the football well, we are hard to beat,” said Satterfield. “We are going to stick to that formula.”
With a veteran offensive line in from of running backs Marcus Cox (1,415 yards, 19 touchdowns rushing) and Terrence Upshaw (573 yards, four TDs) and fortified by additional talent in the backfield, that plan should function smoothly.
“Our running back position is the deepest position on our football team,” Satterfield said.
Backing up Cox and Upshaw are two promising freshmen, Jalin Moore from Crest High in Shelby and Josh Boyd out of Norcross, Georgia.
“Marcus is going to get pushed,” said Satterfield. “It’s going to make all of them better because of the competition. Whoever practices the best is going to play.”
It also helps that Appalachian is solid at starting quarterback with Taylor Lamb — the 2014 Sun Belt freshman of the year — back for his sophomore year. Lamb threw for 2,381 yards and 17 touchdowns (breaking a pair of school freshman records set by Armanti Edwards in 2006), while rushing for 483 yards.
Lamb can throw to a veteran group of receivers, including Malachi Jones, Bobo Beathard and tight end Barrett Burns.
The defense started slow, but improved as Appalachian returned to a more high-pressure style.
“I think we came a long way from the first of the season to the end,” defensive coordinator Nate Woody said. “We wanted to get better fundamentally before we got into more blitzing. We got better at executing.”
Among the standouts returning on defense are inside linebacker John Law, safety Doug Middleton and defensive end Ronald Blair.
After completing a two-year transition NCAA-mandated transition period from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), App State has been picked by most national football observers to challenge for the Sun Belt Conference championship and is eligible for the first time to compete for a berth in a Division I postseason bowl game.
With the Sun Belt securing bowl tie-ins with four postseason games, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the GoDaddy Bowl (Mobile, Alabama), the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Montgomery, Alabama) and the new Cure Bowl (Orlando, Florida), the Mountaineers have an excellent shot of being among the 84 FBS schools invited to one of the 42 bowl games (the College Football Playoff series will culminate with one more game to crown a national champion in Glendale, Arizona).
While winning the Sun Belt title would secure an automatic bowl bid, the Mountaineers will need to win at least six games in the regular season and continue to show strong home and road attendance figures to maximize their hopes of earning one of those other bowl slots.
App State opens the season at home against FCS opponent Howard on Sept. 5 and has additional home games against Wyoming (Oct. 3), longtime rival Georgia Southern (Oct. 22), Troy (Oct. 31), Arkansas State (Nov. 5) and Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 28).
The Mountaineers will be on the road at Clemson (Sept. 12), Old Dominion (Sept. 26), Georgia State (Oct. 10), Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 17), Idaho (Nov. 14) and South Alabama (Dec. 5).
“I’m excited about this team,” said Satterfield. “I’m excited to see how they are going to work and compete.”