Appalachian State 2012 Football Preview (Part III: The Defense)
With eight starters returning on the defensive side of the football, Appalachian State has a chance to field one of its best outfits in school history, and likely the best unit since that vaunted 2006 ASU unit that featured a couple of Buck Buchanan Award candidates heading into the season.
Much like that '06 unit, the 2012 defense will also enter the campaign with a couple of Buck Buchanan Award candidates, and will be entering the second season utilizing the 3-4 defensive scheme.
Against Chattanooga in the Southern Conference opener last season, one could've been mistaken for thinking they were watching the 1994 ASU defense rather than the 2012 unit, as the Mountaineers did not score an offensive TD in a 14-12 win over the Mocs.
ASU is coming off a 2011 season which saw the Black and Gold rank 53rd in the nation in total defense (353.3 YPG) last fall, 56th in rush defense (149.4 YPG), 41st in scoring defense (23.8 PPG), and 54th in pass defense (203.9 YPG).
The Mountaineers ranked third in the Southern Conference in sacks last season, with 24 quarterbacks take-downs on the campaign.
The strength of this Mountaineer defense heading into the 2012 season will be the line-backing unit, and that is despite losing OLB John Rizor, who was dismissed from the team just prior to fall camp.
There are a couple of reasons why this ASU unit of LBs figures to be among the elite corps' in the FCS this fall, and that is thanks in large part to the return of seniors Jeremy Kimbrough a (105 tackles, 12.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1TD) and Brandon Grier (97 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR).
Kimbrough, a 5-11, 240-pound native of Decatur, GA, will patrol the middle of the ASU defense, occupying one of the two inside LB spots this fall. Kimbrough is coming off a huge 2011 season, which saw him garner second-team All-America (The Sports Network) honors after becoming the leader of the Mountaineer defense last fall.
One of the reasons that Kimbrough enters the campaign as a Buck Buchanan Award candidate is because he is the type of defensive player that can be a game-changer for ASU, much like past greats K.T. Stovall, Josh Jeffries and the great Dexter Coakley once were.
His 46-yard INT return for a score in the 14-12 win over Chattanooga, helped will ASU to a two-point win in its SoCon opener last season. In that win over the Mocs, he also registered 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss to garner Sports Network National Player of the Week honors. Kimbrough completed the 2011 season by totaling five double-digit tackle performances on the campaign.
The other part of the all-conference duo returning for the 2012 campaign is senior inside linebacker Brandon Grier. The 6-2, 232-pound native of Charlotte,N.C., is coming off a solid 2011 season, and he will enter the season as a preseason Second-Team All-SoCon selection. He had four double-digit tackle performances last season, recording a season-best 13 stops in the season finale against Maine.
Grier and Kimbrough will form the core of this Appalachian State defense this fall, and with their combined leadership and experience, it will be extremely tough for foes to find any daylight running the ball at the teeth of the ASU defense in 2012.
The two starters at outside linebacker will be James "Deuce" Robinson (16 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF) and Joel Ross. Robinson will assume the 'bandit' linebacker position, as he will transition from the defensive line as a result of the loss of Rizor, while Middleton will occupy the 'star' position, which is a hybrid linebacker/defensive back.
Robinson seems to adjusted nicely to his new position through the first couple of weeks of fall camp. The 6-5, 246-pound native of Blythewood, S.C., turned in an outstanding freshman season as a defensive end, and though he had limited reps as a reserve, he showed his future potential as a pass-rusher on the perimeter. He brings excellent overall athleticism and power to the perimeter of the ASU defense, and enjoyed his top performance of his true freshman season against Savannah State, registering four tackles, 2.5 TFL and a pair of sacks.
Rounding out the starters at LB for ASU heading into the 2012 season will be 'star' linebacker Joel Ross. The 5-10, 178-pound sophomore has had a strong spring and fall, and is one of the more underrated players on the ASU defense heading into the season. Ross is a physical presence on the ASU defense, and could be one of those playmakers those unheralded players that blossoms into a star talent on the defensive side of the football for the Mountaineers this fall. He saw action in eight games last season, with nearly all of his work logged as a part of the special teams unit.
With the loss of John Rizor, there has been some re-shuffling along the defensive line, as a result of Robinson's to OLB, there will be a new starter at one of the defensive end positions this fall, and ASU will have two new starters on the defensive front in total as a result of the graduation of Dan Wylie.
The two new starters along the defensive front for the Apps this fall will be a pair of redshirt freshmen, in Davante Harris at defensive end and Thomas Bronson at nose tackle.
Harris, a 6-6, 285-pound redshirt freshman from Blythewood, S.C., would have factored in more last season if it hadn't been for a head injury in the home opener against North Carolina A&T, which cost him the remainder of his true freshman campaign. Harris is powerful and has excellent size and athleticisim, which he will bring to the bookend position.
Bronson, a 6-3, 275-pound native of Brookesville, FL, and has been impressive since his arrival on campus for the Apps. He will have some rather large shoes to fill this season, having to replace a talented nose tackle from a year ago for the Apps, with the graduation of Wylie. Bronson was one of the main recruiting targets for the ASU staff a couple of years ago, and they have been staff with his rapid development to this point.
The veteran of what is a young starting trio along the defensive front entering the 2012 season will be Ronald Blair (40 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF), who was a SoCon All-Freshman performer last season, and will likely be ASU's top pass-rush threat this fall.
The 6-4, 271-pound native of Greensboro, GA, will team with Harris as the starting defensive ends for the Mountaineers heading into the 2012 season. Blair had several strong performances for the Mountaineers last season, and he is a powerful defensive end, which in many ways mirrors former ASU great K.T. Stovall (1999-2003).
His top performance of his true freshman campaign came in the win over top-ranked Georgia Southern, posting eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack, helping Blair garner SoCon Freshman of the Week accolades.
The defensive line has good size and athleticism, but lacks experience. It is definitely an element to keep an eye on, especially early on in the campaign, as the young talent adjusts to the college game; however, at this point, it wouldn't seem to be a big concern.
Plenty of excitement surrounds the ASU secondary heading into the 2012 campaign, and much of that excitement has to do with a player expected to challenge for the prestigious Buck Buchanan Award, with the return of Demetrius McCray (48 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 9 PBUs, 5 INTs) at the right cornerback position. McCray is a tremendous athlete, and really took the league by storm last season.
McCray actually played quarterback as a prep, and he has tremendous speed and overall coverage skills. His five INTs last season led the Southern Conference. Like Blair, McCray enjoyed one of his top outings against Georgia Southern, picking off a pair of Jaybo Shaw passes. In fact, in ASU's four games in October, McCray picked off four passes, with all four coming against traditional triple-option ground attacks.
Teaming with McCray as a starter at cornerback for the Apps this fall will be sophomore Doug Middleton (23 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 0.5 sacks), who is coming off a strong freshman campaign for the Mountaineers. Middleton is coming off a season which saw him start a pair of games and log action in all 12 contests as a free safety in his freshman season a year ago.
Middleton, a 6-1, 198-pound native of Winston-Salem, N.C., and he made some significant contributions on special teams and on defense as a playmaker, with his electrifying speed and opportunistic instincts last season. One of the plays that personified Middleton's game-breaking speed came in the home opener against North Carolina A&T, as he returned an INT 97 yards for a score in ASU's 58-6 throttling of the Aggies.
Rounding out the starters in the secondary for the Apps will be safeties Troy Sanders a (79 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 2 INTs, 1 FR) and Jamil Lott (13 tackles).
Sanders will obviously provide the veteran leadership in the secondary along with McCray, as he heads into his third season as a full-time starter at strong safety. The 6-0, 214-pound product of Chester, S.C., is one of the more versatile players on the ASU defense, possessing the ability to play either linebacker or defensive back. In many ways, Sanders is a player that is somewhat overshadowed by the other star performers of this defense, such as Kimbrough and McCray.
He enters the season having started 25-consecutive games for the Apps, and is coming off a season which saw him garner All-SoCon accolades at the strong safety position. He enjoyed his top outing of the 2011 season in the season opener against Virginia Tech, posting 10 stops, while also posting nine stops in back-to-back weeks in wins over Samford and Georgia Southern.
Lott enters the 2012 season coming off a campaign in which he saw action in all 12 games, logging three starts. Lott is a versatile athlete, having played on both sides of the football during his ASU career, bouncing back and forth between wide receiver and defensive back. He made his first start on the defensive side of the ball as the ASU nickel back in regular-season finale against Western Carolina, and recorded 13 tackles over the final three games of the campaign.
Last season, there were some question marks surrounding the ASU kicking game, however, those issues appeared to have been ironed out during the spring and in preseason camp.
Set to handle the place-kicking responsibilities for the Apps will be Marshall transfer Drew Stewart (8-of-10 FGs, 17-of-19 PATs. Stewart split time with punter Sam Martin (40.9 YPP, 16 punts inside 20, 7 TBs) at the position last fall, but the job will be Stewart's alone this fall.
Stewart has been extremely accurate on field goals of 40 yards and closer. Field goals of 45+ yards could be handled by either Martin or Mark Powell, who both have strong legs and have proven to be accurate from long range. Stewart was an impressive 6-for-6 on field goals in ASU's 46-14 triumph over Western Carolina, and that included hitting a season-long 44-yqard field goal.
Martin will handle the punting and kickoff responsibilities for the Apps this fall, and he will have a chance to compete for All-SoCon honors. He suffered through some nagging injuries throughout the 2011 season and early spring of this year, but appears to be 100-percent for the first time in a while, which is great news for head coach Jerry Moore.
Expect speedsters Tacoi Sumler and Doug Middleton to tag-team the kickoff and punt return duties this fall.
Predicting 2012 Schedule:
*-Denotes Southern Conference Game
Sept. 1 at East Carolina--Appalachian State and ECU will be meeting for the 31st time in series history, with ASU holding a 19-11 all-time series edge. A lot of sideline ties in this one, with two former members of ASU's 1995, 12-1 staff now significant members of the ECU staff, in Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeil and associate head coach John Wiley, making for some interesting storylines heading into the opener. ECU won 29-24 in '09, and had to hold on to be an Armanti Edwards-less ASU club on that afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. I expect this one to be relatively close again, with ECU being able to overcome ASU late in this one and post a win.
Sept. 8 Montana--ASU opens the Kidd Brewer Stadium gates with an intriguing matchup that has FCS football fans salivating, as the Montana Grizzlies make the trip from Missoula to Boone for the rare night game at The Rock. The two programs have of course met twice before in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, with Montana claiming both of those wins nine years apart, with the latest being a 24-17 contest in the electrifying atmosphere of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. If the combined five national titles aren't reason enough to watch, then maybe the fact that the only two previous meetings haven't decided until late in the fourth quarter, and in the case of the 2000 meeting, not until overtime,should be enough to keep any FCS fan glued to coverage. While Montana brings pedigree and talent, it also brings plenty of question marks to Boone, including a new man under center and on the sidelines after a tumultuous off-season. For that reason, I think the Mountaineers complete the sweep of the Big Sky State--ASU defeated Montana State 31-14 in the '06 FCS Quarterfinals--with a close win over the Grizzlies.
Sept. 15 The Citadel*--September 15th brings about the Southern Conference opener for the Mountaineers, and ASU will open up its league slate against a Citadel team it has won eight-straight games against on the gridiron, dating back to a 24-21 loss in 2003. ASU has 17 of the last 18 games dating back to a 27-14 loss to the Bulldogs in Charleston in 1993. ASU claimed a wild 49-42 win last season in Charleston in what proved to the starting debut for Jamal Jackson, who completed his first 15 passes before throwing an incompletion in the seven-point road win. The Bulldogs return the league's most starters, with 18 regulars returning for the 2012 season. Eighth-year head coach welcomes the return of both quarterbacks, Aaron Miller and Ben Dupree, and will have one of the top defensive lines in the SoCon, anchored by the bookend tandem of Chris Billinslea and Derek Douglas. ASU has traditionally played exceptionally well inside the friendly confines against the Bulldogs, with the Mountaineers having not lost to the Bulldogs in Boone since a 25-0 setback in 1992 and are 17-3 against the Bulldogs in Boone all-time. In the 40 meetings all-time between the two schools, ASU hold a commanding 29-11 series lead. ASU might struggle to move the ball early against a stout Citadel defense, but look for the floodgates to open in the second half and for the Mountaineers to claim a win by 14-21 points.
Sept. 22 at Chattanooga*--There's no question the recent history of this rivalry has been exciting, as the past two meetings have been won by ASU by a combined three points. Last season, the Mountaineers didn't need an offensive TD en route to taking down the potent QB-WR connection of B.J Coleman and Joel Bradford, as ASU took down the Mocs by a score of 14-12. The last time the two played in the Scenic City, the season-opening SoCon clash produced a classic that will not soon be forgotten, with ASU eventually rebounding from a 21-point second half deficit to get a 42-41 win in a thrilling offensive display. Chattanooga is for many, the darkhorse to claim the Southern Conference title this season, and with 17 starters returning from a team that lost five games by a combined 12 points last season, including eight from one of the nation's top defensive units, this contest has the makings of another defensive classic. The Mocs will utilize the spread offense this fall, with either Terrell Robinson or Jacob Huesman slated to step under center. ASU holds a commanding 25-10 series edge, and the Mountaineers have won 24 of the last 27 meetings. ASU has won its last three games in Chattanooga, dating back to loss in the highest scoring game in Southern Conference history in 2004, with UTC claiming a wild 59-56 back in 2004. This should be a close, defensive affair with Chattanooga getting a late field goal to claim the win.
Sept. 29 Coastal Carolina--It will mark the third all-time meeting between ASU and Coastal Carolina, but will mark the first meeting between the two in nearly six years, with the last being a 45-28 win in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs. The Chanticleers are coming off their best season since that '06 season, as CCU posted a 7-4 mark, including a pair of wins over SoCon foes, beating both Furman and Western Carolina to bookend the season. It will mark the third all-time meeting between the Apps and Chants, with ASU having claimed both previous wins in convincing fashion, and both of those triumphs came on the KBS turf. A new man will be in charge of the Chanticleers football program, in former TD Ameritrade Joe Moglia, who became one of the most intriguing stories of the FCS off-season when he was hired to replace the coach David Bennett, who became the inaugural coach of the program when he was hired back in 2003. The Chanticleers welcome the return of 16 starters from a team that won seven games a year ago, including second-year starter Aramis Hillary under center. Hillary, who is the younger brother of former ASU wideout CoCo Hillary, brings experience and a dual threat to the QB position for the Chants this fall. ASU marks one of two SoCon foes the Chants will face this fall, as Moglia and CCU travel to Furman on Sept.8 to take on the Paladins in their home opener. The Chants were picked to finish third in the preseason Big South coaches and media poll. ASU last lost a regular-season non-conference game early in the 2009 season, when it dropped a 40-35 decision to No. 16 McNeese State. Don't expect the same result here, as ASU rolls to a third-straight win over CCU in convincing fashion.
Oct. 6 Elon (HC)*--Elon has become the program that Appalachian State fans have enjoyed beating about as much as anyone in the league. That enjoyment has to do mostly with the status on the FCS totem poll in the Old North State, with ASU occupying the imaginary top rung, while Elon remains a distant second. But Elon is tightening the gap, as evidenced by its narrow 28-24 setback to ASU last season in the regular-season finale--a game which ASU had to overcome a 21-0 deficit on the road to win. Elon is one of the two SoCon opponents have yet to lose to, and it's also the program that holds the distinction of most consecutive losses to ASU of the eight SoCon opponents, as the Mountaineers have won 16-straight against the Phoenix dating back to their days as NAIA rivals in 1965. Elon is a bit of a Jekyl and Hyde team heading into the 2012 season, but Elon does welcome the return of 17 starters, including the top pass-catch combo in the SoCon, in quarterback Thomas Wilson and Walter Payton Award candidate Aaron Mellette, who torched the ASU secondary for 236 yards on 14 receptions and a TD. It will mark the 41st all-time meeting between the two programs, with ASU holding a commanding 30-9-1 all-time series edge. Elon has been the league's passing champion each of the last seven seasons, and that should play into ASU's hands, assuming the Phoenix will again be a pass-heavy offense. However, Elon does play well in Boone, as evidenced by its last two trips to The Rock, but had the SoCon's all-time leading passer in each of those nip-and-tuck battles. Expect ASU to claim a win by 10-13 points in the homecoming clash.
Oct. 13 at Samford*--Like Elon, Samford is hasn't beaten the Mountaineers in a long time--42 years to be exact, and the Apps are 4-0 against the Bulldogs since Samford joined the SoCon in 2008. ASU remains the only team that the Bulldogs have not defeated since joining the league in 2008. The Mountaineers have won all four meetings as league foes by double digits, including a 35-17 win at The Rock last season. It will mark only the seventh all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, with ASU leading the all-time series 5-1. Samford's lone victory actually came in Boone, posting a 42-35 win over ASU at Conrad Stadium in November of 1970. ASU is 3-0 all-time in Birmingham, including a 35-17 win in the Magic City the last time the Apps made the seven-hour trek from the High Country. Samford, under the direction of former Auburn Heisman Trophy member Pat Sullivan, expects to have its most talented squad since joining the league in '08, and Sullivan has publicly said it might be his best team since taking over the reins of the program in 2007. Sixteen starters return for the Bulldogs for the 2012 season, including four starters along the offensive line, a potential All-America wide receiver, Kelsey Pope, and one of the nation's top all-purpose burners, Fabian Truss. The question mark on offense is how do you replace the school's second all-time leading passer, Dustin Taliaferro. That answer will either be Memphis transfer Andy Summerlin or junior Ben Neill.The defense also returns eight starters, anchored by Alvin Hines II, who enters the 2012 season as one of the league's top safeties. I think this game is crucial for ASU and one of the most important on the schedule. The result of this tough road contest determines whether ASU establishes itself as a team solidly qualified for the playoffs for the remainder of the season, or a team that has to play its way in from the fringes of the playoff bubble. For that reason, I think ASU finds a way to get a very scary win on the road and remain unbeaten against the Bulldogs as SoCon foes.
Oct. 20 Wofford*--ASU's SoCon stretch run in the SoCon begins with Wofford--a team that has been able to hold its own against ASU in Spartanburg, as evidenced by the 28-14 Terrier triumph at Gibbs Stadium last season, but the Terriers are also a team that have seemed to be in the Twilight Zone when playing at The Rock in recent memory. The Mountaineers have won four-straight home games against the Terriers, winning by an average of score of 41-15. Wofford, who was the picked to finish second in the SoCon in the league's media poll, welcomes the return of 15 starters, led by the return of the 2012 preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year and High Country product Eric Breitenstein, who rushed for 173 yards on 33 carries in the Terriers' win over the Apps last season. Wofford will be breaking in a new quarterback under center, in Brian Kass, who has some rather large shoes to fill with the departure of Mitch Woods as a result of graduation. The Terriers ranked second in the SoCon in total defense last fall, and seven starters are back from that unit of a year ago, including one of the league's top linebackers, Alvin Scioneaux. No doubt there's some great history between these two programs, with the main link being Jim Brakefield--a legendary coach at both institutions at different time, and he was the benefactor of the wishbone offense in its arrival at Wofford. Of course, under Mike Ayers, the Terriers will utilize the spread-bone attack once again this fall. The Oct. 20 meeting between the Mountaineers and Terriers will mark the 29th all-time meeting between the programs, with ASU holding a 17-11 all-time series edge. ASU claimed a 43-13 win in the meeting between the two back in 2010, which was a game that was the de facto Southern Conference title game. This one will likely once again be a game that goes a long way in deciding the SoCon race, and I expect Wofford to play its best game in Boone since 2006, but it will only result in a close loss, as ASU gets a big win over what could be a Top 10 FCS foe.
Oct. 27 at Western Carolina*--It will be another relatively early meeting for the "Battle For The Old Mountain Jug" and this will be an intriguing matchup this fall, as four former ASU coaches or players will be on the sidelines for the Catamounts this fall, including head coach Mark Speir, who has been selected to try and resurrect the WCU football program back to its winning ways of the early 1980's. Speir was instrumental to the success of ASU, coaching the running backs, defensive line and serving as the recruiting coordinator during his nine seasons on the mountain. Speir will be charged in rejuvenating a program that is just 11-56 overall and just 3-43 in Southern Conference play since the start of the 2006 campaign. The Catamounts welcome the return of 14 starters for the 2012 season, with eight returning on the offensive side of the ball and six on the defensive side of the football. Eddie Sullivan, a Marshall transfer, will be charged with leading Speir's spread-option attack in Cullowhee this fall, and will will have capable offensive weapons at his disposable, such as receivers Jacoby Mitchell and Deja Alexander and running back Michael Johnson. Most of the rebuilding project for the Catamounts resides on the defensive side of the ball, as WCU fielded one of the worst defenses in school history last season. There are some playmakers returning on the defensive side of the ball, including Rock Williams at LB, who finished third in the SoCon in tackles last season with 115 stops. ASU has won 25 of the last 27 matchups between the two programs, including three-straight at E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee. ASU last tasted defeat in the series in 2004, as WCU quarterback Justin Clarke, combined with some late-game miscues by the Black and Gold, helped lead a dramatic come-from-behind 30-27 win for WCU to claim the Jug. Since, the series has only really seen one close contest, which was the 2009 meeting, which saw ASU claim a 19-14 win in Boone without the services of Armanti Edwards. The Oct. 27th meeting will mark the 77th all-time meeting between the two programs, with ASU fashioning a commanding 57-18-1 series edge. This one will once again go the way of the Mountaineers, but I expect this rivalry to get very interesting in the near future, as WCU improves under Speir and staff.
Nov. 3 at Georgia Southern*--When it comes to Southern Conference and FCS Football, it just doesn't get any better than the Georgia Southern vs. Appalachian State rivalry. Each of the past two seasons has seen one or the other enter the matchup ranked No. 1 in the nation on both occasions, and on each occasion, the No. 1 team was upset. It's must see game and a game that could very well decide the Southern Conference title this fall. Last season, it was Appalachian State that posted a 24-17 win over the top-ranked Eagles, but it was Georgia Southern that ultimately ended up lifting the Southern Conference football crown, ending ASU's streak of six-straight league crowns. It's a matchup between two schools that have a combined nine national championships (GSU 6, ASU 3) and 20 Southern Conference crowns (ASU-11, GSU 9). The Mountaineers and Eagles have two of the best football heritages in not only FCS football, but also Division I football as a whole.The Appalachian State-Georgia Southern matchup is comparable to the Oklahoma-Texas matchup, or the Alabama-LSU matchups of the FBS college football world. It will mark the 28th all-time meeting between the two schools, with ASU holding a slim 14-12-1 edge in the series.This matchup has seen some great games, sans the 2004 and 2009 meetings between the two. In '04, the second-ranked Eagles walloped the Black and Gold in Statesboro, handing Appalachian State its worst loss in Statesboro in series history, as GSU posted a 54-7 win on that particular afternoon.ASU, however, would return the favor in 2009, rolling up 702 yards of total offense en route to a 52-16 win over the visiting Eagles before a sellout crowd at "The Rock" in the previous Black Saturday showdown between the two.Those two games, however, have been an exception to the rule as a whole in the 27 previous meetings. Six of the last nine meetings between the two have been classics, including four of the past five, with two needing overtime to decide things.Georgia Southern Took Down No.1, Undefeated Appalachian State, 21-14, In Overtime At Paulson Stadium In 2010.Last season's meeting between two Top five ranked foes was the first since 2001 when the Eagles took a 27-18 win against Appalachian. Interestingly enough, the last top-ranked team to visit The Rock was Georgia Southern in 1999, which is also the last time ASU defeated a national No. 1-ranked team. Heading into the 2011 matchup, the Eagles were ranked No.1 in the country, while the Mountaineers came in ranked No. 5.Last season's contest saw the Apps hold the Eagles to just 135 yards rushing, and a mere 201 yards of total offense. Coming into the contest, Georgia Southern was the NCAA Division I FCS leader in scoring (44.6 PPG) and rushing offense (369.7 YPG). ASU also held the Eagles to just 10 offensive points, and held the Eagles to 286 yards below their 487 yards of total offense average per game coming in. The full display of the best athleticism in the SoCon and FCS will be in action on Nov. 3 at Paulson Stadium. Some of the top defensive players in the nation will be in this matchup, including ASU's Demetrius McCray and LB Jeremy Kimbrough, and GSU's NG Brent Russell and LB Josh Rowe. Three of the four aforementioned players enter the season as preseason Buck Buchanan Award favorites. This game again has the makings of a great one, but after having won close contests in Statesboro in 2006 and '08, the Eagles might have turned the tide back in its favor against ASU in Paulson Stadium with its 21-14 overtime win in '10. It could be argued that it was that game that helped wake the sleeping giant that GSU has become. Since that win over a top-ranked ASU team in 2010, the Eagles have a 17-4 record. GSU gets a close win in Statesboro.
Nov. 10 Furman*(Black Saturday)--This is a rivalry that has stood the test of time in Southern Conference football over the years, although it has certainly been threatened to go the way of the dinosaur in recent seasons, with ASU posting six-straight wins from 2005-10. However, that was until last season when Furman infused some friction back into the once bitter rivalry by handing the No. 3-ranked Mountaineers a 20-10 at Furman's Paladin Stadium last fall. Since joining the Southern Conference in 1972, Appalachian State has never closed out a season or even Southern Conference play against Furman, which will be the case when the Paladins make a trip to what should be a chilly Kidd Brewer Stadium on Nov. 10. The two teams will be squaring off for the 42nd time in series history this season, with Appalachian, who trailed the series by a significant margin in the series at one point, has cut Furman's lead to 22-17-2. Appalachian State has won nine of the past 11 meetings between the two programs. Furman has not won in Boone since a 20-14 win on Oct. 12, 1996. The matchup is also one that pits the two schools that have won the most Southern Conference football titles, with the Paladins and Mountaineers having combined to have won 23 Southern Conference football crowns (Furman-12, Appalachian State-11).Interestingly enough, the two teams were pretty comparable offensively last season in terms of the national rankings. ASU ranked 38th nationally in total offense (390.2 YPG), while the Paladins ranked 39th nationally (389.3 YPG). In scoring offense, Appalachian State ranked 38th nationally (28.67 PPG) and Furman ranks 39th in scoring offense (28.64 PPG).In the 2011 meeting, Furman used an opportunistic defensive performance, causing four ASU turnovers en route to a 10-point win. The Paladins jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the strength of taking advantage of a couple of those afforded opportunities and a big pass play, which saw First-Team All-SoCon quarterback Chris Forcier connect with wideout Sederrik Cunningham for a 79-yard scoring connection about five minutes prior to the half.ASU did get back into the game in the second half, and did hold a 399-365 advantage in total yards, but many times in the Furman red zone squandered opportunities against a "bend-but-don't-break" Furman defense.In the Paladins' last trip to the High Country, it was "Black Saturday" --a game that hasn't been kind to the Paladins in recent history--and Furman went back to Greenville saddled with a 37-26 loss to the top-ranked, unbeaten Mountaineers. In that game, it was a big afternoon for ASU running back Travaris Cadet, who rushed for 108 yards and a career-best three TDs en route to helping the Mountaineers to the 11-point win.The fact remains that the Paladins haven't won on ASU's turf since it had that Marshall Green hue to it, and though the Paladins have played ASU well in Boone in the past, the crowd has more often than not been enough to give ASU that extra edge when it needed. Despite Furman's struggles against ASU of late--it's still ASU-Furman and it's still one of the best rivalries in the SoCon. Circle this one on the old calendar. While Furman will and usually does play well in Boone, it's not ready to entertain visions of 1996 just yet, and ASU solidifies its place in the postseason with a win in this one.
Predicted Final Regular Season Record: 8-3 overall, 6-2 SoCon
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