For the second consecutive season, No. 21 Appalachian State (12-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) managed to defeat Louisiana (10-3, 7-1 Sun Belt) in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. And now, after holding on for a 45-38 victory on Saturday, the Mountaineers have a chance to sit back, watch the rest of the Group of Five race cross the finish line and wait to see if the College Football Playoff selection committee will reward them with a trip to the Cotton Bowl.
Appalachian State cruised its way to a big halftime lead on Louisiana (35-17) and then the offense lost some of its explosiveness in the second half. A handful of punts and a lost fumble by Zac Thomas allowed Louisiana to continue to hang around. The Appalachian State defense was the only way the Mountaineers reached the end zone after halftime with Josh Thomas returning a picked off Levi Lewis pass 15 yards for a score in the third quarter. But the damage in the first half was enough to help get the job done on this day even as Louisiana put together a strong second-half effort to pull within one score.
Lewis did his part to keep Louisiana in the game with 354 passing yards and four touchdowns. Appalachian State also gave up over 500 yards of offense to the Ragin’ Cajuns, with 31 first downs given up. It wasn’t quite the performance that solidified any last-second case for the selection committee to consider Appalachian State for the Cotton Bowl, but none of that ultimately takes away from the latest achievement in the school’s history since moving up from the FCS to FBS.
Appalachian State has now won 12 games for the first time since moving up to the FBS, and they will now have a chance to win their fifth consecutive bowl game (which would be a clean 5-0 all-time). the program, in its first year under Eli Drinkwitz after Scott Satterfield left for Louisville, is now 44-12 since the start of the 2015 season, its second at the FBS level and as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
A Cotton Bowl invite will likely not be in the cards for Appalachian State, although having a pair of victories over power conference competition (South Carolina of the SEC and UNC of the ACC) and just one loss and a double-digit victory in the conference championship game is nothing to quickly dismiss. But given the most recent College Football Playoff selection committee rankings, Appalachian State jumping ahead of the AAC champion (Memphis or Cincinnati) and potentially Boise State (if Boise State wins the Mountain West Conference) are not exactly odds that give Appalachian State too much of a chance to play in the biggest bowl game in program history.
A spot in the New Orleans Bowl is probably the most likely destination now for Appalachian State, although the New Orleans Bowl would not mind getting to host Louisiana if Appalachian State can get another bowl matchup that will make for an attractive TV matchup with another power conference opponent.