Thursday night in Boone, N.C., Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will face off in the latest chapter of their heated rivalry, with more than pride on the line. A Sun Belt title is (most likely) up for grabs, and with that, possibly a spot in a New Year's Day bowl game.
For years, these two ruled the FCS. Combined, the former Southern Conference rivals racked up nine national titles at that level. In 2014, they made the jump to the Sun Belt together and promptly took their seats at the top of the league. Georgia Southern ran the table in conference play and claimed the title, while Appalachian State finished third in the standings.
Lacking an official championship game, Thursday's matchup pits the top two teams in the Sun Belt against each other. The winner, with a little luck, could play itself into a New Year's Day bowl slot.
The Underdogs Poll is a weekly venture in which SB Nation's blogs on non-power schools vote to rank the top 15 non-power teams at the moment.
|Dropped out: Ohio, Louisiana Tech | Others receiving votes: Louisiana Tech (3), ECU (1), Arkansas State (1)
If an American Athletic Conference squad runs the table in the AAC and finishes undefeated, it would most certainly deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff. That'd free up the guaranteed New Year's Day bowl slot awarded to the top Group of Five football team for someone else. Toledo looks like it may finish the season undefeated, but that's still pending on the Rockets beating NIU for the first time in years and taking down high-powered rival Bowling Green (possibly twice).
Following Boise State's embarrassing loss to Utah State this past week, it's unlikely a MWC team gets that spot barring a total meltdown throughout the rest of the conferences. Sure, WKU or Marshall could end up with one or two losses in an (arguably) tougher conference, but still, there is a chance that the winner of Thursday's matchup could be the best option outside of an undefeated AAC team.
Still, a lot has to go right for either to have a shot come December. Even if a New Year's Day bowl slot is not in the cards for these teams, there's plenty of reason to watch Thursday night.
This is a real rivalry game with enough hatred to make some of the old timers blush. In 2003 after beating the Eagles for the first time in five seasons, Appalachian State fans charged the field, tore down a goal post and rammed it into the side of a GSU team bus.
Thursday night in Boone hopefully won't reach that level, but it should provide plenty of fireworks and may just be the nation's first glimpse at the future Cinderella of college football.
Paxton Lynch: There's an argument to be made that this sticker should go to the whole team, but you know by now we love to give the QBs their glory. Lynch earned his Saturday by leading the Tigers to the win over Ole Miss. The 6'7 quarterback surely improved his draft stock with a three-touchdown, 384-yard performance against the Rebels.
Utah State's defense: OK, so one unit did stand out above the individual. What the Aggies did to Boise State was impressive. Six turnovers forced in the second quarter alone? This unit may have just wrecked the Broncos' confidence for the next few years with that performance.
Kent Myers: Utah State's quarterback has done a fantastic job in Chuckie Keeton's place, and while plenty of the attention for Saturday's win over BSU has gone to the defense, Myers earned some love as well. Four total touchdowns against one of the better defenses in the league is impressive. Completing 70 percent of your passes against that secondary is even more impressive, if you ask me.
Phillip Ely: The Toledo quarterback hasn't been heard from 'round these parts often, but not because of a lack of performances. His four touchdown passes against EMU on Saturday kept the Rockets' impressive streak alive and showed that UT can do more than run the ball.
Zach Pascal: The Old Dominion junior wideout hauled in an eye-catching 231 yards and three scores on 11 catches in Saturday's win over Charlotte. Not a bad way to make your first impact on the season, Pascal.
Three To Watch
Georgia Southern at Appalachian State, Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
Temple at ECU, Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
WKU at LSU, Saturday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU