BOONE — Kickoff of the 2015 college football season is officially here for the Appalachian State University Mountaineers.
App State will host the Howard University Bison, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) this Saturday at Kidd-Brewer Stadium.
The Mountaineers return 20 of 22 starters from last year’s squad and have been considered as a potential Sun Belt Champion contender by different media outlets, including ESPN and Athlon Sports.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb will look to continue the hot start he got off to as a freshman. Lamb completed 181 of 295 passes (61.4-percent) for 2,381 yards, 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions after replacing Kam Bryant early in the season. Lamb was also a threat on the ground, gaining 518 yards on 70 carries with four touchdowns.
App State will hope to continue to ride workhorse tailback Marcus Cox. The junior gained 1,415 yards and scored 19 times last season and continues a fantastic Mountaineer career that saw him receive preseason nominations to the Doak Walker Award list (nation’s top running back) and the Maxwell Award list (college football player of the year). Terrence Upshaw will also see some carries in the backfield. The sophomore had 573 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2014.
Through the air, the Mountaineers return all four of its leading pass catchers from last year. Senior Malachi Jones had 36 catches for 585 yards. Fellow seniors Simms McElfresh (42 rec., 484 yards), Montez McGuire (25 rec., 386 yards) and Bobo Beathard (17 rec., 202 yards) also had solid seasons last year and will look to have even better seasons in their final year of eligibility.
Defensively, ASU became one of the toughest teams to play against in the last six games of the 2014 campaign. The Mountaineers surrendered just 268 yards per game and 19 points per game. During the first half of the season, the Mountaineers struggled stopping anyone as they allowed almost 35 PPG while surrendering 427 yards per game to the opponent.
Ronald Blair, John Law and Doug Middleton will be the defensive leaders this season. Both Blair and Middleton could potentially find their way onto NFL sidelines with a stellar senior season.
Blair had 34 tackles and six sacks from his defensive end position. The 6-4, 275-pounder was a preseason pick to be on the Lombardi Award list, given to the top lineman (offensive or defensive) or linebacker in the country that not only excels on the field but also values leadership, courage, desire, respect and discipline.
For Middleton, the 6-foot, 205-pound safety had 64 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups. Middleton was selected to the Jim Thorpe Award List, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
Law is a junior linebacker that led the team in tackles last season with 68.5. Law added two sacks, an interception and four pass breakups. The 6-foot, 235-pounder will start as an inside linebacker and was also a preseason selection to the Lombardi Award list along with Blair.
For Howard, the team will have to replace a lot of key parts from last year’s team.
Maybe the biggest player they have to replace is quarterback Greg McGhee. He completed 222 of 399 passes for 2,388 yards, 15 touchdown and 8 interceptions. McGhee was also the team’s leading rusher with 847 yards and 13 touchdowns. McGhee is now a member of the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Howard is still looking for his replacement at quarterback, and as of press time, still have not named a starter for the game on Saturday in Boone. Redshirt junior Jamie Cunningham, redshirt freshman Jalen Johnson and true freshman Jason Collins could all potentially see action at quarterback for the Bison.
Howard’s starting tailback this year will be Aquanius Freeman. The 5-10, 200-pound senior from Louisiana will have to fill the role voided by last year’s starter, junior William Parker, who blew out his knee in the final game of the 2014 season and will redshirt this year.
The Bison will also have to replace one of last year’s leading receivers in Richard Aiyegoro. The senior had 34 catches for 395 yards and a team-high three touchdowns. Matthew Colvin, the team’s leading receiver with 41 catches for 611 yards, will return as the top pass-catching threat.
Defensively, Howard struggled last year, giving up 30 points per game and struggling to get any pass rush, recording just 16 sacks in 12 games. Bison leading tackler Devin Rollins (93.5 tackles) returns at the linebacker position while second leading tackler Khari Brown (70 tackles) was lost to graduation.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and can be watched live through ESPN3’s online stream.
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-846-7164 or followed on Twitter @NathanHam87