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Appalachian State is making this FBS thing look awfully easy

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Scott Satterfield's Mountaineers have won 17 of 19 and return quite a few of the reasons for that string of awesomeness.

Michael Chang/Getty Images

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1. Flipping the switch

It appeared Appalachian State had gotten the timing wrong as well. The Mountaineers were the heaviest of FCS heavyweights and waited until the moment the Moore era faded to decide. They had their worst FCS season in ages in 2013, then moved looked horrific for half of 2014. They gave up 52 points to Michigan. They lost to Southern Miss. They lost their first two Sun Belt games (to first- and second-year FBS teams) by a combined 81-35. They gave up 55 points and lost to Liberty.

The Mountaineers began 1-5, grading out as one of the worst teams in FBS. They had gotten everything wrong.

And then it all went right. [...]

A year ago, I thought ASU was a couple of years from respectability, even within the Sun Belt, and the results of the six games more than reinforced that line of thinking. Now ASU is one of the safer ones in the Sun Belt.

-- The big 2015 Appalachian State football guide

It kept going right for Appalachian State in 2015. Boy, did it ever. In last year's preview, I said that every game but Clemson was winnable for the Mountaineers, and they damn near won every game but Clemson. The Mountaineers went 11-2, spent a good portion of the season ranked in the S&P+ top 25, and finished ranked in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive S&P+. They played Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt's showcase game, and in front of 24,121 at Kidd Brewer Stadium, they ran away from the Eagles, 31-13.

Perhaps best of all, ASU also left room for improvement. The Mountaineers faded a little bit over the second half of the season and couldn't stop a streaking Arkansas State team in Boone two weeks after the Georgia Southern game. So they 'only' won 11 games and 'only' finished 43rd in S&P+.

Since starting 2014 with a 1-5 record, Appalachian State is 17-2. That's not the way this is supposed to work. You're supposed to struggle for a while. You're supposed to rise to FBS with built-in depth issues that inevitably trip you up for a little while. You're not supposed to immediately become nearly the class of your league, especially when you had briefly begun to founder at the FCS level before your jump. But that's what Appalachian State has done.

After averaging 12 wins per year between 2005 and 2010, the Mountaineers faded. They went 8-4 in 2011 and 2012, then went 4-8 in Scott Satterfield's first season succeeding legendary Jerry Moore. But the stumble was more brief than anybody could have believed, and Satterfield has this program rolling.

With Arkansas State rebuilding its passing game and Georgia Southern perhaps undergoing a shift in offensive identity, Appalachian State might be the safest bet in the Sun Belt in 2016. Things will probably keep coming up ASU this fall.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 42 | Final S&P+ Rk: 43
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Howard N/A 49-0 W 79% 100% +25.5
12-Sep at Clemson 2 10-41 L 8% 0% -6.3 -13.0
26-Sep at Old Dominion 117 49-0 W 89% 100% +49.2 +41.5
3-Oct Wyoming 115 31-13 W 58% 97% -6.7 +13.0
10-Oct at Georgia State 87 37-3 W 93% 100% +22.5 +18.0
17-Oct at UL-Monroe 121 59-14 W 83% 100% +30.7 +33.5
22-Oct Georgia Southern 48 31-13 W 87% 99% +9.5 +11.5
31-Oct Troy 90 44-41 W 30% 40% -23.7 -21.0
5-Nov Arkansas State 71 27-40 L 29% 26% -29.2 -23.5
14-Nov at Idaho 114 47-20 W 64% 97% +7.5 +9.5
28-Nov UL-Lafayette 104 28-7 W 82% 100% +0.4 -2.5
5-Dec at South Alabama 102 34-27 W 65% 98% -10.6 -11.0
19-Dec vs. Ohio 69 31-29 W 65% 90% -4.5 -5.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 32.3 46 24.6 41
Points Per Game 36.7 23 19.1 14

2. A two-week funk

Seven games into the season, you could have made the case that Appalachian State was the best college football team in the Group of Five. The AAC was getting most of the attention -- Memphis, Houston, and Temple were all ranked -- and Toledo's upset of Arkansas had the Rockets ranked as well. But the 6-1 Mountaineers had lost only to undefeated future Playoff finalist Clemson (a better team than Memphis, Houston, Temple, or Toledo had played to date) and had rocked six other opponents, most recently Georgia Southern.

Unfortunately, there was a post-Southern letdown. State nearly lost to Troy, then got run out of its own building by Arkansas State. The Mountaineers rebounded but couldn't quite maintain their form from the first half of the year.

  • First 7 games:
    Average Percentile Performance: 71% | Average score: ASU 38, Opp 12 | Average performance vs. S&P+ projection: +17.8 PPG
  • Last 6 games:
    Average Percentile Performance: 56% | Average score: ASU 35, Opp 27 | Average performance vs. S&P+ projection: -7.7 PPG

The regression came on the defensive side of the ball. Troy, Arkansas State, and Idaho posted big passing numbers, and a ball-hawking defense briefly forgot how to hawk the ball. In the four games following Georgia Southern, the Mountaineers allowed a passer rating of 134.0. In the other nine games, it was only 100.6. Still, only two of the performances were particularly poor. ASU finished the season at a level close to what it had achieved in the first half of the year.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.42 7 IsoPPP+ 116.7 24
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.2% 25 Succ. Rt. + 106.3 49
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.0 93 Def. FP+ 33.6 119
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 8 Redzone S&P+ 115.2 21
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.6 ACTUAL 22 +4.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 26 27 49 24
RUSHING 6 31 61 24
PASSING 93 25 34 24
Standard Downs 13 26 10
Passing Downs 84 95 71
Q1 Rk 28 1st Down Rk 43
Q2 Rk 36 2nd Down Rk 22
Q3 Rk 32 3rd Down Rk 63
Q4 Rk 46

3. Power and explosion

Through the stats above, you can see a pretty clear offensive identity. Appalachian State ran the ball frequently, played at an average pace, and required opponents to make a lot of gang tackles. Three 200-pound running backs and a 200-pound quarterback combined to average 38 carries and 239 yards per game, and with them, the Mountaineers had one of the most devastating offenses in the country ... on standard downs.

On passing downs, the Mountaineers were, like a lot of run-happy teams, not particularly effective. They played it self with rushes pretty often, and Taylor Lamb completed just 52 percent of his passes on third-and-4 or more.

Unlike a lot of power-based attacks, however, Appalachian State wasn't necessarily reliant on efficiency. The 'Neers could gash you. Their 80 gains of 20-plus yards ranked 18th in FBS and second in the Sun Belt. This was a dangerous, explosive, powerful offense as long as it remained on schedule.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taylor Lamb 6'2, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 170 283 2387 31 9 60.1% 11 3.7% 7.9
J.P. Caruso 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8016 8 12 109 2 0 66.7% 0 0.0% 9.1
Jake Easter 6'2, 186 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7914
Zac Thomas 6'2, 203 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7844

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Marcus Cox RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 243 1423 9 5.9 6.7 40.7% 4 3
Jalin Moore RB 5'11, 200 So. NR 0.7000 99 731 5 7.4 7.4 46.5% 1 1
Terrence Upshaw RB 5'10, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8152 81 442 3 5.5 4.6 48.1% 1 0
Taylor Lamb QB 6'2, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 74 507 5 6.9 6.2 51.4% 3 2
Josh Boyd RB 5'10, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8194 41 155 0 3.8 2.2 41.5% 1 1
J.P. Caruso QB 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8016 17 125 0 7.4 7.4 47.1% 0 0
Ricky Fergerson RB 11 80 1 7.3 8.9 45.5% 1 1
Simms McElfresh WR 8 76 1 9.5 4.8 75.0% 1 1
Eric Davidson RB 6 12 0 2.0 1.5 16.7% 0 0
Nikia Cathey RB 5'9, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8338
Marcus Williams Jr. RB 5'10, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8317







4. All the running backs you need

Appalachian State was able to run the ball so well despite general youth in the backfield. Lamb was only a sophomore, and three of the top four running backs were either freshmen or sophomores. Now, not only are they all scheduled to return, but they could also be joined in the rotation by three-star sophomore Nikia Cathey and incoming three-star freshman (per the 247Sports Composite) Marcus Williams Jr. Williams was one of the gems of this year's recruiting class, and it's not hard to see the draw of playing in this offense if you're a running back.

If something could trip up the ASU running game, however, it's the line. Two all-conference performers -- center Jesse Chapman and tackle Davante Harris -- are gone. A third returns (guard Parker Collins), as do three other linemen with starting experience. But with an offense that doesn't perform well on passing downs, efficiency is important, and a reshuffled line is sometimes a cause of inefficiency.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Simms McElfresh WR-M 58 38 466 65.5% 20.7% 8.0 48.3% 51.7% 1.42
Malachi Jones WR-X 44 25 463 56.8% 15.7% 10.5 50.0% 50.0% 1.90
Shaedon Meadors WR 6'2, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8339 34 21 439 61.8% 12.1% 12.9 73.5% 50.0% 2.39
Bobo Beathard WR-Z 21 14 265 66.7% 7.5% 12.6 57.1% 57.1% 2.18
Marcus Cox RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 21 18 160 85.7% 7.5% 7.6 38.1% 52.4% 1.42
Barrett Burns TE 6'4, 245 Sr. NR NR 19 15 163 78.9% 6.8% 8.6 68.4% 68.4% 1.36
Ike Lewis WR-M 5'10, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894 18 11 158 61.1% 6.4% 8.8 66.7% 55.6% 1.59
Montez McGuire WR-Z 14 8 125 57.1% 5.0% 8.9 57.1% 57.1% 1.47
Levi Duffield TE 6'2, 205 Jr. NR NR 11 7 52 63.6% 3.9% 4.7 90.9% 54.5% 0.96
Terrence Upshaw RB 5'10, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8152 7 3 46 42.9% 2.5% 6.6 42.9% 28.6% 1.97
Deltron Hopkins WR 5'8, 160 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7944 7 4 27 57.1% 2.5% 3.9 71.4% 28.6% 1.35
Jaylan Barbour WR 5'10, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8500 6 3 49 50.0% 2.1% 8.2 50.0% 50.0% 1.33
Dante Jones WR-X 5'11, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7646 3 2 35 66.7% 1.1% 11.7 33.3% 33.3% 3.84
Jaquil Capel WR 5'11, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 2 2 26 100.0% 0.7% 13.0 50.0% 100.0% 0.95
Bill Cecil TE 6'0, 210 Jr. NR NR 2 2 3 100.0% 0.7% 1.5 50.0% 50.0% 0.46
Zy Letman WR 6'3, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167
Mock Adams WR 6'4, 187 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8156
Collin Reed TE 6'3, 235 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719
Mitchell McClurg TE 6'3, 226 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Jalen Virgil WR 6'2, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893

5. You'll still need to throw the ball, too

Until proven otherwise, there are a couple of concerns up front on the line. There are a couple more at wide receiver, where Shaedon Meadors is the only of last year's top four wideouts returning. A former star recruit, Meadors has missed part of two seasons with injury or illness, but when healthy he is a hell of a play-action threat. He could blossom into a star if he can stay on the field. But if he doesn't, then Lamb will be looking around at a terribly green receiving corps.

Outside of Meadors, five returning wideouts did catch at least two passes last year, including another former star recruit, Jaylan Barbour. But only one (Ike Lewis) caught more than four.

Lamb himself still has some improving to do, too. He's a perfect distributor for this type of offense, but passing downs are playmaker downs, and he didn't make a ton of plays in those situations. He checks down to running backs and safer options, which is good ... to a point. But the next step of his maturation process (and here's where I feel compelled to mention he's only now a junior and is 18-7) will be making some bigger throws to catch the Mountaineers back up to the chains. And that might be tough to do with a less experienced set of receivers.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 109.9 3.36 3 45.0% 62.5% 19.2% 151.5 4.2% 3.0%
Rank 28 7 86 10 86 65 24 49 6
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jesse Chapman C 13 25 2015 1st All-Sun Belt
Davante Harris LT 13 29 2015 2nd All-Sun Belt
Parker Collins LG 6'3, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 13 23 2015 2nd All-Sun Belt
Shaq Counts LG 0 24
Colby Gossett RT 6'6, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 13 20
Beau Nunn RT 6'4, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 7 17
Jamie Collmar RG 6'2, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7805 6 7
Victor Johnson LT 6'5, 260 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7938 0 0
Tobias Edge-Campbell C 6'2, 300 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 0 0
Chandler Greer RG 6'5, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594 0 0
Madison Malone RT 6'5, 275 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 0 0
Alex Taylor OL 6'9, 294 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959

Nate Haskins OL 6'5, 270 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 20 IsoPPP+ 112.6 33
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.9% 29 Succ. Rt. + 101.5 61
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.9 63 Off. FP+ 26.7 114
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.5 12 Redzone S&P+ 103.6 51
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.6 ACTUAL 24.0 +8.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 11 41 61 33
RUSHING 27 42 56 34
PASSING 14 52 70 44
Standard Downs 31 44 31
Passing Downs 53 91 32
Q1 Rk 32 1st Down Rk 28
Q2 Rk 31 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 51 3rd Down Rk 26
Q4 Rk 56

6. Closing the deal

This isn't the good kind of symmetry, but Appalachian State's defense had basically the same outlook as its offense: dominate on standard downs, falter on passing downs.

The Mountaineers were 31st in Standard Downs S&P+, scaring opponents into running because of their great pass rush and allowing only 3.7 yards per carry on first and second down. Then, once opponents worked up the nerve to pass, the App State pass rush honed in. In the opponent-adjusted Adj. Line Yards, the Mountaineers ranked 12th in the country.

Unfortunately, when the pass rush didn't get there, quarterbacks were able to find receivers past the first down marker. While 44th in Standard Downs Success Rate+, ASU was 91st on passing downs. They were still preventing huge gains, but opponents were able to find second life at times. That might have had a role to play in a slight fade -- ASU ranked in the 30s in the first and second quarter and in the 50s in the third and fourth.

ASU really needed that pass rush to make things happen in 2015, and that's a little bit scary considering the loss of end Ronald Blair, who not only led the team in TFLs and sacks but was also active enough to rank third on the team in tackles. He was the rarest of commodities: a 3-4 end who is a ferocious playmaker. That he is very nearly the only starter lost from this defense is encouraging, but he was special.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 100.1 2.73 2.64 36.0% 64.5% 20.6% 139.8 7.3% 10.6%
Rank 61 41 16 39 56 53 12 11 17
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ronald Blair DE 13 56.5 7.9% 19.0 7.5 1 0 1 1
Nate Norwood DE 6'2, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 27.5 3.9% 7.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Olawale Dada DE 6'0, 235 Sr. NR NR 13 25.0 3.5% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Tyson Fernandez NT 6'2, 320 Sr. NR NR 13 18.5 2.6% 4.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Caleb Fuller DE 6'0, 240 Jr. NR NR 13 17.0 2.4% 3.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Stephen Burns NT 13 10.5 1.5% 4.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Darian Small NT 6'2, 315 Sr. NR NR 12 7.0 1.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Antonious Sims DE 6'3, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 5 6.5 0.9% 2.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Tashion Singleton DE
11 4.0 0.6% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Myquon Stout NT 6'1, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 12 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alanmicheal Harkness DE 6'3, 260 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7979 4 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Matthew McClurg DE 6'5, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8088
Chris Willis DE 6'2, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7683
Baer Hunter DE 6'3, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eric Boggs ILB 6'3, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7383 13 79.0 11.1% 7.5 4.0 3 1 0 0
John Law ILB 6'0, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8245 12 57.0 8.0% 9.5 4.0 2 1 0 0
Kennan Gilchrist OLB 6'2, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 13 50.0 7.0% 3.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Devan Stringer OLB 5'11, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7705 13 47.5 6.7% 7.5 2.5 0 2 0 1
Rashaad Townes OLB 6'2, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 9 22.0 3.5% 4.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Osvaldo Sombo OLB 13 21.5 3.0% 6.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
D.J. Ward ILB 10 11.0 1.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Teh'Ron Fuller ILB 6'2, 225 So. NR 0.7900 12 7.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Anthony Flory ILB 6'2, 225 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 13 7.0 1.0% 0.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Dustin Anderson OLB
12 5.5 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Toronto Thomas ILB 6'0, 235 Sr. NR NR 11 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Okon Godwin OLB 6'2, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 7 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dezmin Reed OLB 6'2, 230 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Akeem Davis OLB 6'2, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954








7. Replacing Ronald

The good news is that seniors Nate Norwood and Olawale Dada were pretty active ends in their own right, combining for 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. They don't have Blair's size, however. At 6'4, 270, Blair had the heft of a true 3-4 end, somebody who can both make plays and stand up to run-blocking. At 6'2, 240 and 6'0, 235, Norwood and Dada are not. That could open the door for bigger options like senior Antonious Sims or sophomore Alanmichael Harkness.

Size isn't an issue at nose tackle, though, where seniors Tyson Fernandez (6'2, 320) and Darian Small (6'2, 315) will again hold things down pretty well. They are excellent at standing up blockers and clearing the runway for inside linebackers Eric Boggs and John Law (combined: 17 TFLs, eight sacks, five INTs).

Losing a special player hurts quite a bit, but Appalachian State has more depth, experience, and potential in the front seven than a Sun Belt team should. They should be alright up front, even if the sack rate slips a hair.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alex Gray FS 6'3, 210 Sr. NR NR 13 43.0 6.0% 1.5 0 2 2 1 0
Doug Middleton SS 13 41.5 5.8% 1 0.5 0 3 0 0
Latrell Gibbs CB 5'10, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 13 39.5 5.5% 2 0 7 12 0 0
A.J. Howard SS 5'11, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 13 28.5 4.0% 5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Mondo Williams CB 5'11, 175 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 12 26.5 3.7% 2 0 2 4 0 0
Tae Hayes CB 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7744 13 18.0 2.5% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Josh Thomas FS 6'0, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7967 13 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Austin Exford DB 6'2, 195 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 4 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Junior Sigalo DB
11 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Krah CB 11 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Pinckney DB 6'0, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Desmond Franklin DB 6'2, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056
K.J. Chamberlain DB 6'2, 194 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8011
Shemar Jean-Charles DB 5'11, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7932
Aris Duffey DB 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7966








8. Making plays, preventing plays

It did appear that the ASU's secondary was pretty conservative on passing downs, playing it safe and hoping that the pass rush got to the quarterback. But they were indeed excellent at big-play prevention, and when allowed to attack, they attacked well. With Alex Gray playing a strong safety-valve role, corner Latrell Gibs was able to pick off seven passes and break up 12 more.

Losing strong safety Doug Middleton hurts, but defensive coordinator Nate Woody still has plenty of experienced safety options in Gray and junior A.J. Hoawrd, and corner Tae Hayes showed some playmaker flashes as a freshman.

You'd prefer not to be prone to giving up nine-yard passes on third-and-8 here and there, but if you have to pick a problem, that's a pretty good one -- it means you're forcing third-and-8s, and even bad passing downs defenses make stops more often than not. Unless the pass rush completely falls apart without Blair, this secondary should still be able to make some plays.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Bentlee Critcher 6'1, 190 Sr. 51 43.4 6 14 11 49.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Zach Matics 81 62.0 40 1 49.4%
Bentlee Critcher 6'1, 190 Sr. 4 63.3 3 0 75.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Zach Matics 61-61 9-10 90.0% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Ricky Fergerson KR 21 21.9 0
Bobo Beathard KR 6 21.5 0
Bobo Beathard PR 12 5.3 0
Latrell Gibbs PR 5'10, 170 Jr. 8 6.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 3
Field Goal Efficiency 7
Punt Return Success Rate 112
Kick Return Success Rate 17
Punt Success Rate 30
Kickoff Success Rate 48

9. Rebuilding a great special teams unit

Punt returns were mostly nonexistent, but App State was steady with Ricky Fergerson in kick returns, Bentlee Critcher's punts were long and often unreturnable, and Zach Matics was a serious weapon in both kickoffs and place-kicking. Critcher returns (and could be an equally solid kickoffs guy), but Fergerson and Matics do not. That means turnover in three of the four areas that powered the Mountaineers' No. 3 special teams ranking.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Tennessee 9 -16.8 17%
10-Sep Old Dominion 111 18.8 86%
17-Sep Miami 30 -2.9 43%
24-Sep at Akron 97 6.6 65%
1-Oct Georgia State 105 16.3 83%
12-Oct at UL-Lafayette 106 10.7 73%
22-Oct Idaho 108 18.3 86%
27-Oct at Georgia Southern 52 -4.3 40%
5-Nov Texas State 120 21.2 89%
12-Nov at Troy 103 8.6 69%
19-Nov UL-Monroe 125 23.5 91%
26-Nov at New Mexico State 117 13.5 78%
Projected wins: 8.2
Five-Year F/+ Rk -6.1% (73)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 115 / 113
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 2 / -2.0
2015 TO Luck/Game +1.7
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 75% (72%, 78%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 10.5 (0.5)

10. Statement opportunities abound

Appalachian State is going to be quite good this season. The defense is loaded with both experience and playmaking ability, and despite a little bit of turnover on the offensive line, the run game should again be great. Most of the reasons the Mountaineers were good last year are back. Without Blair, and with new names in the receiving corps, it might be hard for them to TOP last year's output, but they could be able to replicate it.

In this light, the schedule is pretty much perfect. ASU avoids Arkansas State and faces only three opponents projected higher than 97th, but two of the three have big names (Tennessee, Miami), and the third is Georgia Southern. There is an opportunity to rack up the win total, but there's also a chance for a statement win or two. Tennessee is probably out of ASU's league (unless this offseason's drama catches up to the Vols), but Miami comes TO Boone, and ASU was more than capable of handling Southern last year.

Lose to the good teams and beat the bad teams, and there's a chance that the Mountaineers are going for another 10-win season in another bowl. That's good enough. But ASU's got a chance to claim a pretty big scalp or two, too.

It is amazing how much has clicked for this program of late. But while the high number of juniors and seniors could mean a regression year at some point in the future, I would be pretty surprised if Appalachian State didn't once again rack up the wins in 2015. You can talk yourself into Georgia Southern or Arkansas State being the Sun Belt favorite, but they have bigger questions to answer than the Mountaineers do.