Howard @ Appalachian Fooball

Here we go with Week 1:
Howard (0-0, 0-0 MEAC) @ Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) 

Saturday September 5th, 3:30 PM

TV/Video: ESPN3 

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville
Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 60.85

Howard: 31.66

Home: 2.65
App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 32 points (rounded)
Sportsbook: no line

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a        

Weather: Mostly cloudy skies. Rain chances dimishing throughout the day 71/63

           It has been a long fourteen years since Appalachian has hosted a football game in Boone on the opening weekend of the college football season. And in those fourteen years, much has changed on the mountain. Some things don’t change however, and that is the excitement that builds each season for Mountaineer  football. This years team leaves behind the past two years that were pretty atypical for this program. The transition from one division to the next isn’t for just anyone. For Appalachian it came with a multitude of growing pains on the field and on the sideline. Freshman were all over the field the last two seasons, learning the difference between Western Carolina and South Alabama. Scott Satterfield had his plate full as well as he had to learn the hard way in his first eighteen games what it takes to be a head coach. Fast foward to 2015, and all those freshman are now starting with loads of experience under the belts. The head coach and his staff figured out the brand of football it takes to win in the bowl division. And now, the Mountaineers, who are not far from removed 1-6 and 1-5 starts the last two seasons, are suddenly considered contenders in the Sun Belt and favorites to secure a bowl bid in December. Until then, there is plenty of work to do and it starts this weekend with the Howard Bison. 

          Although Appalachian is somewhat familiar with schools from MEAC, this will be its first meeting against Howard. North Carolina A&T has faced the Mountaineers more than any other MEAC team. Despite a decent record of 11-3 against MEAC opponents, schools from that conference have given Appalachian some of their more embarassing losses. in 1993, NC A&T stunned Appalachian on the road in the season opener. That game was especially puzzling considering App had beaten A&T in November of 1992 by a score of 42-6. In the first round of the 1999 playoffs, Florida A&M controlled the clock with its short passing game and knocked out the 4th ranked Mountaineers out of the playoffs early. And then there was the 2013 home openeer that A&T defeated App, that is still too fresh on the mind. 

          After the gradution of quarterback Greg McGhee, Howard has some major holes to fill on its offense. McGhee was a two time offensive player of the year in MEAC and led the Bison in rushing and passing yards last season. McGhee was responsible for over 3200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Chances are that Jamie Cunningham gets the first shot behind center. Cunningham stands at 6’3 and 215 pounds and went to high school in Greensboro. Cunningham played in six games last year and completed one pass for four yards. Don’t be surprised to see freshman Kalen Johnson or Jason Collins see some time on the field if this game gets out of hand. 

          If Cunningham does start, his favorite receiver will likely be Matt Colvin. Not only is Colvin the leading returner with 41 catches and 611 yards last season, Colvin and Cunningham both attended Southern Guildford HS in Greensboro and likely were in the same graduating class. Colvin will be flanked by junior Robert Mercer who hauled in 19 passes last season for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Howard is a team that prefers to run the ball by nature. They still use the fullback in their offense and are deep at the running back position. Aquanius Freeman ran for 421 yards in ten games last season mainly as the second guy. Freeman also caught 36 passes out of the backfield. Willam Parker was supposed to return this season, but was injured in the last game of the season in 2014 and will be forced to redshirt. Freeman has good size at 6’0 and 200 pounds. Also look for Anthony Philyaw to see some action as he stands at 6’1 and 220 pounds.

        With the bevy of talent Appalachian returns on both sides of the ball, a successful season might be more than just a goal, but an expectation. Coming back for his sophomore season is the gutty quarterback Taylor Lamb who took over for Kam Bryant last season. Lamb showed some shakiness early in the season, but his improvements that were made each week were beyond noticeable. Six of his nine interceptions were thrown in the first six games, while only three interceptions were thrown in the final half of the season. Lamb also fancies himeself as deceptive runner, amassing 483 yards on the ground in his freshman campaign. 

            Part of the reason Lamb could elude a defense is due to all the attention defenses had to give to Marcus Cox. It seems like he has been on the team forever, but thankfully Cox still has two more seasons in the black and gold. Cox is on pace break Kevin Richardson’s all time rushing record. Cox sits eighth on the all time list and barring injury, will likely catapult himself into the top five by the end of the season. The downside of all those yards, is the number of carries that it has taken Cox to get there. He isn’t a bulldozer, as his career 5.3 yards per attempt will attest, but getting 250 carries a season may eventually take its toll. Its doubtful that we will see much of Cox this weekend as he has been nursing a lower body injury. He’ll play, but getting twenty carries seems like a bit much at this point in the season. 

          Last year, we predicted that Malachi Jones would not lead the team in yards and receptions at the end of the year, even though he was the most experienced returning receiver. We were half right. Jones did lead the team in yards, but Simms McElfresh led the Mountaineers in receptions, outpacing Jones by six catches. One might expect a similar prediction this year in favor of Shaedon Meadors, but we aren’t going there. Meadors may have the most talent with his one hand grabs and his long touchdowns, but he isn’t a chain mover. Meadors by far led the team in yards per reception, and that is exactly what he is, a playmaker. It might be hard to believe Meadors only caught fifteen passes last year in the seven games he played in. 

          Coachspeak might tell you that the most important game is the next one. For Scott Satterfield it truly is. Satterfield had to be reminded that Tuesday was September 1st. All the focus is on Howard this week and none on the next game down in Death Valley. A Satterfield coached team has never been 1-0 before. Getting that first win can do wonders for a teams confidence. Speaking of confidence, the Mountaineer defense might be even better than they were last year, when they led the Sun Belt in total defense. Fall camp was dominated by the defense more this year than in recent memory. I beleive that is where the battle will be won on Saturday. I doubt Howard is going to come out of the gates throwing the football with a brand new quarterback, whoever it is. The Bison will likely get him acclimated to the game by running the football and controlling the clock. The special teams game will be one to watch on both sides of the ball. Howard was really good at returning kicks last season, but that will happen when your defense gives up over 30 points a game. I am really curious to see what improvements haven been made by the addition of runningbacks coach Stu Holt on kick and punt return defense. Just about every aspect of the Mountaineeer special teams  was tough to watch in 2014. I’ll take Appalachian this weekend to cover the Sagarin spread and some other running back not named Marcus Cox will get 125 yards on the ground. 

The First Pick:
Bison 10
Mountaineers 42