The Sun Belt conference is quickly becoming the MAC of the South. As they build up their footprint on the national college football landscape, it’s inevitable that a rivalry between the two conferences will develop. They will be competing against one another twice this bowl season. Ohio, the MAC East Champ will take on Troy, the third place team in the Sun Belt, and Toledo, the second place team in the West will take on Appalachian State, Sun Belt champs.
This adds a layer to an already great match-up between two 9-3 teams. Toledo is one of the most potent offenses in the country, averaging 529 yards, 4th nationally. Appalachian State has the 26th best rushing offense in the entire country. The first game of the MAC bowl season is going to be fun.
When Toledo Has The Ball.
Toledo is loaded on offense. Logan Woodside leads the entire nation in touchdown passes, with 43. His 3882 passing yards are good enough to rank him 7th nationally, just below Deshaun Watson from Clemson.
His targets include Michael Roberts, a first team All-American tight end, according to the Football Writer’s Association of America. The 6’4, 265 pound senior has 15 TD receptions on the season. That’s a record for the Rockets for any position.
Also having a great season catching the football for the Rockets is junior Cody Thompson. The 6’2, 200 pound receiver from Huron has 59 receptions for 1170 yards. His 19.8 yards per catch is amazing. Jon’Vea Johnson is also averaging 19.8 yards per catch, including a long of 98 yards. The third receiver, Corey Jones, is also a burner, with an 85 yard touch down on the season. He also has a punt return for a touch down this season.
The leading rusher for the Rockets is Kareem Hunt. A monster with 1355 yards on the season, and 4825 for his career. If he gets 25 yards in the Camellia Bowl, it will move him to number 1 on the All-Time Toledo rushing list, passing the great Chester Taylor. His last time out, he managed to rush for 200 yards against the number 12 team in the country. Another weapon in the backfield, Terry Swanson, has 583 yards on the season, and is more of a burner.
Blocking for all these weapons is a line that is finally getting healthy. Two of them, Storm Norton and Mike Ebert, earned first team All-MAC honors.
This balanced and high powered offense is going against a defense that is equally effective and loaded.
Appalachian State is giving up 125 yards per game on the ground. They are led by a pair of linebackers, Eric Boggs and Kennan Gilchrist, who were 2nd team All-Conference.
Through the air, they are only giving up 200. Their starting corners, Mondo Williams and Clifton Duck, were first team All-Conference. Duck, a future superstar, was the Sun Belt Freshman of The Year, and named to USA Today’s all freshman team. Appalachian State has 20 interceptions on the season, which ranks 3rd nationally. That’s twice as many touchdown passes as they have given up.
It’s not hyperbole when I say this is one of the best offenses in the country going against one of the best defense. If you had a super team, with Appalachian State’s defense and Toledo’s offense, it would be a national title contender. It’s one of the more interesting match-ups in the entire bowl schedule.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball.
The Mountaineers love to run the football. Sophomore running back Jalin Moore was the Sun Belt offensive player of the year. He averaged 113.9 yards per game on the season, 13th nationally. His best game was an impressive 257 yards on 39 carries against Akron.
He shares time in the backfield with Marcus Cox, who was second team All-Sun Belt. He is also Appalachian State’s all time leading rusher, with 4960 yards.
Blocking for these guys is an offensive line that is loaded with talent. Two guys, Parker Collins and Colby Gossett, were first team All-Sun Belt. Beau Nunn was second team, while freshman Vic Johnson was on the All-Newcomer team.
Taylor Lamb is a quarter back that can pass effectively and hurt you with his feet. He doesn’t make many mistakes, and only has 8 interceptions on the season, while completing 62% of his passes.
Trying to stop this attack is a solid Toledo defense, which is giving up 25.3 points and 394 total yards. John Stepec was great all season, earning all-MAC First Team honors. Treyvon Hester is a mountain of a man in the middle of the defense, and earned Second Team honors. Both will need huge games if they hope to stop this vaunted rushing offense.
Last year, Appalachian State was able to mount a huge comeback to beat Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. That was the first time a FBS team was able to win a bowl game in their first season eligible. Toledo has won two bowl games in a row, and 3 out of the last 4.
On paper, this sets up to be an exciting game, and I fully expect it.
The weather is predicted to be 76 and partly cloudy.
Date: December 17th
Time: 5:30 pm EST