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No. 20 Appalachian State vs. UAB: New Orleans Bowl preview and picks against the spread

No. 20 Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4)

Location: New Orleans | When: Dec. 21 (9 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: App State -16.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

App State: Even after losing coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville, App State cruised to another Sun Belt championship. This year, it was a 12-1 run under Eliah Drinkwitz that was capped off with a 45-38 conference title game victory over Louisiana. The Mountaineers also picked up wins over two Power Five teams: North Carolina and South Carolina. 

UAB: The UAB football program is a remarkable 28-12 since resuming play in 2017. The Blazers won 11 games, including the C-USA title and the Boca Raton Bowl in 2018. The Blazers took a step back in 2019, but took advantage of an easy schedule to get to nine wins and clinch the C-USA West title before getting trounced by Florida Atlantic, 49-6, in the C-USA title game. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

App State has been one of the most consistent teams in the country this season. Had the Mountaineers not lost to Georgia Southern on Halloween, they very well could be playing in the Cotton Bowl later this month. Instead, App State — winners of 23 of its last 26 games — finished just behind No. 17 Memphis and No. 19 Boise State in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Don’t expect that strong play to stop any time soon. Even though Eliah Drinkwitz left after one year to take the Missouri job, the promotion of App alum Shawn Clark should keep things rolling in Boone. 

Appalachian State offensive lineman Victor Johnson (75) celebrates after winning the Sun Belt championship. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

App State RB Darrynton Evans: Following the injury to Jalin Moore early in 2018, Darrynton Evans assumed App State’s lead back duties and has been one of the best in the Sun Belt. After going for 1,187 yards and 7 TDs last year, he has surged past those totals with 1,323 yards and 17 TDs in 2019.

UAB LB Kristopher Moll: Moll is having a huge season for the Blazers. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior leads UAB in both tackles (96) and tackles for loss (16). His nine sacks ranks second on the Blazers behind Jordan Smith, who has 10. Moll has 23.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Appalachian State LB Akeem Davis-Gaither: The Senior Bowl invitee has really improved over the past few seasons and has enough playmaking ability to thrive as a three-down backer at the next level, as well as a core special teamer. He’s undersized and looks like a safety, so adding bulk is going to be needed at some point. But flip on the North Carolina game to see Davis-Gaither’s diving interception and you’ll quickly realize that he has NFL instincts and athleticism.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

App State: The Mountaineers can get to the 13-win mark for the first time since 2007, when they won the third of their third-straight FCS national championships. App State moved up to the FBS level in 2014 and became eligible for postseason play in 2015. The program has won a bowl game in all four of those eligible seasons. A win in the New Orleans Bowl can make it five out of five. 

UAB: UAB finally got its first bowl victory a year ago when it beat MAC champion Northern Illinois 37-13 in the Boca Raton Bowl. The Blazers want to make it two bowl wins in a row while also getting to the 10-win mark for the second time in program history. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: App State -16.5

Sam Cooper: App State -16.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: UAB +16.5

Pete Thamel: UAB +16.5

Dan Wetzel: UAB +16.5

Sean Sullivan: App State -16.5

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