- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt knows it's hard enough to get a team ready on a weekly basis when winning division, conference and national titles are possibilities. Imagine trying to motivate your players when there is no carrot to hold up at the end of the stick.
That's the dilemma that Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield has encountered this season as his Mountaineers (2-7) knew coming into the season that they would not be eligible to contend for the FCS playoffs because of their plans to jump to the FBS next season.
“If you go into the year and you know from the get-go, I imagine it would be managed in a little bit different way,” Richt said. “Everybody knows on the front end that's the deal, so they have a little bit better shot of understanding that rather than thinking that this is what is going to happen and then get to midseason and realize that you're out of it. I think it would be a little tougher that way.”
Richt's Bulldogs (5-3) were able to avoid the situation he mentioned by beating Florida last Saturday. Their win against the rival Gators helped the Bulldogs maintain an outside shot at catching Missouri in the SEC East race, which Richt admits kept a spring in everybody's step when they returned to practice this week.
“It's probably tougher if you're allowed to compete for it and you get to the point in the season where you have no chance,” he said. “If we were out of the Eastern Division race right now, it makes it much more difficult to motivate, I think.”
Appalachian State is best known as the program that knocked off No. 5 Michigan in 2007, but those were different days for the Mountaineers. The program was in the middle of a run of three straight FCS titles then, but has regressed a bit in recent years, following back-to-back four-loss seasons with this fall's struggles. The Mountaineers have lost four times by a touchdown or less.
“I think we're too far away from that [Michigan game],” Satterfield said. “There's not anybody on this team that was around during that time. This is a pretty different team. Back then we're coming off a couple of national championships with a lot of the same players that were coming back on that 2007 team offensively and defensively. I just think that was a different era, different time, different kids.”
Make no mistake, however. Georgia's players are well aware of the Mountaineers' win in Ann Arbor from six years ago. The Bulldogs will be big favorites on Saturday, but the outcome of every game this season has been in doubt in the second half -- even a 45-21 win against North Texas that was tied 21-all early in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs still have key games in the SEC East race ahead, most importantly a visit to rival Auburn next Saturday. But first they must put away the Mountaineers.
“You can't look past any game,” receiver Michael Bennett said. “That North Texas game, we didn't play as good as we could have, and hopefully we'll jump up on App State and not let up.”