They may be the fourth team in the running (or third after today’s results), but No. 25 Appalachian State (11-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) did what it needed to make sure they remain in the conversation for a spot in the Cotton Bowl. The top team in the Sun Belt took care of business in their regular-season finale with a 48-13 victory at Troy (5-7, 3-5 Sun Belt). the loss by Troy eliminates the Trojans from bowl eligibility this season, while Appalachian State will play for a conference title next week with hopes of potentially wiggling into the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion.
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas had a five-touchdown day with four touchdown passes (to go with 326 yards on 28-of-34 passing) and one more on the ground in the blowout road victory. Thomas Hennigan was the go-to receiver with 11 receptions for 140 yards, while Malik Williams hauled in two of the touchdown passes. Appalachian State’s defense gave up some yards and plays to Troy, but the Trojans managed just five third-down conversions in 15 attempts, and Appalachian State out-gained Troy 522-339 (Appalachian State was an efficient 10-of-13 on third down). Troy picked up just 35 rushing yards in the game on 21 attempts.
Appalachian State will now begin preparing for the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game next week against Louisiana. A win will be necessary to keep any hopes of playing in the Cotton Bowl, but the Mountaineers will likely need a considerable amount of help as well. The Sun Belt Conference Championship Game will be played at 12 PM ET next Saturday, which means Appalachian State will do some scoreboard watching if they manage to top Louisiana next week.
The Sun Belt Conference has confirmed Appalachian State will host the game.
The Mountaineers will need Cincinnati to win at Memphis in next week’s American Athletic Conference championship game in the middle of the afternoon, but even then the fate may be left in the hands of the selection committee, and both AAC contenders may finish ahead of Appalachian State anyway. Appalachian State would also need some help from Hawaii, who will look to score a big upset at Boise State. The Broncos, like Memphis and Cincinnati, entered the week ranked ahead of Appalachian State and it’s still possible all three remain in front of the Mountaineers when the next College Football Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday night.
The bottom line for Appalachian State is just win next week and then let the rest of the pieces fall where they may. It may be a bit of a long shot, but the hopes and dreams will live on for one more week at the very least.