Appalachian State football is a consistent winner. Can it reclaim Sun Belt throne?

It’s a testament to the high standards at Appalachian State that you have to ask how the team feels after a 10-4 season.

Ten wins is an accomplishment for anybody. The Mountaineers won the Sun Belt East division again. They beat a ranked FBS team for the first time since the 2007 upset of Michigan. It was an improvement from the year before. That’s a mighty successful season. But they lost the Sun Belt championship game for the first time, and they lost a bowl game for the first time as an FBS team. Championships and bowl wins are the norm on the mountain.

“It was a very successful season that didn’t end the way we wanted, but we played for championships,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “Any time you win 10 games, you’re doing something good. Disappointing but not discouraged at the end.”

App State has been one of the most consistent FBS programs since moving up in 2014. The Mountaineers won at least a share of four consecutive Sun Belt titles from 2016 to 2019. They’ve won at least nine games for seven consecutive years. A new end zone facility opened last season. The goals in 2022 are the same as every other year: Win the conference and compete for a New Year’s Six bowl. That will be harder than ever this time. Not only because of some key losses on the roster, but also because the Sun Belt is bigger.

Marshall, Old Dominion, James Madison and Southern Miss are now in the league. Those first three moved into the Sun Belt East division with App State and are thus on the schedule, making for a daunting conference slate along with games against Coastal Carolina and Georgia State, plus nonconference games at home against North Carolina and on the road at Texas A&M.

“I think the Sun Belt will be the premier Group of 5 conference in the country,” Clark said. “If you look at the East division, it’s like the SEC West. You’re going to have to play your very best. I’m glad Marshall is back. It was an old Southern Conference rivalry. We played them last year on a Thursday night and we sold out the stadium. That’s cool for our fans. We set a single-season and Sun Belt attendance record last year. We have a passionate fan base. They tell you what you do good and what you do bad.”

The 2022 Mountaineers have a veteran quarterback and a stable of good running backs behind an experienced offensive line. Though the defense has to replace a number of stars, if history is any lesson, the Mountaineers should be right near the top of the Sun Belt again.

“Everyone’s questioning if Appalachian has lost our touch,” Clark said. “We were very spoiled as a program and people forget 10 wins is a good season. People think this could be a rebuilding year, but I don’t see it that way. I think we have all the right pieces.”

Author: Lucy Green