Appalachian State and Georgia Southern To Join Sun Belt in 2014

GREENVILLE, S.C.–It has been a moment that has been inevitable for the past few years. The moment we learned that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would be moving from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Officially, that day will go down as March 25, 2013, as it has been reported by multiple sources, including ESPN and CBS Sports, that both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will begin play in the Sun Belt Conference.

Originally, both ESPN and CBS reported the year being 2015 in which Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would begin play in the Sun Belt Conference, but as the media and public learned on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 that both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern begin play in the league in 2014, as both schools will become official members of the effective July 1, 2014 .

The Sun Belt is coming off its most successful season as as football conference, with a league-record four teams qualifying for postseason bowl games.

It’s no secret that both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern–a pair of programs that have combined for five national titles and have combined to win 22 outright or shared Southern Conference titles (Appalachian State-12, Georgia Southern-10) in their respective SoCon memberships–are two of the perennial powers in FCS football. The two programs have been mainstays in the FCS Top 10 over the past couple of decades.

The decision by both schools to make the jump will most assuredly affect the Southern Conference, which is a historic, rich in tradition league, that has prided itself on the strength of its nine gridiron members, with the crown jewels of that nine-team membership being both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, who have claimed five of the league’s eight national titles.

In fact, when Appalachian State and Georgia Southern make the move to the next level, only one of those eight national titles will remain, with Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and former member Marshall having been responsible for seven of those national crowns.

Furman, one of two charter members that remain in the league along with The Citadel, became the first private school to win an officially recognized national title on the gridiron, when the Paladins lifted FCS’ most-coveted football trophy back in 1988. When Appalachian State and Georgia Southern make the jump, it will be Furman that will be the program the represents the best football tradition of any of the remaining membership.

Things began to fall into place for Appalachian State in 2005, winning the first of three-straight national titles with a 21-16 win over Northern Iowa in the national title game in Chattanooga, Tenn., and then the cherry on top was that historic 34-32 win over FBS No.5 Michigan in 2007 at The Big House to open the season. It would be the beginning of what was the most memorable season in the history of the program, culminating in a third-straight national title, as the school became the first program to win three-straight officially recognized national titles at the Division I level since Army won three-straight crowns from 1944-46.

Appalachian State joined the Southern Conference as an official member in 1972, having won 12 Southern Conference titles, which is tied for the most by any Southern Conference institution, as Furman has also claimed 12 league outright or shared league titles. With its 33-28 win over Furman last season, the Mountaineers were able to claim their 12th league crown, and now have won seven conference titles in the last eight seasons, marking an unprecedented run of success. The program’s six-straight conference crowns from 2005-10 tied Georgia Southern for the most consecutive league titles. The Eagles claimed six-straight crowns from 1997-2002.

Appalachian State would find its fair share of struggles in the SoCon in its first decade of affiliation, but would eventually break through in the mid-late 1980’s and experience some gridiron success in the mid 1980’s. With Sparky Woods as the head coach and John Settle one of the most-recognized running backs in the SoCon and in the FCS, Appalachian State would break through and win its first of 12 SoCon crowns in 1986.

Georgia Southern was a program that had tasted success prior to joining the SoCon in 1993. In fact, the Eagles had just resurrected football as a sport and were an officially recognized member just 11 years prior to joining the SoCon. The Eagles polished off national titles in 1985, ’86, ’89 and ’90 as an independent before joining the Southern Conference in 1993.

Though the Eagles have made three-straight trips to the FCS Semifinals and are winners of back-to-back Southern Conference regular-season crowns, Georgia Southern’s golden era as a Southern Conference member came under the leadership of Paul Johnson (1997-2001), who led the Eagles to five-straight league titles and back-to-back national titles in 1999 and 2000 before moving on to Navy and eventually found his way back to the Peach State as the head coach at Georgia Tech.

Under the leadership of former Johnson assistant coach Jeff Monken, Georgia Southern has made three-straight FCS semifinal appearances and won two Southern Conference titles, claiming 10 or more wins in his three seasons at the helm. The most recent Southern Conference crown marked the 10th league title since the Eagles joined the league in 1993.

Georgia Southern didn’t waste time getting acclimated to its new surroundings in the Southern Conference, as the Eagles won the league title in their first season as a member.  No FCS program has won as many national titles as Georgia Southern, who has claimed six national crowns since resurrecting its football program in 1982.

Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have begun spring drills, and while the two will be members of the Sun Belt in two years, the focus remains on the present, as the two will enter the season as favorites in the Southern Conference title race in 2013 (contingent on SoCon’s position on title eligibility for both schools).

Appalachian State returns 15 starters from a team that won a 12th league crown last season, but for the first time 25 years, will have a new coach on the sidelines, with Scott Satterfield taking the reins of the highly-successful program, which accomplished much of that national acclaim under predecessor and legendary head coach Jerry Moore (1989-2012). According to reports, both schools would not be eligible for FCS postseason in 2013.

Georgia Southern started spring practice last week, and the Eagles return 12 starters from a team that finished the 2012 campaign with a 10-4 record, bowing out with a 23-20 loss in the FCS semifinals to eventual national title winner North Dakota State.

Stayed tuned to Saturday Blitz for more coverage of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern’s move to the Sun Belt throughout the upcoming season. Also, coming up next week, SaturdayBlitz will take an in-depth look at spring practice for both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.

Tags: Appalachian State Mountaineers Football Georgia Southern Eagles

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