Ethan's welcome letter

Appalachian State football likes repeats.

Sun Belt championships? They've won parts of three in a row, including the inaugural title game last year. 

Bowl games? App State has appeared in and won all four bowls it's ever played in as an FBS program. 

But back-to-back losses to Georgia Southern as a nationally ranked team? That's not the repetition the Mountaineers are looking for. 

Georgia Southern arrived in Boone on Thursday afternoon and looked like the better team. Call it a Halloween haunting, call it a punch in the mouth, call it whatever you want. It's muddied a potentially momentous season for App State.

National outlets were starting to appear on campus everyday, making yours truly feel like chopped liver (I'm a territorial beat reporter, after all).

ESPN's Ryan McGee showed up at Coach Eliah Drinkwitz's press confernce on Monday

FiveThiryEight broke down App State's post-transition dominance in an analytical way. 

The Cotton Bowl was mentioned in both stories. That cotton just got blown off the stalk by a brutally cold wind. 

Making the Georgia Southern loss worse is the absolute turmoil that rattled the Group-of-Five landscape this week. Memphis beat national darling SMU in a matchup of two ranked teams. Cincinnati almost lost to ECU. Boise State slipped past San Jose State.

Had App State won, they would've pulled behind Cincy in the polls right after they looked beatable. That's the major side effect of a surprising loss at home, especially with the first College Football Playoff rankings coming out on Tuesday. 

Since this mirrored last year's storyline, I went back and read what I wrote following the 2018 Georgia Southern loss. It hinged on the Mountaineers losing the ability to control their own destiny. 

Last year worked out for App State. We'll have to wait and see if this year does. The East Division could still be a toss up. App State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State each have one loss. The Mountaineers have played one more conference game than the other teams. They'll catch up when App State plays its final non-conference game at South Carolina on Saturday. 

Georgia Southern ultimately slipped last season, allowing App State to beat Troy in the season finale to clinch the Sun Belt title game.

Last year, the Eagles were playing for more respect. This year, they'll play with way more purpose and a heavy heart after the loss of Jordan Wiggins, an 18-year-old offensive linemen who died last month. That's powerful, and it's been easy to see from interviews with Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford how much that team is banding together. That is a threatening program right now.

App State has a destiny issue again, and it's amplified when so much has pointed toward potentially making history. The Mountaineers can curb some frustration with another Power-Five win in Columbia, but in the grand scheme of it all, that Cotton Bowl dream is a long shot now. Drinkwitz has put on a focus on "winning a Sun Belt championship and a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence." That's still plenty to play for. 

What's unfortunate is that Georgia Southern loss will linger, just like last year's did. But ending the year in a championship, like 2018, seems to erase what-ifs for the most part. Let's see how this year's team handles it. 

Take care and thanks for reading,

Ethan

ejoyce@wsjournal.com

P.S. A few notes. Basketball starts up this week. The men's and women's basketball programs both open the season on Tuesday: the men at Michigan and the women at VCU. 

Also, the Mountaineers men's cross country team won their second Sun Belt title in the last three years. Read about that here.

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