Appalachian State’s football team has been voted an East Division co-favorite in the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason polls and awards that were released by the league Tuesday, two days before Media Day in New Orleans.
In a vote by Sun Belt coaches, the Mountaineers and Coastal Carolina both finished with 44 points to lead the way in their five-team division, while Louisiana was voted the West Division favorite.
In receiving four of a possible 10 first-place votes for the East, Appalachian State also had six players selected for the preseason All-Sun Belt first team and nine picks among the two teams.
The six first-team picks —second-most in the league — are defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor, linebacker D’Marco Jackson, defensive back Shaun Jolly, running back Camerun Peoples, offensive lineman Baer Hunter and offensive lineman Cooper Hodges.
App State’s second-team picks are receiver Thomas Hennigan, running back Daetrich Harrington and linebacker Brendan Harrington.
The Mountaineers return 10 defensive starters, seven offensive starters and 85 percent of their lettermen from a team that went 9-3 in Shawn Clark’s first season as head coach. Clark was the only first-year FBS head coach in 2020 to win at least nine games.
Hunter and Hodges were key parts of an offensive line that helped Peoples rank 10th nationally in rushing with 1,124 yards and propelled App State to a ninth straight season with a 1,000-yard rusher — the next-longest active FBS streaks are three straight seasons apiece from Minnesota and Buffalo. Hennigan, meanwhile, ranks No. 3 among active FBS players with 182 career receptions, and Daetrich Harrington was leading the Sun Belt in rushing before suffering a season-ending injury in the sixth game of 2020.
Defensively, Taylor and Jolly are both two-time All-Sun Belt first-team picks as well as preseason candidates for the Bednarik Award that is presented to the top defensive player in college football. Taylor’s 19.5 career sacks rank No. 4 among active FBS players entering 2021, and Jolly has recorded 19 passes defended in his two years as a starter.
At linebacker, Jackson was the only FBS defender with at least 90 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defended in 2020, leading him to be called one of the nation’s most versatile players by ESPN. PFF College ranked Brendan Harrington as the fifth-most valuable defender at the FBS level in 2020 based on his Wins Above Average grade.