Another season, another conference title and bowl victory for the Mountaineers. Heading into 2019 things look a little different atop the mountain though as a new face takes control of the program in Elijah Drinkwitz. Coach Drink has re-tooled the staff and there is an unknown factor to App heading into the season.
One thing that is certain is that the new coaches have the same ol’ toys to play with as over half the team from 2018 is back for this season and look to prove why they were picked to win the Sun Belt East division and the conference overall in 2019.
Week 1: vs ETSU (2018: 8-4)
An old SoCon foe walks into Kidd Brewer Stadium Week 1 looking to pull a major upset to start the year. East Tennessee State had a very successful year one under Randy Sanders and finished tied for 1st in the SoCon and made an appearance in the FCS playoffs. What we don't know is who will replace longtime QB starter Austin Herink. A couple transfer names to watch is former Coastal Carolina starter Chance Thrasher and former Miami QB Cade Weldon.
The defense is going to be the strong point for ETSU with 90% of the unit returning from the 8 win team a season ago but this team wont see a Corey Sutton Zac Thomas combo all year. On offense sophomore running back Quay Holmes will be the threat to watch as he nearly reached the thousand yard mark as a freshman.
Coach Drinkwitz has a great opportunity to get started against an FCS team with uncertainty at QB so look for App State to flex its muscle early and often. Last season against FCS Gardner Webb App State hung 72 points, now I don’t expect that this year but I do expect the N’eers to roll.
Prediction: App 54 - ETSU 10 (1-0)
Week 2: vs Charlotte (2018: 5-7)
The 49ers improved their record in 2018 with 5 wins instead of 1 win in 2017. New head coach Will Healy still has a tough task ahead of him though. The Charlotte offense was still horrible last year at 115th in the nation with 21.7 ppg. Chris Reynolds returns and should be the starter for the 49ers unless they feel former Miami transfer Evan Shirreffs is a better option for the team.
Running back Benny LeMay is coming off a 1,243-yard, 11 touchdown season in 2018 and even has top backup Aaron McAllister to help make some plays too. The strong point will be the defense as seven guys return to lead the unit with its top five tacklers from a season ago back. Defensive ends Alex Highsmith and Tyriq Harris are loads to handle and can get after any QB and snuff out any running game.
I truly think Charlotte will be a better football team in 2019 than they were in 2018 as they have a chance to push for a bowl bid. However I still don’t see App State losing to Charlotte. Especially not in Boone. Zac Thomas torched the 49er secondary last year and he will have a chance to do it again.
Prediction: App 38 - UNCC 14 (2-0)
Week 3: vs UNC (2018 2-9)
A blast from the past will be one theme of many you could make up for this matchup as Mack Brown has returned to Chapel Hill and will coach against another former school in App State in just his fourth game back. In my opinion the App game against UNC couldn't fall in a better spot. Out of the gate the Heels have South Carolina, Miami and then a non ACC sanctioned matchup with Wake Forest. App State falls just one week before the defending national champs, the Clemson Tigers, come to town. Appalachian State has a golden chance to catch Carolina looking ahead in a big way.
UNC has a three-way battle going on at QB between Sam Howell, Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder. Michael Carter and Antonio Williams are by far the strength of the offense. The O-Line still has questions as a couple guys have swapped positions and it seems some unproven talent will have to step up early for the Heels. Jay Bateman is the new defensive coordinator and will add multiple attacking looks much like he did at Army. The linebacking group is an unknown commodity heading into the year after Cole Holcomb was drafted to the NFL and the secondary has a lot of depth issues.
Drinkwitz knows Carolina as he has coached against them in his time at NC-State. He will have App State focused and ready in what is primed to be a strong showing by the fans in black and gold.
Carolina could easily be 1-2 or 0-3 coming into this game and with Clemson coming to town in just one week I honestly can’t think of a better week for App State to play Carolina. I expect a duel and one that could be high scoring as UNC implements their air raid offense but until proven otherwise, UNC is just not that good. Give me a late Thomas to Sutton touchdown to send App State to a 3-0 start, as App finally gets over the P5 hump.
Prediction: App 38 - UNC 35 (3-0)
Next week Sun Belt play kicks off as the Mountaineers will get set to defend their conference crown with games against Coastal, UL and ULM.