Want to know more about what to expect from Appalachian State this Saturday? Well, look no further! We tracked down Mike Holloway from AppNation247 to discuss the latest on this upcoming Mountaineer team he covered.
Read on below to see the contents of our discussion including his local beer scene in North Carolina:
MnB: The App State upset victory over Michigan wasn't just a shock for those in Ann Arbor, it was a huge national story. Fast forward a few years, does that victory still get the fanbase buzzing? Is there any type of running joke the fanbase has?
MH: As crazy as it is to think about, the current seniors at App State were only 14-15 years old when the 2007 upset happened but yes, it is still certainly a point of pride for Mountaineer fans. For many of the current players, that victory on the biggest of stages is what put App on their radar during the recruiting process. With two national championships already in hand and another at the end of that season, the win at Michigan was the culmination of a very special time for App football. No matter how much time goes by, talking about September 1, 2007 will always get the fans buzzing.
MnB: Obviously this team coming into Ann Arbor isn't the same powerhouse that it was in 2007, talk a little bit about the state of the program in 2014.
MH: The simplest way to describe the current state of the program is simply a state of transition. Scott Satterfield, a long-time assistant under legendary coach Jerry Moore, is entering his second season at the helm. Nate Woody is entering his second season as defensive coordinator after moving to a 3-4 scheme last season. The program itself is in the second and final year of its transition to the FBS level and Sun Belt Conference. The last couple recruiting classes have been very strong and there is a lot of talent, particularly at the skill positions, but a lot of youth as well.
MnB: Armanti Edwards was a player who was an absolute nightmare for Michigan. Does App State have a player, or players, that UM fans need to look out for?
MH: Armanti was a nightmare for every defensive coordinator he faced for four years! While there may not be a player on the roster who is quite ready to draw that comparison, it was the Marcus Cox show on offense last year. As a true freshman, he racked up 1,250 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, 559 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns. He's been dealing with a minor knee injury but if he can go on Saturday, definitely a fun player to watch. Wide receiver Malachi Jones (younger brother of former Notre Dame star T.J. Jones) is another offensive guy primed for a breakout. He's played behind some very good players in his first two seasons and is now the top guy on the outside. He's been hitting the weight room hard and enters the season at 6-2, 210 pounds with very sticky hands and excellent route running ability. Not a burner in terms of speed but a very good player.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ronald Blair is a next-level type of talent. 6-4, 275 pounds and very quick off the ball. He was injured very early in the 2013 season, got a redshirt and now has two seasons of eligibility. He's the best pass rusher on the team and has two years of starting experience under his belt. Linebackers John Law and Kennan Gilchrist, both sophomores, also stand out.
MnB: If I recall, App State is no longer considered an FCS team. How will App State scout a D-1 program like Michigan who is coming off a down year and a new offensive coordinator? Not to mention, the whole huge upset thing last time these two teams met.
MH: 2014 is actually the first year that App is classified as an FBS program. From a scholarship standpoint, they are just under the maximum of 85.
In terms of scouting the Wolverines, it will be a combination of watching film of the existing Michigan players along with analyzing Nussmeier's body of work at Alabama. With no real game film to evaluate, it does make things difficult but that is the case to a certain extent with any season opener. The 2007 upset certainly draws much more attention to the match-up but the staff is working hard to make sure that they keep the focus on being sharp, executing their game plan and preparing for this game with the goal of competing and giving themselves a chance to win.
MnB: As a squad, what are your personal expectations for your team this season?
MH: This is one of the toughest App teams to predict that I can recall in the 13 years I've been following them. New conference, young team but some real potential. On defense, the team should be much improved. They have solidified a very good nose tackle rotation, which is arguably the most important position in a 3-4 scheme. With a year in the system, I expect a much more cohesive unit on that side of the ball. Figuring out exactly what they've got in terms of depth at wide receiver and on the offensive line are going to be the biggest questions.
With road trips to Michigan, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette (the top two teams in the Sun Belt), the schedule is tough but my guess is that the Apps finish with 5 or more wins, which would be a very respectable first season at the FBS level.
MnB: What are your keys to another huge upset over Michigan?
MH: Michigan is unquestionably going to have a significant advantage when it comes to depth of talent, particularly on the front lines. Though it may be a cliche, the game is won up front and the ability of the App offensive line to hold their own and keep Michigan out of the backfield will be the biggest key. Kam Bryant is a very poised, accurate quarterback and he has good speed around him at running back and wide receiver. Their only chance at keeping the game tight is if the line can give him time and they sustain some drives.
On defense, it again will come down to the front line. If Blair, Gilchrist, Deuce Robinson and the App front seven can get in the backfield and make stops on third down, they could put some pressure on the Michigan offense. They are fortunate to not have Jake Butt to deal with but the App secondary simply cannot be asked to go man-to-man with the likes of Devin Funchess and Freddy Canteen, a freshman I've heard a ton of good things about. If Gardner has time in the pocket to make his reads and get comfortable, it will be a long day.
MnB: How well/or not well does App State recruit? Is it primarily local/regional talent that the team brings in or does it have a national scope? Where would you rank them?
MH: Covering Appalachian for 247Sports, recruiting is right up my alley. The Mountaineers do recruit very well, relative of course to other mid-major programs. The 2014 class had 28 signees and was rated as the #1 class in the Sun Belt by 247Sports and #85 nationally. They draw primarily from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. However, with the move to the SBC, the staff is making a real push to get into Alabama, Louisiana and Texas as well now that they will be playing road games in those states. They'll never be a program that competes for the 4 and 5-star guys like Michigan but they did bring in ten 3-star athletes in the 2014 class, a very nice haul with kids that can become very good college players.
MnB: Continuing on with the recruiting discussion, any true freshman that plan to play week one that we should be keeping out eyes on?
MH: There are a few true freshmen who will see the field on Saturday. Two will be starting: strong safety A.J. Howard and wide receiver Jaylan Barbour. Howard is a Georgia kid who enrolled early and has really impressed the staff. He is a hard hitter, very instinctive and has solid ball skills after playing on both sides of the ball in high school.
Barbour, an in-state kid, was a late signee who initially went to Wake Forest before seeking release from his LOI after not clicking with the new coaching staff there. He's been a very good player in the slot throughout fall camp. Staying at that position, if true freshmen Isaiah Lewis and Deltron Hopkins get the ball, keep an eye on them. Both guys have legit 4.4 speed, with Hopkins being in the 4.35 range. Hopkins came out of national champion Booker T. Washington in Miami and was a dual-sport guy with track and football. He got overlooked by the bigger schools because he is just 5-8 and 160 pounds but he can absolutely fly.
MnB: Staying true to our name, we love the local beer scene. Care to share any of your local beers that stand out to you?
MH: Being something of a beer nerd, this is also in my wheelhouse! Giving a little shoutout to the newest brewery in Boone, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, they have several beers I like: Daniel's Double IPA, Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale and the Unaka IPA. North Carolina has seen an explosion of microbreweries in the last few years and I would strongly suggest anything from Highland Brewing (Asheville), NoDa Brewing Co. (Charlotte), Heist Brewery (Charlotte), Green Man Brewing Co. (Asheville), Wicked Weed Brewing Co. (Asheville) or Big Boss (Raleigh). There are many more that I could mention as well but if you ever find yourself in North Carolina, there will be no shortage of local brews to enjoy.