#81 Appalachian State Football 2016 Preview

Appalachian State Mountaineers
Overall Rank: #81
#1 Sun Belt
Appalachian State had a dream season in 2015. They went 11-2, 7-1 in the Sun Belt and beat Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. Those two losses came against Clemson and Arkansas State, but the loss to Arkansas State kept the Mountaineers from a conference title. Winning the conference crown will be the goal this year and Coach Scott Satterfield has all of the tools he needs to do just that.
2015 Record: 11-2, 7-1
2015 Bowl: Camellia Bowl vs. Ohio (W 31-29)
Coach: Scott Satterfield (22-15 at Appalachian State, 22-15 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Frank Ponce, Shawn Clark
Defensive Coordinator: Nate Woody
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Marcus Cox, RB, 1,423 yards
Passing: Taylor Lamb, QB, 2,387 yards
Receiving: Shaedon Meadors, WR, 439 yards
Tackles: Eric Boggs, LB, 104
Sacks: Eric Boggs, LB, 4.0; John Law, LB, 4.0
Interceptions: Latrell Gibbs, CB, 7
Other Key Returnees: RB Jalin Moore, RB Terrence Upshaw, LB Devan Stringer, LB Kennan Gilchrist, DE Nate Norwood, P Bentlee Critcher
Key Losses: WR Simms McElfresh, WR Malachi Jones, RB Ricky Fergerson, OL Jesse Chapman, DB Doug Middleton, DE Ronald Blair
Last year Appalachian State had the best offense in the Sun Belt and they should do it again in 2016. The rushing offense ranked sixth in the nation with 271.5 yards per game, largely thanks to Marcus Cox. As a junior he rushed for 1,423 yards and nine touchdowns. But Jalin Moore and Terrence Upshaw are back too. Moore rushed for 731 yards and five scores on 99 carries, while Upshaw added 470 yards and three touchdowns. There is so much depth and talent in the backfield that Appalachian State can continuously rotate their backs. Cox will certainly be the workhorse, but he does not have to do it all. Quarterback Taylor Lamb is a decent rusher too, but he does most of his damage with his arm. He threw 31 touchdown passes last year and just nine interceptions. The yardage total was just 2,387 in the team’s 13 games since Appalachian State will rely on the ground game, but Lamb can make the big throws. Expect big play receiver Shaedon Meadors to be on the end of quite a few of Lamb’s passes, but the Mountaineers do need to replace three of their other top receivers.
The defense ranked first in the Sun Belt in pass defense, total defense, scoring defense and sacks in 2015. And with nine starters back, the unit should again be very, very strong. However, losing end Ronald Blair is a big loss. He tallied 71 tackles, which is an amazing number for a defensive end, including 19.0 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks. The line has experience, but nobody is going to put up numbers like that. The pass rushing duties will likely fall to linebackers Eric Boggs, John Law and Devan Stringer in Coach Satterfield’s 3-4 defense. Boggs and Law are great leaders at the inside linebacker spots and were the team’s top two tacklers in 2015 with 104 and 72, respectively. The secondary returns three starters and appears to have much more depth this time around as well. Cornerback Latrell Gibbs is the star of the unit after intercepting seven passes as a sophomore. Tae Hayes will see a lot of passes coming his way from the other corner spot and how well he plays could turn this from a very good defense to a title winning defense.   
The Bottom Line:
This is almost certainly the most talented team in the Sun Belt, but the schedule is not particularly kind. The Mountaineers do avoid Arkansas State, the only Sun Belt team to beat them last year, but Appalachian State must travel to Lafayette to take on Louisiana, Statesboro to face Georgia Southern and Troy to take on the Trojans. Those are three teams with realistic Sun Belt title dreams of their own. Win those three, and Appalachian State should be perfect in conference play. Non-conference action has some interesting games too. There is a trip to Tennessee and a very interesting home game against Miami on September 17th. If the Mountaineers can manage to defend their home turf and beat the Hurricanes, their momentum will be sky high heading into Sun Belt play.
Projected Bowl: New Orleans Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 271.5 (6th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 195.8 (93, 10)
Total Offense: 467.3 (26, 1)
Scoring Offense: 36.7 (23, 2)
Rushing Defense: 131.5 (27, 2)
Pass Defense: 182.9 (14, 1)
Total Defense: 314.5 (11, 1)
Scoring Defense: 19.1 (14, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.15 (51, 3)
Sacks: 2.77 (20, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 0.85 (4, 2)