GREENVILLE, S.C.–With Appalachian State moving on to the Sun Belt Conference at the end of the season, the departure of the Mountaineers will forever change the legacy of one of the storied conferences in FCS (formerly Division I-AA football). Twelve Southern Conference titles, which are tied for the most in league history, and the first-ever FCS team to win three-consecutive titles and first team to do so since Army in the mid 1940s are just a couple of the many noteworthy achievements established by the Mountaineers during their Southern Conference membership.
It could be argued that no team exiting the Southern Conference for any reason, whether moving up, moving to a different conference, or cancelling their program altogether has colored the landscape of the Southern Conference gridiron as ASU has.
When Marshall left following the 1996 football title, the Thundering Herd was only a recent arrival atop the then-Division I-AA. The Herd won a couple of Southern Conference championships and national titles, but were obviously set back by the tragedy of 1970. It took the program well over a decade to recover.
Georgia Southern will also exit the league following the 2013 season, and leaves behind a strong legacy as a program. No one would argue Georgia Southern has a better lineage as an FCS program than Appalachian State — or any FCS program, really. The Eagles won six national championships; however, they have been members of the SoCon for more than two decades fewer than ASU. Georgia Southern won 10 SoCon crowns and two of its six national crowns during its time in the league, which began in 1993.
Appalachian State has had to grow its program and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the SoCon since 1972. It took the Mountaineers 14 years before they claimed their first Southern Conference title. Sparky Woods led ASU to the league’s 1986 crown.
Jim Brakefield laid the foundation though, scoring one of the program’s biggest wins when he led the 1975 Mountaineers over the South Carolina Gamecocks in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Still, ASU was chasing fellow SoCon programs Furman, Chattanooga and even Western Carolina in the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Furman was the measuring stick by which ASU measured itself in the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The two teams established a rivalry that featured some of the most exciting finishes in SoCon history.
A win that gave Mountaineer fans an indication that the program was moving in the right direction came during the 1984 season, when ASU broke through claimed a 21-14 win over No. 6 Furman, which at the time, was quarterbacked by one of the best QBs in the sub-classification, Bobby Lamb. Lamb’s son, Taylor, is part of the newest crop of Mountaineers that will be part of the new direction of the program in the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2014.
The Battle for the Old Mountain Jug is a shadow of its former self, with ASU winning 26 of the last 28. Once upon a time though, Western Carolina and Appalachian State had a heated rivalry.
The Mountaineers saw some tough times against the Chattanooga Mocs during the early years as a Southern Conference member, including a 72-14 thrashing at historic Chamberlain Field in 1978.
Eighteen years later, it was Bobby Lamb, then the head coach at his alma mater, that brought a Furman team coming off a national title appearance and Southern Conference title-winning season to Kidd Brewer Stadium for a key mid-season matchup with conference title implications in ’02.
By the time the dust had settled, the Mountaineers celebrated a 16-15 win over the Paladins in one of the more remarkable finishes in college football history. It was part of what became a rivalry that reached its pinnacle during the first five years of the new millennium, with none of the seven meetings from 2000-05 decided by more than six points. Three meetings were decided by a single point and another two meetings decided by a field goal.
Naturally, Appalachian State and Furman played the first overtime game in regular season Southern Conference history in 1991. Five years later, they played a triple overtime contest.
John Settle led the Mountaineers to that aforementioned, first of 12 SoCon championship and 20 playoff appearances in a 9-2-1 season. The tie was against Furman, and the two teams also split the league crown.
The Mountaineers’ first ever playoff game against Nicholls State and ended in heartbreaking fashion, with a 28-26 setback to the Colonels. Settle certainly stole the show, with 236 yards rushing on 37 carries. The Mountaineers won another Southern Conference title a year later, unbeaten in league play, and made the FCS semifinals before losing on their home turf to a Marshall team the Mountaineers defeated during the regular season.
ASU made a significant coaching change in 1989, with Jerry Moore taking the reins of the program after Woods moved on to take the job as the head coach at South Carolina. During Moore’s 24 years on the sidelines, the Appalachian State football program turned it up a notch, going from good to great.
Ten Southern Conference titles, a monumental, program-defining win over Michigan and three national titles later, the Black and Gold are now in a position to make a move to the highest classification of college football.
Another of Moore’s noteworthy achievements is leading ASU to the first perfect regular season among all North Carolina universities at the Division I level.
The Apps head into their final season of league play with 196 wins in their league history, which is second to only Furman’s 246 — but the Paladins have been a football-playing member in the league since its inception in 1933.
Of the SoCon’s 24 wins over FBS schools since re-classification, the Mountaineers have the most with eight — seven of which came against Wake Forest. The eighth — that oh-so-famous, 34-32 win over No. 5 Michigan on Sept. 1, 2007 — remains the last time a SoCon member has defeated an FBS foe.