Halloween night this year brings us, among other things, a rivalry game in the Sun Belt between the no. 20 Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Georgia Southern Eagles. Kickoff is at 8:00 EST on Thursday, October 31 at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina. Fans can watch the game on ESPNU.
Oddsmakers list the Mountaineers as 16.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 49 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football odds.
Appalachian State enters this game undefeated and one of the favorites to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game among the Group of Five teams. While their schedule is a little weak, the Mountaineers do have a road win over ACC foe North Carolina on their resume. They have also won every other game they’ve played by at least 10 points and have an average margin of victory of over 25 points against Sun Belt opponents.
As it stands, the Mountaineers are on track to play in the Sun Belt Championship Game for the second straight season, giving them a chance to claim at least a share of the Sun Belt title for the fourth straight year. Of course, a loss to Georgia Southern on Thursday could change that. The Mountaineers could also be tempted to look ahead toward next week’s game against SEC opponent South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Georgia Southern seems to have hit their stride with three straight wins. The Eagles lost games early in the season to the likes of LSU and Minnesota, both undefeated teams. However, they’ve overcome those early-season losses and their three straight wins have Georgia Southern at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
With two wins in their final five games, the Eagle can go to a bowl game for the second straight year, which would be a program first. But they are also in the running for a spot in the Sun Belt title game. There are plenty of challenging games ahead for Georgia Southern. However, if the Eagles can pull the upset over Appalachian State, they would control their own destiny inside the Sun Belt East division.
The Eagles knocked off Appalachian State 34-14 last season in a rivalry game that dates back to the days when both programs were FCS powerhouses. Of course, the Mountaineers won six of the last seven games in the series before last season. In fact, the Eagles haven’t won back-to-back games in this rivalry since 2001 and 2002.
For the record, I think Appalachian State is legitimately good. They wouldn’t be in the top-25 if they weren’t, nor would they have clobbered the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama in their most recent games. But this is a lot of points to eat in a rivalry game. Georgia Southern may not be on the same level as the Mountaineers, but they’re surely in the second tier of Sun Belt teams. Keep in mind that the Eagles have faced two other top-20 teams this season, so they’ve been challenged by top competition. I don’t see an upset, but I think Georgia Southern keeps this game close enough to beat the spread.
One big advantage GSU has is that they run the triple-option. More importantly, they have an experienced quarterback in Shai Werts running the offense. Werts missed most of September, but he’s returned for GSU’s last four games and picked up where he left off last season. He has over two years of starting experience under his belt, so he makes good decisions in the triple-option. The Eagles also have a pair of dangerous backs in Wesley Kennedy and J.D. King who can make plays.
While the Appalachian State defense has shined this season, allowing just 19 points per game. they struggled against Georgia Southern’s triple-option last year. In that game, Werts led the way with 129 rushing yards while also catching the Mountaineers sleeping on a 57-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles averaged over five yards per carry in a 34-14 blowout of Appalachian State.
In fairness, Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas was knocked out of that game early with an injury. Thomas is back this year and leading an offense averaging 41 points per game. His passing accuracy has improved from a year ago, although the Mountaineers are allowing running backs Darrynton Evans and Marcus Williams to do most of the heavy lifting. With the Mountaineers hosting this year’s game, the ASU offense has a chance to get rolling. Appalachian State has scored at least 52 points in three straight home games.
That being said, Georgia Southern is one of the better defensive teams that Appalachian State will face in the Sun Belt. The Eagles have done a nice job of stopping the run more times than not this season. They even held the Minnesota rushing attack in check earlier this year. Plus, the Georgia Southern offense has a tendency to control the clock and limit the number of possessions each team gets. Those factors make me think that the spread is a little high and that Appalachian State will struggle to pull away and cover 16.5 points.