App. State-LSU (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 11:56PM; Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2008 12:46PM
LSU was originally scheduled to face Appalachian State last season but had to push the game back to 2009 when ESPN opted to turn the Tigers' game against Mississippi State into its Thursday night season opener. Ironically, it was that domino that allowed the Mountaineers to schedule Michigan. (LSU paid Appalachian State $200,000 in compensation for the postponement in addition to the $550,000 guarantee for this year's game.)
Verge Ausberry, LSU's senior associate athletic director who handles scheduling, originally sought Texas Tech for its 2008 opener in what would have been a clash of two likely preseason top-15 opponents. Tulsa backed out of a two-year deal with the Red Raiders last month. Unfortunately, Texas Tech operates under the old Bill Snyder school of scheduling -- it hasn't scheduled a BCS-conference opponent since 2003 -- and opted instead for Eastern Washington.
At that point, Ausberry contacted Sutton about moving up the 2009 game, but not without first getting the approval of Tigers coach Les Miles.
"It made his eyebrows raise," said Ausberry. "But it was getting to the last minute. We were fortunate to get a program better than three-fourths of the BCS teams in the country. Nobody's jumping on the bandwagon to play them.
"But it's in your backyard, you're LSU. You're supposed to win these games."
While LSU is presumably a more talented team than the Michigan squad Appalachian State faced last season, many of the circumstances surrounding the two matchups are similar. The Wolverines, like LSU, were coming off a two-loss season. The Tigers should be ranked at or near fifth as well. And just as the Mountaineers exploited a Michigan defense that had lost four All-Americas from the previous season (LaMarr Woodley, Alan Branch, David Harris and Leon Hall), LSU will be playing its first game without veteran standouts Glenn Dorsey, Ali Highsmith, Craig Steltz and Chevis Jackson.
Appalachian State, meanwhile, returns Edwards, an electrifying junior quarterback and the first realistic lower-division Heisman candidate since Randy Moss more than a decade ago. He accounted for four touchdowns in that Michigan game. However, several of the other key figures from that upset -- four-year safety Corey Lynch, who had the game-sealing field goal block against Michigan, 1,348-yard rusher Kevin Richardson and big-play receiver Dexter Jackson -- have departed.
"We have a really good [young] running back, a couple really good receivers who haven't played much," said Moore. "The thing we won't have that we did against Michigan was experience."
The biggest difference, of course, is that there's no chance the Mountaineers will be able to sneak up on the Tigers. "[Michigan] didn't play that hard against us," said Moore. Last year's opener barely registered on the radar screen beforehand and was televised regionally by the upstart Big Ten Network. ESPN has already talked with LSU about televising this one, potentially in prime time, according to the two schools.
"It is early in the process and we have a lot of moving parts, so it's premature to discuss what games we will or will not do," said ESPN spokesman Michael Humes.
Miles actually faced Appalachian State once before, during his first season at LSU in 2005. The Mountaineers, which went on to win the national title that year, held the JaMarcus Russell-led Tigers to 14 points through three quarters before ultimately falling 24-0. A recap of the game on LSU's official site noted that "the Mountaineers proved more worthy than some of LSU's Southeastern Conference foes."
Certainly, the odds will be stacked against Appalachian State again this time. Nevertheless, it's a matchup of last season's biggest story and its best team in a game college football fans won't want to miss.
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