For casual viewers, the postseason destinies of southern college football have already been decided for the most part. We already know that Georgia and Alabama will play for the SEC title in just over a week, and some combination of Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia will qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game.
But for junkies, alumni and others who pay attention to the Group of 5, the Sun Belt East may provide the biggest touch of drama on Thanksgiving weekend. If the Troy Trojans beat the Appalachian State Mountaineers, they’ll finish a perfect 8-0 in league play and advance to a title game. But if the Mountaineers can manage to get past the Trojans at home, it will be the North Carolinians who will play again next weekend.
Who: Troy Trojans at Appalachian State Mountaineers
When: Saturday, November 24th 2:30 PM EST
Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC
Lines: Troy (+10.5) at Appalachian State (-10.5) / O/U Total: (47.5)
The Mountaineers cruised to an easy 45-17 victory over Georgia State last week to set up an epic showdown with the Trojans for the Sun Belt East Division crown. The consistency of sophomore dual threat quarterback Zac Thomas has been a large part of the Mountaineers success. Thomas has completed 65.3% of his passes for 1,674 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions.
Thomas has also punished opponents with his legs, galloping for 384 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore running back Darrynton Evans has led the rushing attack with 860 yards and 7 touchdowns on the year.
But defense has been the Mountaineers’ calling card as the program ranks 8th in total defense, only allowing 282.8 yards per game.
The Winston-Salem journal claims that Thomas has become a smarter runner since getting injured on a needless play earlier in the season:
Thomas was injured Oct. 25 during App State’s first drive against Georgia Southern. The play happened on a 3rd-and-15. Thomas decided to take off out of the pocket, gaining 5 yards before being met by two Eagles defenders.
Thomas’s running ability adds a dimension to an offense that can produce points quickly. But there’s a balance the quarterback has to strike, Coach Scott Satterfield said, when taking those chances. And that comes with establishing more of a feel for scrambling. “We want to be aggressive in the run, I don’t care what position it is,” Satterfield said. “We always have been. But at some point, I got to get what I can get and then get down. So yeah, we’re going to talk about that (protecting himself), work on that, because I don’t want to take his aggressiveness away.”
That’s led to a few conversations about Thomas’s predecessor, Taylor Lamb. Satterfield has reminded Thomas that Lamb rushed often too. Thomas talked with Lamb during the week. Lamb finished his career with 2,008 rushing yards, and he also managed to stay healthy while doing so. Thomas said he has no problem reaching out to Lamb, now a graduate assistant at South Carolina, about anything. That’s the relationship that developed between two. “I run too high sometimes. I like to run high,” Thomas said. “That was one main focus. I’ve got to get lower. When contact comes, get low because I was taking too many shots up high.”
But this is the time of year when “taking shots” becomes less of a risk. There’s only 2 or 3 games left for the Mountaineers.
The Trojans are a win away from their 14th consecutive Sun Belt victory, and another 10-win season. But it hasn’t been an easy glide back to the top. The 12-7 victory last week against Sun Belt bottom-dweller Texas State had Trojan fans on the edge of their seats.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sawyer Smith had his least productive showing since taking over for injured starter Kaleb Barker. Smith went 13/27 for 79 yards against the Bobcats, so it will be critical for the Trojans that he increase his output against the tremendous Mountaineer pass defense.
Junior running back B.J. Smith has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark as he has tallied 1,040 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the year behind a Power-5 level offensive line. Just as importantly, the Trojan defense has been fantastic against the rush, ranking 21st in the country allowing 124.5 yards per game.
The defense is tied for 3rd in the country with 17 interceptions this season.
Like Utah State after nearly blowing the season against CSU last weekend, the Trojans are sure to bounce back with a noble effort. While it may not be enough to tout Troy as a moneyline upset pick, I’d wager at minus-odds on the outcome of this crucial match-up finishing with less than a 12-point margin of victory in either direction.
My first rule of betting is that if a game looks like a toss-up, go with the underdog’s market, even if they’re playing against some disadvantage such as a road venue. That makes Troy the obvious pick ATS.
Take the visiting Trojans and (+10.5) points in Boone.