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Sun Belt Championship – App State at Troy

App State's championship rings & trophies
Sun Belt Championship - App State at Troy

Appalachian State Mountaineers travel to Troy, AL to face the Troy Trojans for the Sun Belt Championship.

Broadcast Information

• Kickoff 4:05 PM Eastern time on ESPN

• John Schriffen, Kick Morrison & Stormy Buonantony will have the call

• The Varsity Network and Sidearm Sports

What’s at Stake?

App State leads the all-time series 8-3 and has been winners of the past five straight with an average margin of victory of 25 points. With that type of information the game shouldn’t be close, right? Well, think again. Just last season as App was riding the high of beating the sixth-ranked team in the country and hosting ESPN’s College GameDay, Troy came into town with the hopes of ruining the party…and they almost did! A final heave to the end zone from Chase Brice to Christian Horn (tipped by Dalton Stroman) kept the App momentum rolling. But Does all that carry over to this game?

Key Players

QB Joey Aguliar – Appalachian State

WR Kaedin Robinson – Appalachian State

LB Andrew Parker Jr. – Appalachian State

CB Tyrek Funderburk – Appalachian State

RB Kimani Vidal - Troy

QB Gunnar Watson – Troy

WR Chris Lewis – Troy

LB Richard Jibunor - Troy

Key Match-ups

The first key matchup is everyone vs the weather. At this time, the game looks like it will be a wet and slippery affair. Let’s hope it is intermittent and not prolonged throughout the game.

App State’s defense struggled in the first half of the season, giving up an average of 205 yards through their first eight games. In their last four (all against bowl teams) that number has moved downward to just 97.75, on average. Enter Kimani Vidal, who has led Troy in rushing every game this season (112.42 avg). If wet conditions persist and Troy can establish the run game, expect Vidal to carry the load and help lead his team to a second straight Sun Belt title.

Historically, App State has used the run to open their passing game, but this season, the script has flipped. Joey Aguilar has passed for the third most TDs in the NCAA this season (33). Troy has 9 INTs for the year. Reddy Steward leads the team with four, followed by Irshaad Davis, and three others with one a piece. Besides Steward, App won’t fear this secondary with the weapons at WR, having six over 300 yards on the season. However, the pressure comes before that. A line anchored with solid DE play from T.J. Jackson and Zach Edwards is followed by the best LB corp in the Sun Belt. Javon Solomon leads the team with 14 sacks, Jayden McDonald with 70 tackles, and, by the eye test, the most disruptive of all three, Richard Jibunor who seems to be in on almost every play. Aguilar will need solid protection and some quick options to beat the rush of the men of Troy. If App can produce on the quick routes and avoid long-yardage situations, expect the Mountaineers to have lots of success on the scoreboard and have every chance to come away victorious vs Troy yet again.

Prediction - Sun Belt Championship

Weather is likely to be a big factor in this one. Still expect both teams to have success through the air. With Vidal being held under 84 yards in six games this season, Troy still won four by an average of 22 points. App’s leading rusher during their five-game win streak only exceeded 100 yards twice. Neither team needs huge performances on the ground, but they’ll have to force each other to respect it to open the passing lanes. Troy has the best LB corp in the conference, a big reason they are in this game, but App counters with the best WR corp, led by Kaedin Robinson. If Aguilar and his protection can give him time to feel comfortable in the pocket, he will have success finding the open receiver.

Don’t forget the QB on the other side either, Gunnar Watson sits just 130 yards behind Aguilar for passing yards this season. His quite literal, biggest weapon is Kentucky transfer Chris Lewis. Lewis stands at 6’4” and 204 lbs. A tough matchup for any secondary but one I feel the Mountaineers will step up for with the defensive changes they’ve made over the last six games.

This game comes down to a team that’s been more consistent over the season (Troy) versus a team that playing their best football right now (App State). As with most championship tilts, this one will come down to the basics. Possession time, penalties, and turnovers will win this game. The QBs can’t panic, the RBs can’t put it on the turf, and the players need to keep their heads. My belief is those basics favor the team playing at the top of their game in Appalachian State.

Expect App to come out firing on the passing attack, taking advantage of the short passing game to move the ball downfield while mixing in just enough runs when Troy elects not to stack the box. Troy will also answer early, as they did in last season’s championship game vs Coastal Carolina while jumping out to a 17-0 lead. This game settles down after the first few possessions as wet conditions help keep the scoring in check through much of the middle portion. After halftime, a team hungry to prove that last season was an anomaly and not the new norm, as App State continues to attack through the air with a few short-yardage passes to Eli Wilson. Troy counters with a late Vidal TD but it’s not enough and the Mountaineers get back to the 'Mountain Top', winning their fourth Sun Belt trophy, 32-28 (no Hail Mary necessary this time).

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