A whole lot is changing this year for Georgia Southern football. New conference, new division, new stadium, new coach, new offense, new opponents.
Well, mostly new opponents. One thing that hasn't changed, and one that won't any time soon, is Georgia Southern's top rival. The dreaded Appalachian State Mountaineers come to Statesboro One More Time this Thursday and will keep doing so for the foreseeable future.
With conference realignment claiming many a college football rivalry, that's a great thing.
If you've checked the Twitter hashtag #AppStateHateWeek (and you should) you know how fired up Southern fans get for this game.
And if you haven't, here's this:
And then there's this.
I digress. This kind of hype for an opponent still awaiting its first FBS win of the year means one thing: This is a rivalry. The first meeting between Georgia Southern and App State was in 1932. They've met every year since 1993 as members of the Southern Conference and that won't change in the Sun Belt.
App and Southern were and are two similar schools: public, circa 20,000 students, both former teacher colleges, both with strong football teams and strong fan bases.
It only made sense both made the long-rumored jump from FCS to FBS in the same year, on the same day in fact (March 27, 2013 for trivia lovers). The move up was always a great idea, preserving this matchup was the two-point conversion.
We couldn't do without moments like this:
In 1999, the Eagles suffered their only FCS loss of the season in Boone and watched the home fans rip down the goal posts. Southern won the national title. App State printed t-shirts reading "we beat the national champions."
After four straight Southern victories, App won again in 2003. This time t-shirts weren't enough. Instead, the student body promptly removed the goal posts from the field and rammed them into the team bus.
The Eagles got revenge in 2004, winning by the widest margin of the modern era, 54-7.
It's the biggest cliche in college football, but when App State and Georgia Southern meet you can throw the record books out the window.
In 2006 Georgia Southern brought by far its lousiest football team in history, led by He Who Shall Not Be Named, into Paulson Stadium to play an App State team in the middle of back-to-back-to-back national titles. The result? A double overtime thriller App finally claimed 27-20.
The year Appalachian State beat Michigan? Southern won. Last year, when Georgia Southern beat Florida? Appalachian State won. App came into the 2010 game ranked #1 in the FCS. They lost. GSU came into the 2011 game ranked #1 in the FCS. They lost.
The 2007 and 2010 games are personal favorites and also the last two Southern victories.
Tickets were hard to come by in '07. App beat Michigan (you might have heard about that) but hadn't expanded its stadium yet. Overflow crowds were north of 30,000 and people climbed trees far up the mountain to get a glimpse. Somehow I scored a seat and was shocked to watch Southern almost instantly grab a 14-0 lead. The Jayson Foster-led Eagles held off a late rally to escape The Rock with a 38-35 victory.
In 2010, the Eagles were emerging from the depths of the BVG-Chris Hatcher era and came into the game just 4-4. Top-ranked App State jumped out to a 14-0 lead itself. With "when are we heading back to the tailgate?" conversations abounding, Southern stormed back, its defense refusing to allow another point the rest of the game. When App quarterback DeAndre Presley fumbled in overtime, Statesboro became one giant party. Somehow the goal posts survived.
Heightening the drama was the general domination of other conference teams. That 2010 GSU game was App's first Southern Conference loss since -- the 2007 GSU game. The Eagles lost only one SoCon game in 2011. You already know the opponent.
Either Georgia Southern or Appalachian State has won at least a share of the SoCon title 15 of the last 17 years. You get the idea. It was high time these two moved up.
Where's the love?
But do Southern fans truly hate App State? Nah, I don't think so. The App game was always the highlight of the calendar. When both teams toiled in the Southern Conference, App was the only team to really bring fans to road games. In odd numbered years, App was a fantastic excuse for a fall trip.
App even has that "I can't stay mad at you" quality. Did they beat Southern in 2005? Sure. But they also did this:
Did they beat Southern in 2008? Sure. But Armanti Edwards also fell victim to a lawnmower.
So here's to the continuation of the Georgia Southern-App State rivalry. And with that said, it's time to GATA and turn this thing around! Its been slim pickins (no pun intended Mountaineer fans) of late for Southern. App has won three straight and five of the last six.
By all accounts a momentum shift is in order. With Georgia Southern obliterating the point spread four weeks in a row, Vegas installed the Eagles at 16.5-point favorites early in the week. Since then? It's climbed into all-out cupcake territory, reaching as high as 19.
Legendary Mountaineer coach Jerry Moore is gone and his replacement, second-year coach Scott Satterfield, has taken his team in the wrong direction. They've hit the bottom. I mean the real bottom, the ESPN Bottom 10. Southern is fired up for the first Thursday night game in 25 years. The buzz in Statesboro is bigger than ever for a regular-season tilt and all signs point to a Georgia Southern win.
The fan in me loves it. But if I was a betting man, no way I'd touch this one. This is a rivalry.