College Sports

App State has new coach and 17 returning starters. Can it beat UNC, South Carolina?

The Appalachian State Mountaineers are favored to win another Sun Belt Conference football championship and have 17 starters back to help them do it. The team also has a new coach in Eliah Drinkwitz, who replaces the ultra-successful Scott Satterfield, now at Louisville.

Here’s a look at the Mountaineers’ schedule, with some educated guesses at how their games will shape up:

East Tennessee State

Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+

The Mountaineers open against the Bucs, their one-time Southern Conference rivals. East Tennessee, which still plays in the Football Championship Subdivision’s SoCon, has one of the league’s top players in defensive lineman Nasir Player. The Bucs are coming off an 8-4 season and made the FCS playoffs.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 55, East Tennessee 10.


Sept. 7, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+

The 49ers make their first appearance in Boone (four more games in this series have been scheduled, beginning in 2026). Charlotte has a new coach in Will Healy and several all-Conference USA players, including running back Benny LeMay, offensive lineman Cameron Clark, defensive end Alex Highsmith and kicker Jonathan Cruz (who kicked field goals of 46, 54 and 48 yards in the Mountaineers’ 45-9 victory against Charlotte last season. Still not enough.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 42, Charlotte 17.

At North Carolina

Sept. 21, Time, TV TBA

Appalachian gets two weeks to prepare for a trip to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels and coach Mack Brown, who coached the Mountaineers in 1983. ASU is part of rugged early schedule for UNC, which also features games against South Carolina, Miami, Wake Forest and Clemson. A victory by the Mountaineers here wouldn’t be an upset on the scale of beating Michigan in 2007, but it would certainly resonate in a big way around the state.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 17, North Carolina 14.

Coastal Carolina

Sept. 28, 3:30 p.m., TV TBA

App State open its Sun Belt schedule against the Chanticleers, who were 5-7 in 2018 in their third year as an FBS program (losing their final four games). End Tarron Jackson leads Coastal’s defense.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 42, Coastal Carolina 10.

At Louisiana

Oct. 9, 8 p.m., ESPN2

The Mountaineers get a nationally televised Wednesday night game against the Ragin’ Cajuns. It’s also a rematch of last season’s Sun Belt championship game, won by Appalachian 30-19. This looks to be another regular-season matchup between two favorites that will likely play again in December’s title game. It will also be App State’s first loss.

Fearless prediction: Louisiana 28, Appalachian 24.


Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m., TV TBA

This game matches perhaps the Sun Belt’s top two quarterbacks — Appalachian’s Zac Thomas, and ULM’s Caleb Evans, who threw for 2,869 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 28, ULM 17.

At South Alabama

Oct. 26, Time, TV TBA

Second-year coach Steve Johnson hopes quarterback Cephus Johnson develops quickly. Otherwise, South Alabama might have a tough time improving on last season’s 3-9 mark.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 42, South Alabama 7.

Georgia Southern

Oct. 31, 8 p.m., ESPNU

A Mountaineers-Eagles game is always fun — their longtime Southern Conference rivalry has carried over nicely into the Sun Belt. This game’s on a Thursday night in front of an ESPNU audience. Appalachian’s explosive passing game will be tested by Georgia Southern’s secondary, which features Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor, the Sun Belt’s preseason defensive player of the year.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 28, Georgia Southern 17.

At South Carolina

Nov. 9, Time, TV TBA

The Mountaineers’ ambitious nonconference schedule includes this game against the Gamecocks in Columbia. South Carolina is picked to finish fourth in the SEC East and has one of the league’s top wideouts in Bryan Edwards.

Fearless prediction: South Carolina 27, Appalachian 17.

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At Georgia State

Nov. 16, Time, TV TBA

The Mountaineers are 5-0 against the Panthers and beat them 45-17 last season. Not much is expected again this season from Georgia State, which struggled to a 2-10 record last season.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 35, Georgia State 7.

Texas State

Nov. 23, 2:30 p.m., TV TBA

The Bobcats, 3-9 last season, have preseason all-Sun Belt linebacker Bryan London. App State has much more.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 49, Texas State 14.

At Troy

Nov. 29, 6 p.m., TV TBA

Trojans’ running back B.J. Smith is the Sun Belt’s preseason offensive player of the year. This game will likely decide who represents the league’s East Division in the Dec. 7 championship game.

Fearless prediction: Appalachian 35, Troy 21.

Final record: 10-2 (7-1 Sun Belt).

David Scott: @davidscott14