With all this conference realignment going on, it's been difficult to keep up with what teams belong in your conference, let alone their players. But fear not, because Underdog Dynasty is here to guide you through the process of accepting new league foes.
The Mountaineers were a pale shadow of their former FCS-dominating selves last season, winning just four games, mostly thanks to a struggling run defense. They lost some close games, a nod to the degree of youth on the team, but they were also beaten soundly aby some of the better teams on the schedule. They did finish strong, and the young team has some experience, and some nice talent, heading into their first FBS season.
For more information, read Bill Connelly's in-depth team preview, but for now, here are five players you really need to know going into the season.
RB Marcus Cox
If Appalachian State are going to have any real impact in the Sun Belt this season, you better believe that it's going to rest on Cox's shoulders. In his first year in the FCS, Cox tore up the ASU freshman record book, rushing for 1250 yards and 15 TDs on 245 carries, an even more impressive figure when you consider he didn't start until week three of the season. He was more than just a runner too, he also caught 43 passes for 559 yards and another 6 scores. He came second for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top FCS freshman, and was named to the 247Sports All-American freshman team, the only FCS player to do so.
Cox is no under illusion that his sophomore season will be any easier thanks to last year's experience, and packed on an impressive 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason in preparation for the pounding from big boy defenses. The super-versatile back is going to see plenty of the ball this season, especially with the top receivers gone, and is going to rack up the yards by any means necessary. He hasn't played an FBS game yet, but you can consider him to be one of the Sun Belt's top players. Watch out for him on the e end of season all-conference teams.
QB Kameron Bryant
If you looked at the season stats, you might find it hard to believe that the Mountaineers shuttled quarterbacks for much of the season, with sophomore Bryant splitting time with senior Jamal Londry-Jackson. It was evident early on that Bryant's passing would push him to the forefront sooner rather than later. Or week five to be precise. Bryant's biggest strength was his accuracy with the football, completing an outstanding 71.2% of his passes for 2713 yards and 14 TDs, with just 4 interceptions.
Now Bryant will have the job to himself for the season, but there are some concerns, not least of which is the step up in competition. His two favorite receivers from last year, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington have graduated, leaving a less experienced unit behind. Cox will help, but Malachi Jones and Simms McElfresh will be expected to start, although there is some help in the recruiting class. Bryant may struggle early (@ Michigan?) as he acclimatizes to the FBS level, but by the time the schedule gets really tough late in the season, he could be firing on all cylinders.
DE Deuce Robinson
The Mountaineer pass rush was terrible last season, claiming just 8 sacks. That is not a typo. With some decent quarterbacks on the agenda, that has to change in 2014, and Robinson may just be the man for the job. As a regular starter over the last three years, he is one of the most experienced players on the roster. Last season, he mustered just 2 sacks, but he was credited with 7 quarterback hurries, tops on the team, and made 45 tackles, 7 for loss.
First order of agenda for this season is getting healthy. Robinson missed all of spring camp with a shoulder injury, and could potentially lose his starting job to sophomore Olawale Dada. However, there is a lot to like about Robinson. At 6'5 and 260 pounds, he has excellent size for the position, and he has the athleticism to turn those hurries into sacks. His strength will make him a force against the run, and the Robinson has the potential to be all-conference.
LB Brandon McGowan
Karl Anderson was outstanding at inside linebacker last season, making 113 tackles, breaking up 5 passes, and intercepting a couple more. He's run out of eligibility (he actually graduated last year), so someone has the tough job of replacing him. McGowan has been a reserve and special-teamer most of his career, but saw plenty of action over the latter half of last season when John Law was injured. McGowan had some big games, giving the team a degree of confidence going into 2014. He finished with 43 tackles, 2 for loss, and broke up 2 passes.
So far, so good. Now McGowan has to produce, not just as a full-time starter, but without Anderson to help tidy up any messes. On the plus side, the senior is one of the bigger linebackers, and size is a concern amongst the unit. He's big enough to handle the inside in the Sun Belt, and he's been around long enough to have a good idea of what's going on. Also in his favor is a bigger defensive line, which help keep him clean so he can continue to rack up the tackles.
LT Kendall Lamm
Sure, offensive linemen don't have the sexy statistics of the other positions on the team, but that doesn't mean they should remain unknown. Last season, his third as a starter, Lamm was one of the top tackles in the FCS, earning all-Southern conference honors and allowing just one sack.
This season, with just one other offensive line starter returning, Lamm will be expected to lead the unit again, and he should be up to the challenge. At 6'6 and 305 pounds, Lamm not only has the size for the position, but he also possesses the athleticism, strength and footwork to keep defenders out of Bryant's face on a weekly basis, and open some holes for Cox. The senior won't just be a contender for all-conference honors at the end of the year, he's bound to be on some NFL scout's watchlist too.