RHL Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The 8-5 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will be squaring off with the 10-2 Appalachian State Mountaineers, this year’s champions of the Sun Belt Conference.
Appalachian State spent some time in the Top 25 during its solid regular season. Middle Tennessee never reached that lofty level, but the program has a number of big wins under its belt and lost a heartbreaker to UAB in the Conference USA championship game.
The Mountaineers are nearly touchdown favorites, but these two schools match up pretty well, which means we could be in for a real dandy under the primetime lights on ESPN. Let’s take a look at what both teams bring to the table and break down this contest in full detail.
Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State, 9 PM EST, Sat. December 15, ESPN
Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State pick:
Middle Tennessee was looking like an average squad at the beginning of the year, but the team began to turn it around at the midway point. After opening up with a mark of 3-3, the Blue Raiders would close out the season strong by going on a run of 5-2.
For Appalachian State, the season opened up with a bang, albeit in a losing effort. The Mountaineers gave nationally ranked Penn State all it could handle before falling by a final score of 45-38. The team had just one more loss from that point – 34-14 to Georgia Southern – while finishing up its schedule on an impressive 10-1 run.
|Middle Tennessee||8-5||7-1||379||329||L1||1-CUSA East|
|Appalachian State||10-2||7-1||440||188||W5||1-SB East|
The Blue Raiders’ middling .500 start was followed by a four-game winning streak that included big victories over Old Dominion and UTEP. The streak was halted by a loss to a nationally ranked Kentucky team, and Middle Tennessee would follow that by trading wins with UAB. The teams faced off in the conference title game, which was won by UAB by a score of 27-25.
The pushing to the limit of Penn State was a sign of things to come for Appalachian State, a hard-nosed squad which is in the conversation of top small school team of 2018. The team had a number of blowout wins sprinkled through the year, but it received a bit of comeuppance at the hands of a run-heavy Georgia Southern squad, which defeated the Mountaineers by a score of 34-14.
Appalachian State has the overall edge on offense, but these two teams bring different offensive approaches to the table. The Mountaineers are more geared towards the run, while Middle Tennessee skews in the other direction. Defense is no contest, as Appalachian State has one of the nation’s top units on a statistical basis.
That said, the Blue Raiders do a better job when it comes to generating pressure, but they are lacking in the protection department. Turnovers and penalty yards per game are in the same neighborhood, but Appalachian State is clearly the better team on paper from an overall stats standpoint.
We have no historical meetings of these two schools to pore over, but we can dig into recent bowl game history for both teams. The Blue Raiders and Mountaineers have both gone bowling in each of the last three years, but the results are decidedly mixed.
For Middle Tennessee, the team has gone 1-2 in their three bowl games, with its lone win coming in last year’s Camellia Bowl, a 35-30 win over Arkansas State. The squad lost by double digits in the other two appearances: 45-31 to Western Michigan in the 2015 Bahamas Bowl, and a 52-35 loss to Hawaii in the 2016 Hawaii Bowl.
Appalachian State has enjoyed a much better run, winning each of its three bowls, which just so happen to be the only three at the FBS level in school history. In 2015, they took down Ohio in the Camellia Bowl by a score of 31-29. They returned to the same bowl the following year, a 31-28 victory over Toledo. They would face off with the same team in the 2017 Dollar General Bowl, and the Mountaineers walked off the field with an impressive 34-0 win.
Last year’s New Orleans Bowl saw Troy face off with North Texas, with the former blowing the doors off of the latter to the tune of 50-30. Interestingly, the favorite has won and covered in each of the last three editions of this game, with the Over coming in twice over that span.
Appalachian State has a distraction to deal with which may impact team mindset heading into the game. Head coach Scott Satterfield has accepted a gig with Louisville, and Mountaineers defensive line coach Mark Ivey will be in charge for the bowl game.
How that impacts Appalachian State on the field is a toss-up, but it’s certainly a negative mark heading into the contest. Absent that, Appalachian State is the stronger squad both offensively and defensively. We would lean towards them winning outright and covering as a result, but the question mark surrounding how the team will respond to the coaching situation throws a wrinkle into that.
As such, we’ll be looking for Middle Tennessee to have a better shot at keeping pace. Appalachian State is more than talented enough to win outright regardless of who is at the helm, but the Blue Raiders should be able to keep it interesting.
We’ll take Middle Tennessee plus the points.