Appalachian State Mountaineers

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One Big House afternoon, App. State was 2016 Leicester City

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Bear with me on this, even as you may not follow the “other” football. Or give a spit about that futbol.

Leicester City is a soccer club in the English Premier League, the former an organization much more familiar with — and heretofore worried about — relegations than championships. In fact, headed into the 2016 season, Lester City was given 5,000-1 odds to win the EPL championship; those are the same odds the British books gave Kim Kardashian to be in the White House as President by 2020.

In 2015, they narrowly averted relegation.  And then The Perfect Storm of 2016 happened, with the Foxes needing to win just three of their remaining five matches to become EPL champions for the first time in the club’s not-so-storied 132-year history.  In fact, Leicester City would become the first EPL team ever to win a title the year after finishing outside the top four in England’s top league.

For all intents and purposes, it’s the ultimate Cinderella story in any sport ever — but, given the fact that the EPL airs on the NBC Sports Network, it got us thinking about underdogs in our own beloved sport, college football.  Normally, the sport CFT focuses on doesn’t lend itself to season-long Cinderella stories, although you could make an argument for the likes of the 1984 BYU Cougars (national champions from a non-Power Five conference) or the 2006 Boise State Broncos (stunning blue-blood Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl).

Still, the Cougars were on or around the national stage in the seventies and on into the eighties.  The Broncos, meanwhile, have been the Little Football Program That Could for most of the 21st century, so the undefeated run capped off by knocking down the Sooners was hardly a fairy tale, let alone the likes of what’s currently going on in the EPL.  For one game in 2007, though, Appalachian State was 2016 Leicester City.

Yes, App. State was in the midst of a three-year run as FCS champions.  That didn’t stop the oddsmakers from making ASU 33(ish)-point underdogs for their game against No. 5 Michigan in the Big House that September afternoon — especially as said oddsmakers were armed with the knowledge that no FCS had ever beaten an FBS team ranked in the Top 25.

Playing for 60 minutes and using less than 30 players — UM had 85 scholarship players at its disposal — playing in the Big House against both the iconic Maize & Blue and their 100,000-plus fans, the five-touchdown underdog from Boone, NC (pop. 17,000), did the seemingly impossible: they knocked off the winningest program in football history.  A field goal gave the Mountaineers, who held a two-touchdown lead in the first half, a 34-32 lead with under 30 seconds left; the block of the Wolverines’ game-winning field-goal attempt as time expired gave the FCS program the most stunning upset in the history of the sport.

It may not be Leicester City’s sustained, season-long excellence at the highest level of their respective sport, but, for three hours one Ann Arbor afternoon, Appalachian State was every bit the Cinderella their underdog cousins from across the pond have been this season.

(You can watch Leicester City’s improbable run to what would be an even more improbable championship continue this Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET as they take on West Ham United on NBC Sports Network.  You can also click HERE for NBCSports.com’s coverage of all things soccer.)

Idaho, NMSU out as Sun Belt members after 2017

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Apparently, Idaho’s sales pitch wasn’t as compelling as they’d like.

Two weeks ago, Idaho unveiled a 19-slide presentation aimed at continuing their football membership in the Sun Belt Conference, membership that was initially granted to both themselves and New Mexico State on four-year terms that are set to expire following the 2017 season.  Looking for an extension, both football programs will instead be looking for new homes in a couple of seasons.

What does the denial of extension do to the two football programs impacted by the decision? For the Vandals, it likely means dropping down to the FCS level and joining the Big Sky conference, where there other varsity sports are currently housed. For the Aggies, whose other sports play in the WAC, which doesn’t offer football, another go as an FBS independent will likely be in the offing.

With the impending departures of Idaho and New Mexico State after the 2017 season and the addition of Coastal Carolina for that season, the SBC will settle in with 10 members two years from now.  That 10-member lineup would feature teams from Texas (Texas State), Arkansas (Arkansas State), Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe), Alabama (South Alabama, Troy), Georgia (Georgia Southern, Georgia State), North Carolina (Appalachian State) and South Carolina (Coastal Carolina).

With the recent decision by the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games, the SBC will still be able to conduct such games with just 10 members instead of the previously-mandated 12.

UPDATED 2:51 p.m. ET: Idaho confirmed in a press release that the Sun Belt Conference has opted to go with a 10-team league following the 2017 season, putting them and New Mexico State on the outside of the conference looking in two seasons from now.  The release also stated that the university will now decide whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Sky of the FCS or compete as an independent at the FBS level.

Last-second FG turns Ohio into App. St.’s first FBS bowl victim

MONTGOMERY, AL - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Taylor Lamb #11 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during their game against the Ohio Bobcats at the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on December 19, 2015 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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The biggest — or at least most notable — win in Appalachian State history came at the expense of Michigan. While possibly not as historic, this latest victory will certainly register highly in the football program’s annals.

Seemingly left for dead through three quarters of play, ASU was able to right itself and roar back to claim a monumental come-from-behind, final-gun 31-29 win over Ohio in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl. The win was the first-ever in an FBS bowl for the Mountaineers, and came in their first-ever FBS postseason contest.

Entering the fourth quarter down 24-7, it appeared that first win might very well have to wait until next year at the earliest.

A lightning-quick 21-0 run in the first three minutes of the final stanza, however, pushed the Mountaineers out to their first lead since it was 7-3 late in the second quarter at 28-24.  Ohio, though, scored five points — safety with 6:06 left, 21-yard field goal with 1:47 remaining — to take a 29-28 lead.

That set the stage for some late-game heroics for App. St., with quarterback Taylor Lamb running for 32 yards to put the Mountaineers in field goal range with just under a minute remaining and Zach Matics, who missed his first two attempts in the game, hitting from 23 yards out as time expired to give ASU its historic win.

App. St. outgained Ohio 427-272, with running back Marcus Cox accounting for 162 yards of the Mountaineers’ 303 yards on the ground.

ASU finishes the 2015 season, its first as a full-fledged FBS member, at 11-2, with its two losses coming against top-ranked Clemson in Death Valley and 2015 Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State.  Ohio finished at 8-5, its best season since finishing the 2012 season at 9-4.

Late surge lifts Ohio to double-digit lead on App. St. in Camellia Bowl

MONTGOMERY, AL - DECEMBER 19: Wide receiver Malachi Jones #7 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers looks to maneuver by cornerback Ian Wells #41 of the Ohio Bobcats during the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on December 19, 2015 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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If you looked solely at the stat sheet through the first 28 minutes or so of the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, you would’ve sworn that Appalachian State had taken at least a two-touchdown lead on Ohio into the half.  What, though, was that famous Mark Twain quote regarding statistics?  And the one about it none being over until it’s over?

Despite what at one point was an overwhelming edge in nearly every first-half statistical category, the Sun Belt’s Mountaineers find themselves on the very wrong end of a 17-7 halftime score to the MAC’s Bobcats.  ASU is playing in an FBS bowl game for the first time, while Ohio is looking for its first bowl win since 2012.

The Mountaineers have an 186-111 edge in total offense, including 110-51 advantage on the ground.  The Bobcats have converted just one of their seven third-down attempts, and trailing in first downs 11-9.

However, ASU has missed a pair of field goal attempts (one from 42, the other from 39).  The real killers, though, were a pair of turnovers late.

With 1:23 left in the second quarter, and just eight seconds after Ohio got on the board for the first time with a field goal, Quentin Poling returned a Taylor Lamb pass 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Bobcats their first lead of the game at 10-7. Five plays later, a miscommunication between Lamb and his center resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the Bobcats; two plays after that, A.J. Ouellette put the ball in the end zone from seven yards out to account for the first-half score.

Add it all up, and it was a stunning 17-0 run in the final 1:31 of the half.  App. St., though, will get the chance to right things immediately as they will get the ball to start the second half.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 19 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 25: head coach Trent Miles of the Georgia State Panthers walks on the sideliens in the second half against the Georgia Southern Eagles at the Georgia Dome on October 25, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 19 bowl menu, which on “opening weekend” features five bowl games as the 2015 postseason officially kicks off.  Included in that quintet of contests is one bowl making its debut, another in just its second year as well as the holiest of Beehive State wars.

WHO: Arizona (6-6) vs. New Mexico (7-5)
WHAT: The 10th Gildan New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The uncertainty over the availability of Arizona starting quarterback Anu Solomon (concussion) has some sportsbooks, including the one we use for lines, Bovada.lv, taking the game off the board.  If Solomon is healthy, the Wildcats would likely be double-digit favorites; without him, one could make a very good case for the Lobos.  In fact, the Wildcats went 0-3 in games that Solomon either didn’t start or didn’t finish because of injury.  Even with Solomon on the field for most of the last five games, though, UA still lost four of those.  UNM, meanwhile, comes into its first bowl berth since 2007 on a high, finishing out the season with wins over bowl-bound Utah State (6-6), Boise State (8-4) and Mountain Division champion Air Force (8-5).  The combination of how both teams finished the season, the uncertainty over Solomon and ‘Zona likely feeling underwhelmed with its postseason lot has a very motivated Lobos squad primed for an upset.
THE LINE: Off the board
THE PREDICTION: New Mexico 33, Arizona 27

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WHO: BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
WHAT: The 24th Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE SKINNY: This promises to be one of the best “non-marquee” bowl games of the 2015-16 cycle because not only are both teams coming into it with nine wins but because of the whole “Holy War” aspect, and in Sin City no less.  The two football programs have been on a sabbatical the last two seasons in a rivalry that’s seen 89 previous matchups, but will resume in the regular season beginning next season and running through 2020.  The Utes have won four straight in the series and nine of the last 12 meetings dating back to 2002.  The Cougars’ situation is somewhat muddled as their long-time head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, has accepted the same job at Virginia but will coach his “former” team in the bowl game.  After beginning the season 6-0 and with playoff talk dancing in their heads, the Utes muddled through the remainder of the schedule at 3-3.  Here’s to guessing the Cougars, winners of seven of their last eight, add to their rival’s late-season misery and send their old coach with off with his first bowl win since 2012 — especially if words can be used as motivation.
THE LINE: BYU, +3
THE PREDICTION: BYU 27, Utah 23

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WHO: Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)
WHAT: The 2nd Raycom Media Camelia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There were 21 teams that won 10 or more games during the 2015 regular/championship season; I’d bet you could make some pretty decent coin regarding Appalachian State’s inclusion in that select group.  And ASU’s two losses this year came against top-ranked Clemson in Death Valley and 2015 Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State.  Ohio University, not to be confused with Brady Hoke‘s derisive “Ohio” directed at Ohio State, had a near-perfect start to the season at 5-1, with the only loss coming by three at Minnesota… before they lost three in a row (two by a combined 66 points)… before they regrouped to win their last three by a combined 49 points.  The Bobcats are looking for their first bowl win since 2012, while the Mountaineers are playing in their first bowl game as an FBS program.  ASU is a touchdown favorite… and even that might be a little on the short side.
THE LINE: Ohio, +7½
THE PREDICTION: Appalachian State 45, Ohio 24

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WHO: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)
WHAT: The 1st Cure Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: If you like underdog stories, tune into this one.  Georgia State went 3-29 from the beginning of the 2013 (first FBS season) through the eighth game of the 2015 season.  The Panthers then ripped off four straight wins — by double digits in each, no less — to close out the year and reach a level 6-6 to become bowl-eligible.  GSU’s Nick Arbuckle, one of the most prolific quarterbacks you’ve probably never heard of, is currently sixth in the country in passing yards with 4,160.  Its head coach, Trent Miles (pictured), will very likely be one of the hot names on the 2016 spinning of the coaching carousel.  As for San Jose State?  I have zero desire to discuss a sub-.500 team that doesn’t deserve a bowl bid.  And this isn’t to pick on the Spartans; rather, this will be a running theme throughout these types of posts when it comes to 5-7 teams getting an unwarranted and undeserved invitation to the postseason. [/steps off soapbox]
THE LINE: Georgia State, +3
THE PREDICTION: Georgia State 31, San Jose State 21

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WHO: Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
WHAT: The 15th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Arkansas State lost its first two games of the 2015 season (USC, Missouri) then won nine of its last 10 to become the first team in Sun Belt history to go unblemished in conference play.  Louisiana Tech features the potent one-two punch of former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (14th nationally in passing yards with 3,575, 26th in pass efficiency) and touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon (83 career scores, tied for second all-time among FBS players).  One thing to keep in mind if you’re the wagering type when it comes to Driskel’s success through the air this season: the Red Wolves are currently 95th nationally against the pass, giving up an average of 251.9 yards per game; Driskel was held under that number just twice in 2015.  ASU did intercept 26 passes this season (No. 1 in the country), and Driskel tossed three in a season-ending loss to Southern Miss, so there is that if you’re on the Red Wolves side.
THE LINE: Arkansas State, +2
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 48, Arkansas State 45