We all know about the Appalachian State’s 34-32 win over Michigan a decade ago. Now the Black and Gold is part of the FBS. But when the Mountaineers head between the Hedges on Sept. 2 to take on Georgia, to many, it won’t feel like the program belongs to Division I football’s highest classification.
That’s because Georgia plays football in the mighty SEC–a league that has produced eight national titles since 2005–and the Bulldogs, by association, are a team to be reckoned with each and every year in the SEC East.
The Bulldogs last claimed a national title in 1980, however, you wouldn’t know it if you talked to many of their fans. They wax poetic each fall about how their team is a national title favorite, however, it just, somehow, doesn’t seem to pan out. In many ways, the SEC is a league that has climbed on the coattails of Alabama since 2008, as the Crimson Tide has claimed four of the past five national titles won by what some would refer to as the nation’s toughest FBS conference.
Last season, Appalachian also opened up with a game in SEC territory, traveling to Knoxville to face preseason No. 9 Tennessee, dropping a 20-13 in overtime to the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with a Volunteer team that went on to start the season 5-0, which included a win over Georgia on a hail mary late in the game.
This season, the Apps will make the trip to Athens, GA and Sanford Stadium face No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (Associated Press) in the season opener. The Bulldogs are among five ranked programs in the SEC, according to the AP, entering the 2017 season, and are favorites to compete with Florida to win the SEC East title.
It was the same situation for the Apps when they headed to Knoxville last season, as the Vols found themselves as the preseason favorite to claim the 2016 SEC East title entering the 2016 season.
Heavy underdogs entering the contest, Appalachian did all but win the game. The Mountaineers were out-gained, 319-292 in total yards in the contest, but the Black and Gold did everything to put themselves in position to pull off a win over a Top 10, SEC foe last season in Knoxville.
It wasn’t the first time the Black and Gold has put in a scare against an SEC foe. The Apps showed LSU their mettle down on the Bayou back in 2005 (L, 0-24), while throwing a major scare into Auburn Tiger fans back in 1999, dropping a (L, 15-22) contest in that season opener, and it was a contest that the Mountaineers led for the majority of the game.
Aside from the win over Michigan in 2007, one of the biggest wins in the history of Mountaineer football came at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on Nov. 8, 1975. Under the direction of former legendary head coach Jim Brakefield, who was one of the forerunners of the option offense, the Black and Gold emerged from the capital city of the Palmetto State with a historic 39-34 win.
Though it happened before the re-classification of NCAA Division I football, which would come in 1981, it made the win no less significant for the Appalachian’s football program. The Mountaineers would get a masterpiece offensively from quarterback Robbie Price, who helped the Black and Gold to seven scoring drives of better than 70 yards, and four of those scoring drives went for better than 80 yards.
With the Mountaineers leading 24-14 at the half, South Carolina came out strong in the third quarter, helping the Gamecocks reduce Appalachian’s lead to four when Jeff Grantz scored from two yards out. However, Price and the Apps would finish the quarter a big way, with a 32-yard scoring toss from Price to help Appalachian help the Mountaineers to a 30-27 lead.
With the Gamecocks holding a 34-30 lead in the fourth quarter, Price and the Mountaineers would respond, as the Black and Gold signal-caller connected with wideout Donnie Holt on a 16-yard scoring strike to give the Mountaineers a 36-34 lead. Appalachian sealed the contest on South Carolina’s ensuing possession, as Mike Staton picked off a Gamecock pass to set up a game-winning field goal, allowing the Black and Gold to escape Columbia with a five-point win.
Aside from last season’s 20-13 overtime loss at Tennessee, the Mountaineers have struggled in recent games against teams from the SEC, especially the SEC East. In 2008 and in a matchup between reigning national title winners at their respective classifications, the Apps dropped a 41-13 contest to the LSU Tigers in a game that was moved from an 8 p.m. kickoff to 10:30 am due to Hurricane Gustav.
The Apps were 48-10 loser’s to Florida in 2010 and in 2013, the Black and Gold dropped a 45-6 contest between the hedges at Georgia.
In 2014 and ‘15 the Mountaineers faced a pair of power five conference teams that did not call the SEC a home as a home conference affiliation. In 2014, Appalachian dropped a 52-14 contest at Michigan to open the campaign, while the 2015 campaign saw the Black and Gold play valiantly for a half before eventually dropping a 41-10 decision to eventual FBS playoff qualifier and national title runner-up Clemson.
So what should Mountaineer fans make of Saturday’s contest to open the season at the University of Georgia? Well, the Black and Gold face a Kirby Smart-led squad with more questions than answers, but despite all that, the Bulldogs find themselves ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press to open the season.
Mountaineer fans can look to a 26-24 win by the ninth-ranked Bulldogs over FCS and Southland Conference member Nicholls State in the second week of the 2016 college football season for confidence. All the pressure is on Georgia, and with the Apps fielding a team favored to win the Sun Belt and one looking to make a statement, the matchup could set up especially well for the Black and Gold.