ATHENS, Ga. — Appalachian State isn’t eligible for the postseason this year because it’s making the move up to the NCAA’s top level for football.
The Mountaineers wouldn’t sniff playoff consideration anyway because they carry a surprising 2-7 record into Saturday’s game at Georgia.
It’s quite a dropoff for a program that won FCS titles from 2005-07, but parted ways with legendary coach Jerry Moore after last season following first-game postseason exits the past two years.
“I don’t think that the fact that we aren’t playing as well as we have played has anything to do with the transition piece, I think it just has to do that we’re an incredibly young team and, I hate to use the same word, but we’re transitioning our roster,” ninth-year Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb said. “Everyone around our program will say our record should be better than it is. The core of our team is very young. They’re trying to learn to win.”
Appalachian State is in the first of a two-year transition period to the FBS. It is playing its final season in the Southern Conference, but can’t compete for the title it won at least a share of seven of the last eight years.
It will join the Sun Belt Conference next year, along with longtime FCS power Georgia Southern, and begin league play in its new home. A $30,000 survey of campus stakeholders commissioned over 18 months backed moving up to the FBS.
“For 40 years those questions kind of resonated on our campus about playing at the highest level,” Cobb said. “Football’s very important to the culture here. We’ve had some relatively good success and it’s really as much for the university that we want to play at the highest level.”
Appalachian State will go from 63 to 85 scholarships, and anticipates its football budget with increased travel, scholarship and coaching staff size and salaries will grow from $4.3 million to $6 million as an FBS member.
Just last week, ESPN Classic re-aired a showing of a game that increased Appalachian State’s visibility nationally when it stunned No. 5 Michigan, 34-32, in 2007.
“Every time somebody brings up App State, I remember that game,” Georgia freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins said. “I saw it on TV. All I remember is the black quarterback with the dreads, No. 10, I don’t know his name, but that’s all I remember when they say App State.”
Appalachian State went on to win its third straight FCS title that year behind quarterback Armanti Edwards, but the win totals declined from there: 11-3, 11-3, 10-3, 8-4, 8-4.
“It’s a completely different team,” said first-year Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, an offensive assistant under Moore in 1998-08 and offensive coordinator last season. “Back then, we were coming off a couple of national championships with a lot of the same players that were coming back, offensively and defensively. ... We had (receiver) Dexter Jackson who can really run. We don’t have that kind of speed we had in ’07.”
The Mountaineers will become bowl-eligible again in 2015, although there’s an outside chance of a bowl in 2014 if there aren’t enough FBS teams to fill slots.
Satterfield was promoted to head coach to lead Appalachian State into a new era.
“At the end of the day, it was time,” Cobb said. “The anticipation was we were going to make the jump from the FCS to the FBS and we had a two-year period. Our roster was incredibly young. You could see that in the two-deep. It was one of those things it was time to evolve and transition. Some people think it was the right decision, some people don’t. That’s the decision we made.”
Georgia scheduled the game with Appalachian State in 2006 for $325,000 and gave another $75,000 to move the game to 2013 when Georgia lined up a game with Oklahoma State to open the 2009 season.
The move to FBS will mean bigger payoffs for Appalachian State. A return trip to Michigan to open next season will bring a paycheck of about $1 million.
Satterfield wants his team Saturday to “have fun and see what happens.”
Said Cobb: “The one thing you’ll see about Appalachian, and hopefully we’ll play our best, but there’s a great sense of pride about this program. Historically we’ve played the one money game a year. ... At the end of the day, we’re going to try to compete. That’s what Appalachian football is about.”