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Appalachian State is the most difficult cupcake game Georgia football could’ve scheduled

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we begin a series looking at all 12 of UGA’s opponents in 2017.

Track: Appalachian Moon | Artist: Kevin Reilly | Album: As You Are

2017 Season Preview: Appalachian State

We have finally hit what is truly the longest slog of the offseason. Spring football and G-Day are behind us. The NFL draft is history. Signing day is long gone — or way in front of us — depending on how you want to look at it. And we’re still months away from the offseason transition into the preseason. So, what exactly are we supposed to talk about?

One thing I figured would be fun to do is to take a preliminary look at the 12 teams on Georgia’s 2017 schedule, and that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks. One by one, I’m going to do a short preview of each of Georgia’s opponents — we’ll save the in-depth looks for the month before kickoff — every day. There won’t necessarily be a new preview every day for the next 12 days, because there’s always a chance that something pops up that seems prescient and that we need to get to right away. So, I’ll say we’ll get through with this exercise in about three weeks or a month, depending on what comes up.

Up first is the opening game of the season, and the only “cupcake” on Georgia’s schedule, Appalachian State.

What App. State did in 2016

The 2016 season was a good one for the Mountaineers. They finished 10-3 and held a share of the Sun Belt title after finishing 7-1 in conference. You most likely remember them best from their season opener in which they forced Tennessee into overtime at Neyland. The Vols escaped with a 20-13 win. Appalachian State only played one other Power 5 team last season, losing to Miami, 45-10, in Week 3.

But other than those two defeats and a four-point loss at Troy, the Mountaineers were fantastic, handily beating most of their Sun Belt opponents and topping Toledo, 31-28, in the Camellia Bowl. Just three seasons into their foray in the FBS, the Mountaineers look like they belong, and it only seems like a matter of time before they claim the head of one of college football’s power programs, just like they did in that glorious 2007 upset of Michigan as an FCS team.

App. State’s outlook for 2017

It looks like another strong year for Appalachian State in 2017. Remarkably, the Mountaineers miss both Arkansas State and Troy, their biggest championship rivals in the Sun Belt, giving them a clear path to another Sun Belt title. They return a highly capable backfield, led by QB Taylor Lamb and RB Jalin Moore. Moore rushed for more than 1,400 yards last season at nearly 6 yards per carry. Along with Moore is senior Marcus Cox, who tallied 1,015 yards on the ground in 2016 at a whopping 6.4 yards a pop. The Mountaineers will bruise and batter teams into submission on the ground.

With such an easy conference slate, barring any significant injuries or setbacks, Appalachian State will be a heavy favorite to win the Sun Belt crown. But the Mountaineers will be looking for bigger fish to fry and trying to snag that elusive signature win against a Power 5 team. With an entire offseason to prepare for the opener, Georgia will have a target on its back and will get the Mountaineers’ best shot. But Wake Forest in Week 4 also is an opportunity for the Mountaineers to secure such a win and against a significantly weaker opponent.

Player to watch — QB Taylor Lamb

While the two heavy hitters at tailback will provide the bulk of Appalachian State’s offense in 2017, they Mountaineers will need Lamb to rise to the occasion to upset Georgia. Lamb is entering his fourth season as a starter, and we pretty much know what we’re getting from him at this point. He’s thrown for roughly 2,300 yards in each of his three seasons and did so at close to a 60 completion percentage each season as well. He did regress as far as passing touchdowns go last season, going from 17 as a freshman to 31 as a sophomore, then back to 15 as a junior. He’s the leader of this team, and if he can play just a step above his normal self and not commit any turnovers at Sanford, he could give the Mountaineers a lot of hope.

Projection vs. Georgia

Georgia should and likely will beat Appalachian State in Week 1, but I’ve long contended that no one will be happy about the result. Just look at what the Mountaineers did to Tennessee last season, forcing the Vols to fight all the way to overtime to earn the win. While there’s many important games on Georgia’s plate, Appalachian State has been staring down a potential upset of the Dawgs all offseason and will keep doing that in an attempt to record the signature upset of Week 1, maybe of the entire season.

It seems like this will be a game where Georgia creates a little bit of space often but can never quite deliver the separation to put away the Mountaineers. I’d suspect there will be a lot of fans who aren’t as optimistic after Week 1 as they are right now, because Appalachian State has the potential to make teams look really dumb. It would be difficult to find a non-Power 5 team that poses more of a threat to power programs than the Mountaineers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Getting a test early in the season can have a lot of benefits. Instead of a cakewalk that makes players think the team is better than it actually is, maybe the Dawgs get a gut punch that lets them know they have to be on their toes for every game on the schedule. Getting shaken up early in the season isn’t a bad thing, as long as you get the win, first and foremost.

FPI projection: UGA has a 93 percent chance to beat Appalachian State.

S&P+ projection: UGA has a 79 percent chance to beat Appalachian State, with a projected winning margin of 14 points.

Dawgs add another for the Class of 2018

UGA’s recruiting for the Class of 2018 has slowed to a crawl in recent months, much to the chagrin of Georgia fans who have watched as highly touted targets such as Brenton Cox have flown off the board. But coach Kirby Smart added another commitment to the two already in hand, and it came at a position of need for the Dawgs.

Hapeville Charter cornerback Chris Smith pledged to the Bulldogs on Monday. Corner is a position of priority for Georgia in this cycle, as Smart tries to strengthen and stabilize a secondary that has had a feast-or-famine reputation over the last few years. The 3-star prospect is the first of what should be multiple commits at cornerback in the Class of 2018.

“They are building something great,” Smith told DawgNation last month. “That’s how I feel. I also like their coaches. Their coaches are very enthusiastic. I like how highly they speak of me. They lay everything out for you and keep it real. Their new facility is definitely a big bonus. I just sense the real building part of it. I really think they can do big things in the future.”

The state of things

A lot has been made of the fact that the state of Georgia had 29 players selected in 2017, the most of any state, and none of those players graduated from UGA. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples saw that as a call to action for Smart and provided the tried and true Nick Saban-Smart comparison that could give Dawgs fans a little hope for the future.

While the state of Georgia led the nation in draftees produced, the University of Georgia had only one player drafted [receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who grew up in Florida]. There, Kirby Smart is your mandate. Given the sheer volume of talent pumped out in America’s eighth-largest state — the Peach State produced 15 draftees in ’16, 30 in ’15 and 25 in ’14 — the most popular college football program in the state should be able to produce the same kind of draft classes as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State on a consistent basis. If that happens, it also would coincide with at least a few SEC East titles and opens up the possibility of SEC titles and playoff berths. This is why Georgia replaced Mark Richt with Smart, and it will be up to Smart to cultivate his [extremely fertile] recruiting grounds. If he does, West Georgia will never again have more players chosen than Georgia in one draft.

If Smart needs any inspiration, he can think back to his time with Nick Saban at Alabama. That staff’s first season was ’07. In the ’08 NFL draft, teams selected zero Crimson Tide players. They’ve taken 65 since then.

ICYMI

Good dog

Everyone needs a good dog during finals week.