Appalachian State football is favored to win the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division and finish runner-up for the conference championship, according to the Sun Belt Conference coaches poll.
The Mountaineers also added seven players to the league’s preseason all-conference team, including junior defensive back Clifton Duck, who was also named preseason defensive player of the year.
Duck, who played at Butler High in Matthews, was joined on the all-preseason first team by senior running back Jalin Moore, junior offensive lineman Victor Johnson, junior tight end Collin Reed and senior linebacker Anthony Flory. Second-team picks were senior defensive back Tae Hayes and senior defensive lineman Myquon Stout.
The poll, which was released Thursday, also predicts Arkansas State will win the Sun Belt title game. Division winners will face off Dec. 2 in the first championship game in the conference’s 18-year history.
Arkansas State received nine of the 20 first-place votes, while the Mountaineers garnered the second-highest total with six. Troy (four) and South Alabama (one) also received first-place votes from league football coaches.
Arkansas State received the most total points, 49, and Appalachian State (46 points) finished two points ahead of third-place pick Troy (44 points).
Appalachian State and Troy are treated as the two contenders to claim the East Division, with an 18-point gap between Troy and the third-place team in the division, Georgia State (26 points). Georgia Southern (22 points) and Coastal Carolina (12 points) round out the East, respectively.
In the West Division, UL Monroe (37 points) has been picked to trail Arkansas State, followed by South Alabama (26 points), Louisiana (25 points) and Texas State (13 points).
App State will play all but one team, UL Monroe, in the conference next season as the league thins itself down to 10 football members. The Mountaineers and the Warhawks played each season in the last four years, with App State claiming three wins in the series.
UL Monroe beat App State for the first time last year, a 52-45 away loss for the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State will open its season on Sept. 1 with an away game against Penn State.
Observer news services contributed to this story. The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/asu/