|No. 21 Appalachian State on guard vs. South Alabama|
Appalachian State's rise to No. 21 in the AP poll -- the highest ranking ever for a Sun Belt Conference team -- has put the unbeaten Mountaineers into the conversation when it comes to New Year's Six bowl games.
With Boise State's loss to BYU last week, the Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) remain one of two undefeated teams from the Group of 5 conferences as they head to Mobile, Ala., for Saturday's game against South Alabama (1-6, 0-3).
The other is 16th-ranked SMU (7-0) from the American Athletic Conference.
But while Eliah Drinkwitz acknowledges the ranking, saying bowl talk is good and that fans and the school will appreciate looking back on this, the first-year Appalachian State coach considers it no more than a potential distraction for his players.
"Rankings don't matter until we get done with the season," Drinkwitz said. "Right now all that for us is just noise. They're not giving us 20 points when we get down to Mobile."
The Mountaineers extended their winning streak to 12 games with last week's 52-7 rout of Louisiana-Monroe, but Drinkwitz sees room for the improvement.
Running back Darrynton Evans rushed for 136 yards -- 130 in the first half -- and quarterback Zac Thomas passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns, but Thomas was intercepted once and the Mountaineers also lost a fumble.
"I thought offensively we played at times well, but I was extremely disappointed with the turnovers," Drinkwitz said. "We didn't give up any sacks, but that was only because Zac made some unbelievable plays in the pocket."
The defense stifled one of the league's top offenses, holding ULM to just 213 yards of total offense, 75 of that on the game's opening drive.
Evans has rushed for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Thomas is completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 1,163 yards, with 10 TDs and three interceptions.
At South Alabama, that defense will be facing a Jaguars' offense that has struggled, ranking No. 9 in the 10-team league, averaging 16.3 points. But running back Tra Minter is one of the league's top rushers (80.4 yards per game), and receiver Kawaan Baker is among the top 10 receivers with 395 yards on 21 catches.
"I think guys sit there and say, 'Man, we're so close,'" said offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield.
"They sit there and they see the film and they know. They believe in what we're doing. That's the exciting part because we really are really close. When we break out, it's going to be awesome. It just takes a little time. We're ready for it to happen now though."
Drinkwitz talked up the Jags at his weekly media briefing.
"They're backed into a corner so they're going to have a ton of fight," he said. "They've got a great defensive front, and they've got a solid running game, and that's a recipe for an upset if we don't take care of business and focus on what we need to do.
"We're not trying to climb higher in the rankings. We're just trying to beat South Alabama."
--Field Level Media