Here we go with Week 1:
Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Michigan (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Saturday August 30th, Noon
TV/Video: ESPN2 & WatchESPN
Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490 Fayetteville
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
App State: 54.53
Michigan is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 28 points (rounded).
Sportsbook: MIchigan -34, O/U 53.5
Series: Appalachian leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 34, Michigan 32, October 27 September 1st, 2007, Ann Arbor
The long wait is finally over. In a mere three days, Appalachian Football will finally play its first game as an FBS program against the exact same opponent that catapulted them to the upper echelon of college football. Likely, they are plenty of moments that contributed to this moment in time, but that football game seven years ago took support to another level and opened the door to the present day. On the new and improved Sun Belt schedule there are a plenty of teams that Appalachian will be playing for the first time and a couple familiar faces from years past. Georgia Southern and Appalachian will quickly educate their new peers about the hate and respect each program has for the other. Liberty and Appalachian have played sparingly over the years. Appalachian and Troy played twice in the same year back in 1999, with each team winning on the others home field. And, yeah, Appalachian played Michigan back in 2007.
Luckily, these teams, Michigan and App, and their positions in the football universe cannot be compared to that day in 2007. Seven years ago, both teams had national championship hopes and only one was able to fulfill that dream. Now, eight wins would be an improvement for either program who both had subpar seasons in 2013. Michigan started their season with five wins before losing six of their last eight games, including a bowl loss to Kansas State. Appalachian started a woeful 1-6 before rallying to win three of their last five, including a loss to Georgia where they kept it close until halftime. Michigan must rebound or else head coach Brady Hoke might be wearing different colors next year. Scott Satterfield is in a good spot for Appalachian without any risks of losing his job after this season while the Mountaineers continue a transition period as an FBS program. Satterfield has repeatedly mentioned that he hopes to really compete in the Sun Belt in 2015.
In 2007, it was the Michigan offense that was loaded with NFL talent while their defense was looking to fill holes. This year, the Michigan defense is the stronger side of the ball while their offense looks to gain a rhythm. Brady Hoke hired offensive guru Doug Nussmeier from Alabama where he spent time as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Nussmeier will serve in the same capacity at Michigan. Nussmeier has also spent time at Fresno State, Washington and with the St. Louis Rams. during his coaching career. Nussmeier is charged with turning Devin Gardner, a dual threat quarterback into more of a pocket passer. Gardner has added about fifteen pounds this offseason and is the leading returner for Michigan in the air (2960 yards) and on the ground (483) from last season. Wide receiver Devin Funchess is the most experienced receiver returning for the Wolverines. Funchess finished the season with 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns. Two other Michigan receivers who are slated to start combined for twenty-one catches last year.
Michigan will likely lean on two sophomore running backs to carry the load. Neither Derrick Green or De’Veon Smith has separated themselves from one another as the primary running back. However, both come from the same mold as stout runners at 5’10 and 220 pounds each. Michigan will likely roll with the hot hand on Saturday, but don’t be surprised if both get close to fifteen carries apiece. Nussmeier will likely employ a very balanced attack with downhill running plays similar to Alabama. Remember those Tide teams always had a premier back, but another one right behind the starter that could also really carry the mail.
Appalachian is likely moving into its most uncertain time in its programs history regarding expectations on the field. Most believe making the move to the Sun Belt was the right decision, but there are also plenty of doubters. With a schedule that brings so many new opponents, its tough to determine how the talent will stack up until we all see it first hand. Many on the current roster were recruited as FCS players. The experience is with the upperclassmen while the talent is mostly just a year or so removed from high school football. Last year was a struggle for all involved. Injuries and inexperience led to several close losses and plenty of frustration from all involved. Luckily in Boone, a sub-500 season has been the exception and not the rule for many decades. Another similar record may follow this year, but the main goal is the continued improvement by each and every player and coach.
The Mountaineers will have plenty of options on offense this fall. Last season, Kam Bryant either handed the ball to Marcus Cox or threw to Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington over half the time. The receivers have graduated and are working on their professional football careers while Marcus Cox returns. Despite losing two of the better receivers in program history, the wide receiving corps is loaded with talent, but once again, the lack of experience remains a concern. Malachi Jones is the leading returning receiver, but my guess is he wont lead the team in yards or receptions when the season is over. Bobo Beathard and Sims McElfresh have waited their turn while true freshman Jaylan Barbour, Isaiah Lewis and Deltron Hopkins will make their impact as well.
Marcus Cox suffered a set back in fall camp a couple weeks ago with surgery on his meniscus. The coaches are hopeful he plays, but Terrence Upshaw also has the coaches confidence should Cox not be able to play. Upshaw was redshirted last year as the seemingly better player, but Cox flourished as an every down back, posting 1,250 rushing yards and 559 receiving yards. Ricky Fergerson appears to be the third string back and has shown improvement in fall camp in the passing game as a receiver.
Seven years ago, the most distinct advantage Michigan had over Appalachian was their size. We all remember the photo of the coin toss, where the Mountaineer captains looked like middle schoolers compared to the Wolverines. Michigan is not as big as they used to be, and that could be a huge reason why they have fallen off in recent years, especially on the lines. At a Power Five school, its almost a given that they average three-hundred plus pounds across the board on the offensive front, but that is not the case for the Wolverines. Don’t get me wrong, an average of 6’5 and 290 pounds does not seem light by any means to the average person, but in college football, that weight and size is not what it used to be. Appalachian hopes to counter with a nose tackle in Tyson Fernandez that demands a double team and a host of lineman to wear down the Michigan front line. In my opinion, that is where this game will be won and lost. Keeping Michigan off the scoreboard will be ideal for Appalachian, but there are plenty of small questions marks for Appalachian on the defensive front. Deuce Robinson and Stephen Burns battled injuries throughout fall camp. Ronald Blair returns, but has not seen much game action in the last two years. If the App defensive front can hold their own, the Mountaineers will have a chance. I have confidence in the Appalachian offense, as long as red zone chances are turned into touchdowns and not field goal attempts. Its almost crazy to even think that lightening will strike twice in Ann Arbor, and I am not stupid enough to make that call, but in order for lightening to strike twice, it has to hit once, and we all know what happened then. I don’t think this Michigan team is 34 points better than Appalachian. Way too much pride on the line for the Mountaineers not to make this one competitive.
The First Pick: