The no. 21 Appalachian State Mountaineers will be looking to win their fourth straight conference championship this weekend when they face the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt Championship Game. Kickoff is at noon EST on Saturday, December 7 at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina, which is Appalachian State’s home field. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current betting odds list the Mountaineers as 6-point favorites with an over/under of 56.5 points. Click here to check out all of the betting odds for Championship Saturday in college football.
The Mountaineers have been one of the best stories in college football this season. They enter the Sun Belt title game at 11-1, losing only to rival Georgia Southern in a 3-point game in which the weather hindered App State’s comeback attempt. In addition to going 7-1 in Sun Belt play, the Mountaineers have scored wins over both North Carolina and South Carolina. They have been ranked in the top-25 for a significant chunk of the season, and if the Mountaineers take care of business in the Sun Belt title game, they will have a compelling case for playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That would be an incredible accomplishment for first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who replaced Scott Satterfield after that season.
Of course, the Ragin’ Cajuns are no pushover; they have also had an excellent season. Louisiana heads into the conference championship game with a 10-2 record, losing only to Mississippi State in their season opener and against Appalachian State in October. Since that loss to App State, the Ragin’ Cajuns have rattled off six straight wins, including a 31-30 squeaker last week against in-state rival Louisiana-Monroe. They have already secured their third bowl appearance in the last four years and will now try to claim their first conference title since sharing the Sun Belt crown in 2013.
This is just the second year the Sun Belt has had a formal championship game and it’s the second time that Appalachian State and Louisiana-Lafayette have met. The Mountaineers won last year’s title game 30-19 while also serving as host. As mentioned, the Mountaineers also took down the Ragin’ Cajuns 17-7 earlier this season. With that win, Appalachian State has now won all seven meetings with Louisiana since the Mountaineers joined the Sun Belt.
As mentioned, Appalachian State has never lost to Louisiana. Perhaps more importantly, the Ragin’ Cajuns have never gotten closer than 10 points. While I’ll fully endorse Louisiana as a quality mid-major team, I’m not going to bet against history, especially with this year’s Appalachian State team. The Ragin’ Cajuns aren’t going to make it easy on the Mountaineers, but I have no problem laying down the points and taking App State to win by at least a touchdown.
On paper, Louisiana has a potent offensive team. They have three running backs who combined for over 2,600 yards and 31 touchdowns this season, helping them average nearly 39 points per game against a schedule that included six bowl-eligible teams. However, there’s still a little bit of fool’s gold in those stats because the Ragin’ Cajuns beat up on some bad teams late in the season. Plus, even some of the bowl-eligible teams that Louisiana played aren’t that great defensively.
Against Appalachian State, the Ragin’ Cajuns will face the only defense that’s stopped them this season. When they hosted the Mountaineers in October, Louisiana managed a mere 137 rushing yards, averaging less than four yards per carry. When they don’t run the ball effectively, I don’t have enough faith in quarterback Levi Lewis to move the ball with his arm. He’s compiled some good numbers this season and has avoided turnovers, but the productivity isn’t there against the better teams on Louisiana’s schedule. Most notably, there was the game against App State when he was just 13 of 24 for 131 yards and was sacked three times.
There’s also a little bit of fool’s gold for the Louisiana defense. Keep in mind that they play some of the worst teams in the country at the bottom of the Sun Belt standings. That has helped them give up less than 18 points per game on the season. But that number jumped up to 23 points per game in their six games against bowl-eligible teams.
Meanwhile, I have plenty of faith in the App State offense to put together a good performance. Admittedly, the Mountaineers were held to just 17 points when they faced the Ragin’ Cajuns earlier this year. But that game was on the road and one of just three games this year the Mountaineers were held under 30 points. Quarterback Zac Thomas has grown in leaps and bounds as a passer this season while running back Darrynton Evans is over 1,200 yards rushing on the season. Those two give the Mountaineers more than enough experience and play-making ability to score 30-plus points in this game.
In the end, there’s no reason not to trust Appalachian State to win this game and cover a spread that’s less than a touchdown. The Mountaineers are surely the best team in the Sun Belt, they’re playing at home, and they’ve never lost to Louisiana. Everything is pointing in App State’s direction, so I’m not about to go against the grain.