A pair of teams who were contending for conference titles this season will meet in the first game of a day full of bowl action when Appalachian State and Western Kentucky meet in the Boca Raton Bowl on Saturday
Both teams won their respective division this year but fell short in their conference championship games, with both suffering eight-point defeats. Appalachian State lost 24-16 to Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship Game while Western Kentucky lost in a 49-41 thriller to UTSA in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe is the headliner for this game, as he continues to move up in the record books with one of the most prolific single-season performances in FBS history with 5,545 passing yards and 56 passing touchdowns. The graduate transfer from Houston Baptist is four touchdowns from tying Joe Burrow's record of 60 touchdowns and less than 300 yards from breaking B.J. Symons' record of 5,833 passing yards.
If Zappe has a game that lines up with his statistical averages — 426.5 points per game and 4.3 passing touchdowns per game — he will make FBS history in two major ways in the bowl game.
Of course there is a strong Appalachian State defense on the other side that is hoping to keep Zappe well below his averages and give the Mountaineers a chance ton improve to 7-0 all-time in bowl games. Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark is 2-0 in bowl games so far, leading the team to a New Orleans Bowl win after Scott Satterfield's departure at the end of the 2019 season and a dominant Myrtle Beach Bowl victory in 2020.
App State vs. WKU: Need to know
Mountaineers have been among the winningest FBS programs since 2014: Appalachian State was one of the most successful programs at the FCS level and hit the ground running once it made its full transition to the FBS. Since 2014, when the program officially joined as a member of the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers have an 80-23 record. That's the sixth-most wins among FBS teams in that time span, trailing only Alabama (103-9), Clemson (98-13), Ohio State (92-11), Oklahoma (85-19) and Georgia (84-21).
Zappe not the only one soaring up the record books: WKU wide receiver Jerreth Sterns has been a big-time benefactor of the new Hilltoppers offense, and while it would take a historic performance to break records he's going to be well-positioned to improve his position on the all-time single-season lists. Sterns' 137 receptions is 21 catches shy of former ECU wide receiver Zay Jones' single-season record and his 1,718 receiving yards is 342 yards yards shy of former Nevada wide receiver Trevor Insley's record from 1999. While a 22-catch, 342-yard performance would be well above his averages -- which are still an FBS-leading 132.2 yards and 10.5 receptions per game -- there's going to be a chance to add on to what has already been one of the best receiving seasons in program history at WKU.
Appalachian State defense well-prepared for WKU's offensive attack: Led by Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year D'Marco Jackson, the Mountaineers defense ranks as one of the best in the country. Appalachian State State is No. 2 nationally in tackles for loss and ranks in the top 20 in scoring defense (19.3 points), total defense (325.5 yards), pass efficiency defense (114.7) and interceptions (15), defensive TDs (No. 6, four), red zone defense (No. 15, 73.7%) and rushing defense (No. 19, 118.8)
How to watch Boca Raton Bowl live
Game: Boca Raton Bowl
Date: Saturday, Dec. 18 | Time: 11 a.m. ET
Location: FAU Stadium -- Boca Raton, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Boca Raton Bowl prediction, picks
How could I possibly pick against a program that has never lost a bowl game? While the program's postseason dominance makes for a great storyline, the real reason I like the Mountaineers is that they're a more well-rounded team with their run-pass balance and a bit better defensively. Western Kentucky does one thing (passing) very, very well but the Mountaineers have more ways to beat an opponent. Prediction: Appalachian State (-3)
Who will win the Boca Raton Bowl, and which side of the Louisiana vs. Marshall spread has all the value? Visit SportsLine now to see which side to back, all from the advanced model that's returned almost $3,700 in profit over the past five-plus seasons.