App State is one of 27 teams that have made the transition from FCS/Division I-AA to FBS/Division I-A and one of only four to make a bowl appearance in its first season of full-fledged FBS/I-A eligibility. Others were Nevada (1992), Marshall (1997) and Georgia Sourthern (2015).
Appalachian State is attempting to become the first of that latter group to win its first bowl game. Even a loss, which would give the Mountaineers a 10-3 record, would leave App State in a tie for the best record in Sun Belt Conference history and would be the best record ever by a team in its
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(10-2, 7-1 SUN BELT)
>> App State is located in Boone, N.C., a highlands area in the northwest corner of the state, fairly near the borders with Tennessee and Virginia. The football program began its transition to FBS status in 2013 and averaged just over 23,000 per home game during the transition season of 2014.
>> The Mountaineers gained considerable national recognition on Sept. 1, 2007 when they upset the Michigan Wolverines, 34-32. Michigan was ranked No. 5 at the time and considered a favorite to win the Big Ten. The Mountaineers were a preseason favorite to win their third consecutive FCS National Championship.
>> Although this is their first FBS bowl, the Mountaineers played in 51 postseason games, posting a 28-23 record. They were 24-17 in 20 FCS appearances from 1986-2112 and won FCS titles from 2005-2007. Appalachian State, however, is attempting to break a three-game losing streak in bowl games. It’s last win was over Western Illinois in the second round of the 2010 FCS playoffs.
>> App State owns just two losses. One was to Arkansas State (40-27) on Nov. 5. The other was a 41-10 setback to then-No. 12 Clemson, which is now the top-ranked team heading into the FBS championship playoff.
>> The Mountaineers possess a relatively potent offense. The bottom line is scoring, and App State is 17th nationally with an average of 37.2 ppg.
>> The primary vehicle for offensive success has been the Mountaineers ground game. They are sixth among FBS teams in total offense (3,226 yards) and sixth in rushing average (268.8 ypg).
>> Although they rank 89th in passing (201.8 ypg) and 118th in attempts, the Mountaineers own 31 TDs against eight interceptions. That efficiency helped them to national passer rating of fifth among FBS teams.
>> Sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb has completed 157 of 257 attempts (61%) with 29 TDs and eight interceptions. He has also netted 32.1 ypg in rushes. Marcus Cox, a 5-10, 200-pound junior, leads the team in rushing (219 carries, 1,261 net yards, 114.6 ypg). Freshman Jalin Moore and sophomore Terrence Upshaw have combined to average another 96.3 ypg.
>> Simms McElfresh (5-10, 200, Sr.) leads the team in receptions (33 for 424 yards, 38.5 ypg) and TDs (6). Barrett Burns also has six TDs, but on just 12 catches. Malachi Jones and Shaedon Meandors have combined for 44 receptions (872 yards).
>> Senior placekicker Zach Matics has converted 13 of 14 field goals and all 57 PAT boots. He converted two FBs from 51 yards and another from 50 during the season. His one miss was from 52 yards. His 76 kickoffs included 39 touchbacks.
>> Senior linebackers Eric Boggs and John Law led the team in tackles. Boggs registered 95 stops, including 6.5 tfl and 3.0 sacks. Law owns 72 tackles, 9.5 tfl and 4.0 sacks.
>> Ronald Blair, a 6-4, 270-pound defensive end, has 18.0 tfl and 7.5 scks among his 67 tackles. Nose tackles Tyson Fernandez (6-2, 320, Jr) is a force in the middle. Meanwhile, sophomore cornerback Latrell Gibbs leads the team with six interceptions.
>> Appalachian State ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense (18.3 ppg) and is 12th in total defense (318.0 ypg). It is 28th against the run (133.58 ypg) and tied for 17th in defending the pass (184.4 ypg).
>> Appalachian State has just two previous meetings with current members of the MAC. Both were losses to Ball State in the early ‘70s.
(8-4, 5-3 MID-AMERICAN)
>> Despite being bowl eligible at 6-6, Ohio missed going to a bowl last year after five straight post-season appearances. The Bobcats have been bowl eligible in nine of 11 years under head coach Frank Solich and are making their seventh bowl trip during his tenure.
>> Ohio started the season with three wins and closed the season with three straight victories, including a 26-21 victory over MAC West champ Northern Illinois in DeKalb. The only loss to a MAC East opponent was a 41-17 setback at Buffalo Oct. 24.
>> “The way we finished the year, I think, is encouraging for all of us. The momentum is there, which is always huge as the end of the season when you’re preparing for a bowl game.” – Solich
>> Ohio ranked 75th among FBS teams in scoring offense, averaging 27.4 ppg. That was fifth best among MAC teams. The Bobcats were 47th in total offense (FBS) with an average of 424/8 ypg.
>> The ‘Cats rushed for 187 ypg (45th FBS) and threw for 237.8 ypg. (50th FBS). That put them fourth and seventh, respectively, among MAC teams.
>> Sophomore A.J. Ouellette led the rushing corps with 642 yards on the season. He picked up 140 or those yards in the way over Ohio as he was the only back to carry the load in that contest. Ouellette’s total was nearly twice the total rushing yardage of NIU (73 yards), which finished the season as the MAC’s second-best running team (205.1 ypg). Dazmond Patterson, a 5-7, 177-pound senior, was second among Bobcat rushers. He had 497 yards on with a team-high nine TDs on 102 carries.
>> Quarterback Derrius Vick saw action in 10 games, completing 64 percent of his passes (158 of 247) for 1,809 yards with 10 touchdowns and six picks.
>> Top Ohio receivers were junior Sebastian Smith (61 catches, 747 yards, 7 TDs) and Jordan Reid (45 catches, 616 yards, 5 TDs.
>> Placekicker Josiah Yazdani converted all 41 PATs and 14 of 20 field goals with a long of 50.
>> Ohio was fourth among MAC teams in total defense (373.6 ypg) and also scoring defense (24.8 ppg).
>> Despite playing in just 10 games, linebacker Quentin Poling topped Ohio in tfl (8.5). He also registered 4.0 sacks among 58 hits. Tarall Basham also a defensive force with tfl (8.0) and sacks (5.0). Kurt Laseak led the Bobcats with 62 tackles (6.5 tfl, 3.0 sacks), while Blair Brown owned 61 stops (4.5 tfl).
>> The Bobcats finished at plus-five in turnover margin, good for fourth among MAC teams.