Here we go with Week 1:
#3 Appalachian State @ Chattanooga
Stadium: Finley Stadium
Surface: Polyetheylene FieldTurf
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 3.08 points
Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19 points (rounded).
Series: Appalachian leads 23-10
Last Meeting: Appalachian 35, Chattanooga 20, November 7, 2009
Like many season openers recently for Appalachian football, there has been plenty of press and build up leading into the game. However, in 2010, the Mountaineers will do something they have not done since 1991, and that is open the season against Southern Conference opponent Chattanooga. This will also mark the first time since facing Eastern Kentucky in 2005 that the Mountaineers will not face an opponent from the BCS division. In 1991, Appalachian knocked off then SoCon member Marshall 9-3. Appalachian also defeated its last non-BCS opener Eastern Kentucky, 24-16. The similarities are there. Both games were decided by one score or less. Sounds like the fans will be in for a great college football opener as the Mocs have a great chance to snap Appalachian’s 20 game conference win streak.
Chattanooga is a program that is trying to rid itself of several years marred by losing season and NCAA mandated APR restrictions. The Mocs have had scholarships reduced and practices limited all while trying escape for the SoCon cellar. Second year head coach and alum Russ Huesman is in charge of turning it all around for Chattanooga. The Mocs were easily the most improved team in the conference in 2009, with a 5 game turnaround in the win/loss column and the team and community has high hopes for the upcoming season.
Former McCallie star and Tennessee transfer B.J. Coleman is the centerpiece of the Mocs team. Coleman accounted for all the touchdowns scored against Appalachian last year, as he threw a touchdown and also ran for another. Coleman was named the second team all-SoCon quarterback in July. Coleman had a fantastic sophomore season as he threw 17 touchdown passes to only 9 interceptions. Coleman also averaged 213 yards passing a game in 2009, which was good for third in the SoCon behind Elon’s Scott Riddle, and some other guy named Armanti Edwards.
Coleman lost his favorite target in Blue Cooper to graduation, but senior Chris Pritchford returns as the one most likely to replace Cooper in the lineup. The wide receiver hauled in nine passes for 106 yards against Appalachian last year. Coleman should have plenty of time to find Pritchford, as the Mocs return all their starters from an offensive line that only allowed nine sacks last season. Where the Moc offensive line needs to improve is in their running game. Chattanooga was last in the Southern Conference last year, only gaining 85 yards a game on the ground. Last year, the Mocs grinded away against the Mountaineers by controlling the clock and running 36 times, despite only gaining 105 yards.
For the last four years, Armanti Edwards was the signal caller for the Mountaineers. The 2010 season will be slightly different for the Mountaineers. Appalachian fans and FCS fans everywhere most likely felt like he would never graduate. His graduation led to biggest question of the offseason for Appalachian: Who’s the quarterback? That same question was asked back in 2006. Appalachian fans felt like Trey Elder could certainly shoulder the load vacated by the legend Richie Williams, but if he couldn’t, there were a couple of capable and very talented freshmen to back him up. Fast forward to 2010, and we have the same situation, except Trey Elder is now the wide receivers coach. DeAndre Presley was named the starting quarterback last week, and has more then enough tools to be considered a game manager. But if Presley cant carry the torch, freshmen Jamal Jackson or Kalik Barnes can certainly take over.
The quarterback position is not the only one where Appalachian face a very similar circumstance as 2006. We know about the quarterback uncertainty, but what is forgotten from 2006, was that running back Kevin Richardson was returning after running for 1,433 yards and 19 touchdowns in 15 games. Returning in 2010 is Walter Payton Award candidate Devon Moore, who torched opponents for 1,374 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games. The difference is one game played and roughly sixty yards. Richardson led the team in receiving that year as well with 52 catches. I would say the 2010 version of leading receivers for Appalachian is slightly more polished than 2006. The combination of Matt Cline, Brian Quick and CoCo Hillary combined for nearly 2500 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last season alone, compared to wide receivers Jermane Little, Dexter Jackson and Zach Johnson, combined for just under 1600 yards and nine touchdowns during the 2005 season.
What it comes down to for Chattanooga is one simple thing. Patience. Will the Mocs have enough patience like in the 2009 game to do everything it can to keep Appalachian off the field. Neither of these teams lost much as far as returning starters from a game that was played only 10 months ago. The Mocs controlled the clock, maintaining possession for over 36 minutes of the game. Despite being dropped in an early 21-0 hole, the Mocs had diligent in the getting the momentum of that game back on their side. Slowly the Mocs pulled within a point, and then Mountaineers woke up. Two onside kicks were converted in the second half. The Mocs were playing loose, and having fun. The Mountaineers couldn’t convert first downs and were cursed by ill-timed interception. But when the plays needed to be made in fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were there making all the plays. Fourth down stops and interceptions ignited the Mountaineer offense to two late touchdown drives, resulting the final score. At that time, the Mocs could not have played a more perfect game, yet it still was not enough to knock off Appalachian. Another game like 2009 would surely be the wish of Russ Huesman, minus the final score. Chattanooga is considered by some as a dark horse to contend for a playoff berth in 2010, and to do that, beating Appalachian will certainly lead them in the right direction. However, I don’t think the Mountaineers will allow for the Mocs the dictate the pace of the game like 2009. Appalachian will unveil its new look to its backfield in 2010. The use of two running backs and a very experienced offensive line should lead to huge numbers in the running game. Throw in all conference receivers like Quick, Hillary and Ben Jordan at tight end, and Appalachian has all the tools to keep defenses guessing all season. Defensively, the Mountaineers should be better as well. The use of a fifth defensive back or third safety will be utilized against spread formations and on passing downs. The defensive line appears to be eight deep, led by ends Lanston Tanyi and Jabari Fletcher. I think the Mocs have improved a lot, but I think some prognosticators are getting ahead of themselves. Three of their wins were by one score or less against some of the lesser talented teams in the SoCon in Western Carolina, Citadel and Samford. If they are as improved as they think they are, they must soundly defeat those opponents this year, and knock off someone better then a depleted and injury riddled Wofford team. I think this will be a close game as both teams shake the first game jitters, but I have hard time believing the Mocs have caught up with Appalachian in less than two years.
The First Pick: