Whenever Appalachian State and Georgia Southern play there’s generally something on the line.
When the two were in the Southern Conference they were nearly always ranked and a conference championship was usually up for grabs.
Things haven’t changed since they went into the Sun Belt Conference only this year the stakes are a bit higher, especially for Appalachian State.
Can you say Cotton Bowl?
The highest ranked Group of 5 team gets invited to a New Year’s Six bowl and that bowl this year is the Cotton Bowl.
If No. 20 Appalachian State (7-0, 3-0) can knock off Georgia Southern (4-3, 2-1) and then beat South Carolina next week that berth could be within its grasp.
The Mountaineers and Eagles renew their intense rivalry at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPNU. This will be the sixth straight year the two have played on Thursday night.
Appalachian State is a 19-point favorite and the Mountaineers have earned it. Their 13-game winning streak is third in FBS behind Clemson (22) and Ohio State (14).
The Mountaineers last lost when Georgia Southern beat them 34-14 last year. App lost quarterback Zac Thomas on the third play of the game and never recovered.
At the time Appalachian was ranked No. 25 as it was the first SBC team to break into the rankings. This year the Mountaineers have been ranked the last three weeks and one of its wins was a 34-31 decision at North Carolina which lost to Clemson by one.
First year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz was hired to replace Scott Satterfield who left for Louisville. He came to App with the reputation of being an offensive guru who directed creative and explosive offenses.
Drinkwitz was hired away from N.C. State where the Wolfpack had one of the top offenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Previous stops at Boise State and Auburn saw similar results and the trend has continued with the Mountaineers.
He has some outstanding offensive players at his disposal and he has made excellent use of them.
Taylor leads an offense that ranks fourth in the Sun Belt at 439.6 yards per game and is averaging a league leading 41.0 points per game.
The junior has thrown for 1,295 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and he is supported by an excellent running back in junior Darrynton Evans who has run for 722 yards and 10 scores. He led the Sun Belt in rushing last year with 1,187 yards despite not becoming the featured back until the fifth game of the season.
Drinkwitz also knows something about rivalries as he has experienced Alabama-Auburn, Boise State-Fresno State and N.C. State-North Carolina.
The Mountaineer coach is also no stranger to the Sun Belt. He was an assistant on Arkansas State teams that won conference championships in 2012 and 2013 under Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, respectively.
Drinkwitz was also on Gene Chizik’s staff at Auburn when the War Eagles won the national championship in 2010.
So, while he is new to the Appalachian State — Georgia Southern rivalry Drinkwitz understands what a rivalry is all about.
“Every traditional championship program has rivalries and they have a game they look forward to every year because it is going to have significant implications for their chance to win a championship,” Drinkwitz said as his press conference this week. “Everywhere you go they have those (rivalry) games and it’s usually because those games have championship implications.
“For us I understand the rivalry, I get it,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s important because it’s a divisional game and if we want to get where we want to go, which is to win a conference championship, this team stands in our way.
“I don’t want to make it any bigger than that but I don’t want to make it any less than that. If we want to win a conference championship we need to beat these guys. That’s what it is.”
The two have two common opponents: App beat Coastal Carolina, 56-37, and South Alabama, 30-3. The Eagles had to go three overtimes to beat Coastal, 30-27, and two overtimes to top the Jaguars, 20-17.