Another mountain to climb
Fresh off Michigan upset, App. State takes aim at LSU
Posted: Tuesday February 12, 2008 11:56PM; Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2008 12:46PM
Shortly before last season's BCS bowls, I was having a conversation with an athletic director at one of the nation's football powers when he mentioned he still had a game to fill on his 2008 non-conference schedule. At such a late stage, he said, he would likely have to resort to a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) opponent.
A light bulb went off in my head.
Only a couple weeks earlier, on the eve of Appalachian State's national championship game, I'd written a column about its quarterback, Armanti Edwards. One of the school officials I spoke to lamented that the suddenly feared Mountaineers were struggling to find a I-A opponent for this coming season.
This was my chance to play broker. "Let's make it happen," I told the big-school AD.
While he didn't explicitly say so, I could tell from his response he wanted nothing to do with the three-time defending Division I-AA national champions, and who could blame him? Appalachian State's stunning 34-32 upset of then fifth-ranked Michigan in last year's season opener showed not only how dangerous the Mountaineers can be but also what a gigantic stigma losing to such a team creates. While the Wolverines went on to win eight straight at one point, there was nary a story written about Michigan last season that did not also include the words "Appalachian State."
Finally, last Friday, Appalachian State reached a deal for its 2008 season opener. In the end, it couldn't have reached any higher.
Reigning BCS champion LSU announced it will host the Mountaineers on Aug. 30, creating the first-ever meeting between two defending national champions. With all due respect to Missouri-Illinois and USC-Virginia, it will arguably be the most intriguing matchup of opening weekend.
"Last year, to be real candid about it, everyone [here] wanted us to just go up there and play good [against Michigan]. Don't lay an egg," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore. "Now, they're licking their chops. It's 'Let's go get LSU.' "
Give credit to LSU for going where so many others would not. Over the past few months, Appalachian State associate athletic director Jay Sutton got turned down by one BCS-conference school after another in his quest for a big-conference opponent (the Boone, N.C., school has faced at least one upper-division foe every year since 1982). "We'd come back with, 'However much you're paying, we'll take less,' " said Sutton. "That didn't work either."
Florida State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech all declined, according to Sutton. The Tar Heels, perhaps wary of losing to an in-state opponent, opted instead to play another regular FCS playoff participant, McNeese State. Florida State and Clemson -- both of which are playing two lower-division foes next season -- opted for less-threatening teams from Appalachian State's conference, Western Carolina and The Citadel.
"Of course we don't want to play [Appalachian State]," an anonymous ACC coach told the Charlotte Observer. "It's not because I don't think we can beat them. ... When we play a [FCS] team, we want to play our starters for one quarter, get a lead, and get them out of there. That's not going to happen against Appalachian."