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Can the Mountaineers Get Back to the Mountain Top? The 2023 App State Preview

App State Football 2023

2022 Season

Last season, the Mountaineers ended with a 6-6 overall record, going just 3-5 in Sun Belt play. A far cry from the publications that had them winning the East division in pre-season projections (Lindy’s, Athlon, Phil Steele, Coaches Poll, and my own, whatever that’s worth…). A disappointing season, but also one that started with a vastly different feel.


A shootout vs. UNC (L 63-61), a win over (then #6 ranked) Texas A&M, and a College Gameday appearance, which featured a hail mary victory over eventual Sun Belt Champion, Troy. The victory over Texas A&M would be their only road win of the season however, as they would lose the rest of them (Texas State, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, and Georgia Southern). The game against the Eagles was essentially a bowl play-in game, which featured a double-overtime fight to the finish. Two wins against FCS opponents (the Marshall game was initially out of conference when scheduled years ago, forced App to round out the schedule with Robert Morris after the Citadel) would ultimately rule out the Mountaineers from postseason play.

App State in 2023

Looking at App State in 2023, there will be a new QB behind center, a new (actually returning) offensive coordinator, and a new (actually again, returning – not DC the first time around though) defensive coordinator to help right the ship here. While Frank Ponce (OC) and Scott Sloan (DC) are notable additions, the most interesting is, of course, the QB position. As of yet, neither Ryan Burger nor Joey Aguilar has been named the starter. Burger does have an actual burger named after him in Boone (NIL done right!), so take that for what it’s worth. My expectation is that Aguilar will ultimately win this battle, but it may not shake itself out until a few weeks into the season.


Offense

Elsewhere, the offense returns seven, including RB Nate Noel. They do lose two 1st Team SBC offensive tackles in Cooper Hodges (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Anderson Hardy (Kansas City Chiefs) but bring in size and experience through the transfer portal to help offset those concerns. The WR core was a question mark going into last season but juniors Davis, Robinson, & Horn squashed those doubts quickly, as well as up-and-coming freshman, Dalton Stroman.

Defense

The defensive side of the ball will face an uphill battle with only four returning starters. App reached into the transfer portal to lean on bigger and stronger down linemen from P5 programs to come in and anchor the newly built defensive line. The team feels confident there and seems to really like their LB group, as well as who they brought in for the secondary (CB Tyrek Funderburk – Richmond & S EJ Jackson – Marshall). I’d expect a few early season struggles but for this group to round into form just in time for conference play.


Game by Game:

September 2nd – Gardner-Webb: Expect a slow start on defense for both sides. This one stays close until the second half.


September 9th - @ North Carolina: 1-1 in last two games vs. UNC. Total point difference in those? Just five points. Expect another tight game in Chapel Hill.


September 16th – East Carolina: Third straight in-state opponent. ECU is building. This one should be tighter than the 2021 matchup that saw App win 33-19 in Charlotte.


September 23rd - @ Wyoming: The Cowboys were just 4-2 at home last season. The Mountaineers won’t be intimidated by that. Look for a game resembling the home opener (slow start from travel – opens up in the second half).


September 30th - @ ULM: Back-to-back 4-8 records for the Warhawks. This one will go the Mountaineers' way but closer than it should, as ULM tends to play well at home.


October 10th – Coastal Carolina: The hot new rivalry in the Sun Belt. 2-2 over the last 4 with the home team winning each game. You have to think hosting on a Tuesday night plays to App’s advantage.


October 21st - @ Old Dominion: App is 3-0 all-time vs ODU. No reason to think that changes this season.


October 28th – Southern Miss: The 2018 matchup never happened. The battle between teams that both call ‘The Rock’ home. Both wear black and gold and have similar RBs in Noel and Gore. This one should be fun!


November 4th – Marshall: Former rivals that haven’t gotten back to that old-school feel just yet. Could this be the year? This one could help decide the East winner.


November 11th - @ Georgia State: The Panthers have never beaten App State (0-9). A slow start for App in this game last year. Expect a stronger overall game from the Mountaineers this time around.


November 18th - @ JMU: If history tells us anything, this is a game no one should miss (the last 3 games were decided by a total of 8 points). With JMU once again ineligible for the postseason, the Duke seniors will want to go out on top at home.


November 25th – Georgia Southern: Hate week ends the season, just in time for Thanksgiving! The Mountaineers will want revenge for last year’s 2 OT thriller that kept them from bowling. I expect App to get it as they are also set to retire Armanti Edward’s jersey.



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