Here we go with Week 1:
#1 Appalachian State @ East Carolina
Stadium: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.83 points
ECU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 2 points (rounded).
Series: ASU leads 19-10
Last Meeting: ECU 38, ECU 21; November 3, 1979
A rivalry will renewed for the first time in nearly 30 years this weekend, on the opening weekend of the 2009 college football season. Appalachian State and East Carolina once played on a yearly basis in the 1950’s and a few years in the 1970’s. It is a game that many alumni and fans have been screaming about for years. Since then, East Carolina has become a member of Conference USA and Appalachian has moved onto the Southern Conference. Despite being on opposite ends of the college football world and the state of North Carolina, the scheduling of this game has sparked an interest that many fans thought it would. To date, it is only home game on East Carolina’s schedule that has sold out, which includes a game against ACC power Virginia Tech. For Appalachian, a game against a bowl subdivision opponent always gets the fan base excited, especially when that opponent is an old in-state rival. For East Carolina, the shoe is on the other foot. East Carolina has been trying to prove themselves as being a worthy opponent to the in-state brethren for years and now they have to defend the same turf on which they once stood on: a team desiring due respect. The first game of the year always bring a renewed excitement and this game should not be any different for either school. Both teams have high expectations, but first they must face each other for bragging rights.
Last season, East Carolina kicked off the season with a win over ranked teams Virginia Tech and West Virginia. They received the premature title of being a team that could bust the BCS, but it all fell apart with three straight losses to NC State, Houston and a bad Virginia team. However the Pirates rallied to finish 9-4 in the regular season and earned an invitation to the Liberty Bowl. The Pirates lost a 16-3 halftime lead and fell to the Kentucky Wildcats 25-19 in a hard fought game that included a couple questionable instant replay reviews.
If the Pirates expect to win the Conference USA crown this season, they will do so on the back of Patrick Pinkney. The sixth-year senior was granted an extra year of eligibility due to a medical hardship. Pinkney threw for 2675 yards last year with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In games where Pinkney threw an interception, the Pirates either lost, or won by only four points(twice).
The Pirates will also ride a strong backfield in 2009. Coach Skip Holtz believes there are four players who he feels are capable of carrying the load but expects that senior Dominique Lindsay (Independence) and Brandon Jackson, formerly of Kentucky, will get the bulk of the carries. Lindsay did not play last year after injuring a knee in fall camp. Jackson redshirted his freshman year at Kentucky and then sat out in 2008 after transferring. Both backs are about 5’10” and weigh in right at 200 pounds. Both Lindsay and Jackson are backed up by juniors Jonathan Williams and Giavanni Ruffin, respectively. Williams saw action in seven games for the Pirates before a team suspension and Ruffin is a junior college transfer.
The story in surrounding Appalachian State in the offseason revolves around the health of Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards. An off campus accident has sidelined Edwards for the bulk of fall camp and has left the Mountaineer faithful wondering when he will return to the lineup. Rumors are all over the place concerning whether or not we will see #14 on the field this week despite Edwards officially being listed as questionable. Whomever lines up under center for the Mountaineers on Saturday will have a big test in front of them. The Pirates are big on the defensive line and fast in the secondary. It is evident to most, that the Apps will need a healthy quarterback in order to beat the Pirates.
Devon Moore returns at tailback for the Mountaineers. Moore suffered a season ending injury against James Madison last year and had to take a medical redshirt. Cedric Baker will also see some time in the backfield as injuries have also hampered the return of Robert Whelton and Devin Radford. Redshirt freshman Rod Chisholm also figures to be in the mix at running back for the Apps. The receiver corps is loaded once again. CoCo Hillary lead the team with 56 receptions and Brian Quick hauled in seven touchdown catches. Tight end Ben Jordan had a breakout freshman season with 29 catches and six touchdowns. The addition of several athletic freshman(Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock) will also contribute in the passing game.
The ASU defense looks to be as dominant as we have seen in recent years. Returning are SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jacques Roman and leading solo tackler D.J. Smith at linebacker. The defensive line has extreme depth starting in the middle with Malcolm Bennett and Anthony Williams. Several other key players will rotate and see significant playing time, including Bobby Bozzo, Daniel Finnerty and Gordy Witte. The secondary is almost as loaded as the defensive line as Buchanan award finalist Mark Legree (10 INT) returns along with All-SoCon performers Ed Gainey and Cortez Gilbert. This unit has perennially lead the conference in passing defense year after and looks to continue that tradition.
Most of the time, when Appalachian faces off against a team from the bowl subdivision, the deck is usually stacked against them. The obvious disadvantages are the difference in scholarships. Others disadvantages may include a long road trip and a very hostile environment. In most cases, everything that goes on in the game has to go the way of the Mountaineers in order for them to win. Its easy to see the Mountaineers do not have a great all-time record against FBS opponents. Before the win at Michigan, the Apps had only defeated Wake Forest at that level. Since then, the thought process behind a FBS vs. FCS game has changed. Taking nothing away from East Carolina, Appalachian will not be overwhelmed when it enters Dowdy-Ficklen on Saturday. The Apps always step on the field with plans of winning a game. It is that kind of attitude that gives Appalachian an edge over other inferior FCS teams. It will not matter who lines up at quarterback, either. Sure, ECU and ASU fans all want to see the spectacular Armanti Edwards in this game, and they still may, but the likelihood of that happening is not good. Both fan bases want this game to be something to remember for years. However at the end of the day, this game is basically a glorified exhibition. Both teams will leave with similar goals, but will not compete against each other again in 2009. Both teams have conference title aspirations and beyond. This game will set the tone for both teams for the rest of the year. Appalachian may struggle to score points early in the game until the find a rhythm. ECU will play solid defense and will run the ball and control the clock. They will try and wear out the Appalachian defense with its ball control style. Appalachian will have to try and avoid any mental lapses. East Carolina is a team that will make you pay for mistakes, such as penalties and turnovers. The Pirates are not going to go out and score a ton of points, but they won’t need to. The Appalachian defense must do its best to attack the Pirate offense and force them into long yardage situations. I think that Appalachian has enough on the field to beat the Pirates. It may be harder if Armanti Edwards doesn’t play, but the Apps have been there before. DeAndre Pressley has been there before. I think this will be a tough hard fought game that will be won in fourth quarter and I think East Carolina’s depth will be just enough to give them a victory.
The First Pick: