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ASU schedule: The season's key games

ASU schedule: The season's key games

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Appalachian State wide receiver Malik Williams catches a touchdown pass in the final seconds of the second quarter against Georgia Southern last season in Boone. The Mountaineers lost 24-21, ultimately spoiling an undefeated season.

In the early portion of the year, Appalachian State still had two Power Five matchups on its 2020 football schedule, trips to both Wisconsin and Wake Forest with the potential to build a resume that could surge it forward in the Group of Five New Year’s Six bowl game conversation.

Now, the Mountaineers are simply fortunate to have nearly a full season worth of games after COVID-19 adjustments by the Power Fives.

App State, which went 13-1 last season, grabbed Charlotte, Marshall and Campbell for its non-conference schedule and still has a chance to win the Sun Belt Conference title for the fifth consecutive season.

A look at the Mountaineers’ 2020 schedule:

Pivotal game

At UL Monroe (Oct. 31)

This might seem like an unusual pick, but give it a chance with this in mind.

The game is the seventh of the 11-game regular season. It’ll come after three straight primetime games (more on those later) that could put App State in the captain’s chair of the Sun Belt. That makes this trip a classic trap scenario.

Plus, the last visit to Monroe was particularly unkind. The 52-45 loss was two coaching staffs ago. It was ungodly hot. Injuries had mounted, and star running back Jalin Moore was still dealing with the aftereffects of an illness.

That 2017 team’s staple was trailing early and surging back. This year’s App State team brings back almost all the firepower from the last two seasons and should prove to be hard to stop yet again for defenses around the league.

Toughest stretch

Vs. Louisiana (Oct. 7), at Georgia Southern (Oct. 14), vs. Arkansas State (Oct. 22)

App State is the preseason favorite. This is the chance to prove merit during midweek games on ESPN’s flagship channel.

Louisiana continues to build under third-year coach Billy Napier. But the Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t beaten the Mountaineers since the latter’s move to FBS. Those eight losses contain the first two conference title games in Sun Belt history — 30-19 in 2018 and 45-38 last year — and a 17-7 grinder in Lafayette that ended with a Zac Thomas touchdown run.

Appalachian follows that with likely their biggest East Division challenger, Georgia Southern, then follows with Louisiana’s biggest West Division threat, Arkansas State.

Easiest stretch

At Texas State (Nov. 7), vs. Georgia State (Nov. 14), at Coastal Carolina (Nov. 21)

If App State takes care of business, it could be 7-0 when this stretch starts.

Two of these three are led by coaches still trying to fortify their programs: second-year leaders Jamey Chadwell at Coastal Carolina and Jake Spavital at Texas State. Although Spavital had the benefit of being interim at Coastal Carolina in 2017 for former coach Joe Moglia.

The third, Georgia State coach and App State alumnus Shawn Elliott, has struggled to hold pace with the Mountaineers in three games. Appalachian has won by at least 21 points in each.

Prove-it game

At Georgia Southern (Oct. 14)

No doubt about it, this is a game carrying two years of sourness for App State.

In the last two games, App State entered as the favorite and nationally ranked. And in both, Georgia Southern executed more soundly and won. In 2018, on a rainy night on the road, App State lost its first game in program history as a ranked FBS team. Thomas was injured on the first drive, and it snowballed from there.

A year later in Boone, two 50-plus-yard touchdown runs in the second half proved to be too deep a hole.

The elders of this team have beaten Georgia Southern only once at best.

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