In a season that has gone haywire in nearly every conceivable way, perhaps the Georgia Southern Eagles can find some normalcy in the one thing that has been a constant in the program for nearly a quarter century.
Win or lose, rain or shine, it’s time to lace ‘em up against Appalachian State.
Over the years, the Eagles and Mountaineers have turned their annual matchup into the best kind of rivalry and - more recently - one of the more unique rivalries in the country.
While the general feeling between Georgia Southern and Georgia State fans is that each couldn’t care less if the other disappeared from existence, the competition between the Eagles and Mountaineers has always been more of a can-you-top-this rivalry. Sure, there have been words exchanged and a few instances of fans getting out of control over the years, but the much more prevailing trend in the series is that the teams generally save their hardest hits and biggest efforts for when black and gold meets blue and white.
Since the 80s, the two programs have been foils for one another. Each side sees itself as the hero in their own story, but when backed up against it by their nemesis, each team can look at the other and realize that ‘We’re not so different, you and I’.
Both teams have firmly cemented their places in the FCS history books. The Eagles still top the charts with six national championships while the Mountaineers were the first team to ever win the title in three consecutive years. Keeping pace with each other was enough to set fire to the rivalry, but the fact that one is directly responsible for screwing up a few seasons of the other really stokes the flames.
After all, it was Appalachian State that ruined the Eagles’ run at back-to-back Sun Belt titles with a win in Boone two years ago. The Mountaineers also authored one of only two playoff defeats on Erk Russell’s career record.
Looking in from the other sideline, it’s Georgia Southern that can claim rivalry game bragging rights in the 2007 season that saw App upset Michigan and claim its third national title. When the Mountaineers again earned a top ranking in 2010, it was a trip to Statesboro that knocked them from the top spot.
The punches and counterpunches make for great storylines each season, but what really sets App and Georgia Southern apart is how they’ve grown together. Each grew their student base and academic reputations through the 80s and 90s, with the Eagles’ final two championships to close out one century and begin another giving way to App’s rise to the top of the FCS mountain.
Then, as both schools outgrew a Southern Conference whose member schools no longer included them in the mold, both made the leap to FBS (although, just so everyone in Boone knows, Southern technically announced it first).
Since transitioning in 2014, The Eagles have a conference title and a bowl win to their credit while the Mountaineers have a pair of bowl wins in their pocket and are still mathematically alive to make a run at this year’s Sun Belt crown.
Eagle fans should make no mistake. Appalachian State is right at the top of the list of teams that won’t shed a tear about their current 0-8 record. It doesn’t take too much effort to remember back to 2014 when App State began its season 1-5 and Georgia Southern looked like the runaway winner in which team would have the better transition into FBS.
But while the Mountaineers will be doing their best to keep the Eagles winless tonight, it seems as though this rivalry is far too strong to be negated by a Georgia Southern team seemingly at rock bottom and an App team that has already underperformed in what was expected to be a huge season.
Tonight’s game isn’t even in the ballpark of what ESPN and the Sun Belt hoped it would be when the date was set months ago.
But none of that matters. It’s Georgia Southern and it’s Appalachian State. And no matter what has happened or what will happen the rest of the season, it’s what will happen tonight — on top of a chilly 3,333-foot mountain — that will fill up the latest page in a great rivalry.