Here we go with the National Championship:
#13 Delaware (11-3) @ #5 Appalachian State (12-2)
Jeff Sagarin ratings:
Home advantage: 2.59 points
ASU is favored to win by 1 points
Series: First Meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
It has come down to the final two teams to decide who will be crowned the National Champion. Both of these teams are familiar to winning national titles, as are the conferences they hail from. The Southern Conference can lay claim to 11 national champions if you include Marshall and the Colonial Athletic Association has had three past champions. All in all, seven of the last nine national champions have come from either the Southern or the Colonial. That trend will continue in 2007. Delaware will be looking for its second title and Appalachian will try to string together its third in as many years, a feat no other team in college football has ever accomplished. Finley Stadium will be rocking on Friday night as it welcomes two of the most supportive fan bases in college football. The parking lots will fill up early and after the game is over, the parties will just be getting kicked off, celebrating their national champion.
Delaware’s road to the National Championship began at home, but took many turns before the road stopped in Chattanooga. After defeating Northern Iowa in the second round, the Hens got stuck in Waterloo during a winter storm and had to wait for the weather to clear before returning to campus. That forced the NCAA to change game times for the semifinal games. After returning home, Delaware had to travel west again as the team took on Southern Illinois in Carbondale, where they won. Their reward was hitting the road again, this time heading south to Chattanooga. A total 4,551 miles will have been traveled by the Delaware football team when the arrive Chattanooga. For Appalachian the drive is 269 miles from Boone, NC to Chattanooga.
The offense at Delaware is about as high powered as the one the Mountaineers faced in the first game of the season. Joe Flacco is very similar to Chad Henne in several ways. Both are huge (6’6”) and have big arms and fall in the category of pocket passers. Both are also very immobile in the pocket. The key to pressuring a pocket passer is not sacking him, but applying pressure and making him think about the blitzing defense every time he drops back. That will force rushed throws and inaccurate passing. Pocket passers must get their feet set. Since they are unlikely to throw on the run, they don’t practice it. Once again, getting in the face of Joe Flacco will do the Mountaineers plenty of good on Friday night.
Delaware has one the best running backs in Omar Cuff. He and Kevin Richardson had to be separated at birth because they are both low power runners and very adept at catching passes out of the backfield. Cuff has run for 1,861 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season. His past two games, he ran for 102 yards in each game and caught 11 total passes. Cuff is averaging 132 yards a game on the ground this season. All of the Hen receivers are solid across the board. Aaron Love, Mark Duncan, and Kevin Michaud all are averaging 4 catches and over 50 yards receiving per game.
. It was pretty obvious why the Mountaineers were able to advance last week against Richmond. Armanti Edwards recorded one the best games ever by a college quarterback, rushing for 313 yards and passing for 182 more. In all, he accounted for seven total touchdowns. Edwards has two passes that were incomplete and a costly celebratory flip into the end zone that cost the Mountaineers valuable field position. That was about the only things that happened last week were negative. On the night, Edwards ran for 10 yards a carry and the Mountaineers rang up 8.8 yards per play against Richmond, who defeated Delaware earlier in the season in five overtimes. On the season, although only playing in ten games, Edwards has run for 1,499 yards and thrown for 1,750 yards and has combined for 35 total touchdowns.
You know things are going good when you have a 1,200 yard rusher on the team and he trails the leading rusher on the team by over 200 yards. Kevin Richardson was the hero in 2006 when Appalachian defeated Massachusetts. Richardson ran for 179 yards and accounted for all four Mountaineer touchdowns despite suffering from a bruised and sore shoulder. For Richardson and several other Mountaineers, this will be their third time in the National Championship game and that is experience you cannot put a price on.
When the playoffs began, may felt that Delaware was the best team not seeded in the top of the bracket. Many critics also felt the same about Appalachian State in the lower half. Somehow these teams were considered sleepers, even with two of top offenses in the country. Both benefited from playing tough schedules. Appalachian beat Michigan and Delaware knocked off Navy, two teams from the other division that are bowl bound. They both also benefited from teams with softer schedules and flawless records losing out. At one point in the season, some Appalachian fans felt that winning one game in the playoffs would be too much to ask for. Once Appalachian did win their first playoff game, and the higher seeds lost, there was a renewed energy in the mountains. The road to Chattanooga would once again lead through Boone. After surviving against Eastern Washington and throttling Richmond, the Appalachian nation finds themselves in a very familiar place: Chattanooga.
This should be a hard fought game by both teams. Delaware is easily one of the better passing teams that Appalachian has faced since Elon and Eastern Washington. The difference is that Elon and Eastern Washington really did not have much of a running game to speak of. If Delaware can get Cuff running well early, then they will be able to mix in the play action pass really well. Appalachian best option is shut down the run and force Delaware to pass more than often. In doing so, Appalachian can get after the quarterback and frustrate Flacco. The chore for Delaware is to try and stop the Mountaineers running game. Whether its Armanti Edwards, Kevin Richardson or reverses by the receivers, Delaware must contain. It is really hard to play Appalachian when they have a decent lead and they are running the ball well .When that happens the game is essentially over. What will be interesting is how Armanti Edwards bounces back from the big game. Earlier this season against The Citadel, Edwards ran for 296 yards and then responded with 35 yards against Western Carolina the next week. Appalachian will have a tough time winning a third straight national championship if Edwards runs for less than 50 yards. Another factor for the Mountaineers is the crowd. Appalachian fans have made up close to 80% of the fans in the last two title games and this year should be no different. Delaware probably travels as well as any team in the FCS and they will need their fans to be vocal in their support, otherwise it will feel like another home game for Appalachian. I think this game will be a really good game. The defense is not the strength for either team and we could see the highest scoring title games since Massachusetts and Georgia Southern. I think the experience in the moment prevails here. In the previous two years, Appalachian has made the plays when they needed them most. In 2005, it was Jason Hunter and Marques Murrell combining for a defensive touchdown. In 2006, it was a 3rd and 13 converted by a freshman quarterback and freshman wide receiver. Whose play will be etched in Appalachian history this year?
The First Pick:
Going for a Third 41
Giving it to the Birds 31