Appalachian State (8-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) was in the New Year's Six bowl conversation earlier this season. That happened when the Mountaineers were ranked and garnering national recognition.
They created intrigue again on Saturday, beating South Carolina, 20-15, in Columbia, S.C. That was App State's second win over a Power-Five team this season.
Appalachian's chance of receiving a berth into the Cotton Bowl, which is where this year's top-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five will go, is pretty slim due to the cluster of programs in the American Athletic Conference — Cincinnati, SMU, Memphis and Navy — and Boise State. All of those teams are between Nos. 20 and 25 in the season's first College Football Playoff ranking, which was released on Nov. 5.
The second CFP ranking of the season will be released tonight.
But what are the chances that App State could appear in a bowl without a Sun Belt tie in? According to the conference, it's very low.
The Journal reached out to the Sun Belt asking if the conference champion, or even a non-champion, could appear in a bowl that can't be filled by team from a P5 conference. Outside of getting into the College Football Playoff or receiving an invitation from the Cotton Bowl, the answer is no.
"There is no waiver process for a Sun Belt member to opt out of our bowl relationships," Scottie Rodgers, associate commissioner for strategic communications, said via email. "Our bowl contracts are consistent with agreements across all conferences for all of the FBS postseason opportunities.
"Every bowl spot is contractually obligated to a conference or independent institution. We have specific agreements with our five bowl partners that our members will honor and the only exceptions are selection into the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game."
The Sun Belt currently has five bowl tie-ins: the New Orleans Bowl, the Cure Bowl, the Camellia Bowl, the Mobile Alabama Bowl and the Arizona Bowl.
Last year, the Sun Belt announced that the winner of the inaugural championship game would earn the invitation to the New Orleans Bowl. The runner up went to the Cure Bowl in 2018. Rodgers confirmed that the second-place team from the conference won't always get that assignment.
App State won the Sun Belt Conference championship game last season, beating Louisiana, 30-19. The Mountaineers also won the New Orleans Bowl, 45-13, against Middle Tennessee State.
Appalachian has won at least a share of the conference championship in each of the last three seasons.