No team from the Sun Belt Conference has ever appeared in one of the New Years Six bowl games since the implementation of the BCS, but No. 25 Appalachian State (9-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) will remain in the running to bring that drought to an end this season. The Mountaineers roared back to turn a 21-7 deficit in the first quarter to rout Georgia State (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt) Saturday night in Atlanta, 56-27. The win moves Appalachian State one big step closer to playing in the second annual Sun Belt Conference championship game at the end of the season.
Appalachian State took over the game in the second quarter with a 21-0 advantage on the scoreboard, turning a 21-14 game in favor of Georgia State into a 35-21 halftime lead. The Mountaineers weren’t up 56-21 before the Panthers managed to score again in the fourth quarter. Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas may not have had the best start to the game but ended his night with 256 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground (along with 52 rushing yards). Both Thomas and Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, but that was the only mistake that hurt Thomas all night. Ellington tossed a second interception in the game as the Panthers could not manage to carry the momentum of their fast start past the first quarter.
App State receiver Corey Xavier-Sutton led all players with eight catches for 173 yards and three of the touchdown passes thrown by Thomas. Appalachian State had 553 yards of offense in the win, with 280 on the ground and 273 in the passing game.
Only conference champions from the Group of Five are eligible for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup. If Appalachian State ends the season with the Sun Belt title and just one loss, they would likely be a strong candidate even if they need a little help from the other conferences, namely the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference. Appalachian State can punch their ticket to the Sun Belt Conference championship game next week at home with a win against Texas State or a Georgia Southern loss. A tie between the two programs would send Georgia Southern to the conference championship game due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Georgia Southern defeated Appalachian State 24-21 a few weeks ago.
We’ll find out on Tuesday night where Appalachian State ranks in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings compared to other Group of 5 contenders Cincinnati (beat USF with a last-second field goal), Memphis and Boise State. The highest-ranked Group of Five champion will be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game.
Georgia State will look to rebound next week at home against South Alabama (1-9, 0-6 Sun Belt).