By Jesse Wood
Dec. 10, 2014. Over the course of the next few weeks as dozens of the best teams in the college football play in bowl games, the Appalachian State players will be watching from home.
But that isn’t their fault. In a season that started out dismally, the Mountaineers recovered from a 1-5 start and finished the season with six consecutive wins, including two against Sun Belt Conference powers Arkansas State and University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
A final overall record of 7-5 (6-2 Sun Belt) was good enough for third place in the conference and a bowl bid. But because this is the last year of the transition period from FCS to FBS, the Mountaineers weren’t eligible to play in a postseason bowl game.
After the Mountaineers’ victory in the final game against Idaho at the end of November, head coach Scott Satterfield had nothing but praise for his group.
“First of all, I am just really proud of our team. I am really proud of the way that they finished this season,” Satterfield said. “They really came on strong there at the end of the year. The way we played today wasn’t really pretty at times, especially early on, but nothing fazes this team. They keep battling, and keep moving forward.”
Before the season began and even before former Athletic Director Charlie Cobb announced that the Mountaineers were moving from the FCS into the FBS, their were doubters and haters, people who thought that the Mountaineers were making the wrong decision and instead of competing for national championships in the FCS, the football team would be scraping the barrel in the FBS.
ASU broadcaster David Jackson certainly heard the chatter and said it was no different from what was spoken in the early ‘70s when App State moved into Division 1.
“Sure and I think that’s only natural until you prove you can survive at that level,” Jackson said. “It’s only natural for a certain group of people to fear change.”
Jackson said that going into the first year in the Sun Belt Conference, a 6-6 record was realistic and would be a fantastic start in its inaugural year in the FBS. But a 7-5 record, Jackson said practically deserved a parade.
Even Satterfield alluded to as much after the season came to an end.
“If I were asked if I would take 7-5 at the beginning of the year, I would have said certainly. That would have been a great season for us,” Satterfield said. “At times we have played as good as any team that has ever played here, especially the last couple weeks. This team exemplifies what this program is about, good things happen when you keep fighting. They will be remembered by how they finished.”
Both the team and individuals came away with accolades this season. Appalachian State finished as the third-best scoring offense and the best total defense from among the 11 teams in the Sun Belt. It was also second in rushing defense and rushing offense.
The Mountaineers earned six Sun Belt “Player of the Week” awards throughout the season, and 11 Mountaineers earned All-Sun Belt recognition, including offensive lineman Kendall Lamm and defensive back Doug Middleton earning All-Sun Belt First Team honors.
QB Taylor Lamb was named Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year. Lamb started the season as the backup but ended up playing in every game. As the season came to an end, he set team freshman records for passing yards (2,381) and touchdown passes (17).
Lamb finished the regular season sixth in the conference in total offense (2,864 and 238.7 ypg) and passing yardage (2,381 yards and 198.4 ypg). During the six-game winning streak, Lamb posted 1,394 yards of total offense and 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions.
Running back Marcus Cox ran for 1,450 yards, averaging a heady 5.5 yards per carry. Cox was named to All-Sun Belt Second-team offense.
When Georgia Southern, which finished undefeated in in-conference games, and App State applied for a waiver to be eligible to receive bowl bids, University of Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth told a local paper that he “knew” both teams would be successful before the season kicked off.
“[Georgia Southern is] a team that’s proved it on the field that they have an outstanding team. Not shocked here one bit whatsoever,” Hudspeth said. “I think I tried to tell everybody that this year, when everybody talked about Georgia Southern and App State coming into league – (the) team knows how to win. They’ve won there forever. As much tradition as anybody in college football, and I knew they’d be successful.
With teams still playing on the gridiron as the weather turns as the Kidd Brewer Stadium grandstands are empty, Jackson said he can’t wait for the next season to start and see how the Mountaineers come out swinging in year two.
While the team will lose seniors Lamm and the backbone of the defense Deuce Robinson, the Mountaineers return about 20 starters. They also had about 20 redshirt freshmen waiting in the wings this season. Jackson noted that the recruiting should be a little bit easier having competed so well. It’s nice to be able to tell recruits a bowl game is well within grasp.
Jackson said that he could feel the excitement of Appalachian football as the season wound down and expects the anticipation of season-ticket mailers and spring practice returning to how it used to be when the expectation level was high.
The expectation for next year is to be ranked one, two or three in the preseason, “right there with Georgia Southern and Arkansas State,” Jackson said.
And that’s how it used to be at Kidd Brewer Stadium.