Here we go with Week 1:
Appalachian State @ LSU
Time: 5pm EDT
Stadium: Tiger Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 2.87 points
LSU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 26 points (rounded).
Series: LSU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: LSU 24, ASU 0, November 5, 2005
“The summer gets longer every year. Especially when your team is the two-time defending national champions. It gets even longer when you open on the road against a high profile opponent. The 2007 edition of Mountaineer football may play its toughest opponent in program history this weekend when it heads to Michigan’s famous “Big House”, which comes in just a few seats shy of 108,000. In 2005, many of the same players played in front of 93,000 fans down in Baton Rouge. That was a lot of people. Add on another town the size of Boone to Tiger Stadium and you get Michigan Stadium.”
That right there is how I started the 2007 campaign. I think its significant, because in the first few sentences, I could have written the same thing, changed a couple words around and nobody would have noticed. The ironic part is the reference to Tiger Stadium. Who would have known we would be kicking off the 2008 campaign against LSU. Would have gone something like this:
“The summer gets longer every year. Especially when your team is the three-time defending national champions. It gets even longer when you open on the road against a high profile opponent. The 2008 edition of Mountaineer football may play its toughest opponent in program history this weekend when it heads to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, aka “Death Valley” , which registered on a seismograph during a game in 1988 against Auburn.”
Enough irony and talk for now, it’s time to talk football.
Louisiana State University has many questions heading into this weekend and some of those questions have nothing to do with football. In the wake of Katrina, officials are taking all precautions with Hurricane Gustav looming as it enters the Gulf Of Mexico. Gustav has already claimed 22 lives in Haiti and that certainly hasn’t helped matters as those in charge are having to make decisions on whether to have a football game or not this weekend. In 2005, ASU was to play LSU on the same Labor Day weekend before the game was rescheduled to later in the season.
The other question facing LSU, is who will start at quarterback for the Bayou Bengals. After Les Miles’ decision to let go of the troubled Ryan Perrilloux, it left a huge void in the backfield. Miles then had three unproven quarterbacks in a virtual dead heat going into spring drills. Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee were the front runners through fall drills. Lee injured his back a couple weeks ago in practice, which opened the door for Hatch, but Miles has still yet to name a starter as of prediction thread press time. Supposedly Lee’s back issues are not a problem and Miles says there is a good possibility that Hatch, Lee and true freshman Jordan Jefferson will see time under center on Saturday evening.
Besides the obvious uncertainty of the quarterback situation, LSU seems to be stacked at all other positions on offense. The running game will be led by a couple of bruisers, Keiland Williams and Charles Scott. Both backs are about 5’11 and tip the scales right around 230 pounds and that will pose a tough task for the Mountaineers defensive line that will be outweighed by nearly 35 pounds per player. Clearing the way will be veterans Ciron Black, Herman Johnson and Brett Helms, who were voted as preseason All-SEC players.
Defensively, LSU lost arguably one of its best lineman ever in Glenn Dorsey, but they return another couple of studs who will do their best to slow down the ASU offense. Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois are both on the Bednarik watch list for the Best Collegiate Defensive Player. Linebacker Darry Beckwith is also on the Bednarik watch list and looks to be a sure fire first round NFL draft pick as well.
For Appalachian the story begins and ends with Armanti Edwards. After the victory over Michigan last year, Edwards started gaining national attention as one of the best spread quarterbacks in college football. It seems though, that all of the best quarterbacks in college football are in an offense the implements some form of the spread offense. Armanti Edwards will surely be the “best” quarterback on the field on Saturday, but Edwards isn’t the only player that makes the Mountaineers tick. Containing Edwards rushing abilities may help LSU win, but there are plenty of other players the Tigers must contain.
Appalachian lost a good core of their offensive line to graduation, but stepping in are young players who received invaluable playing time throughout the 2007 season. Brett Irvin is solid at the center position and shouldn’t be fazed by the stadium or crowd noise. His first career start came against Michigan. Daniel Kilgore played tight end at times last year, but has changed his number and has moved to right guard. Brad Coley takes over at left tackle as Mario Acitelli moves back inside to his normal position at left guard, which was vacated by Kerry Brown.
Although ASU lost some of its top receivers from 2007, it may be the Mountaineers deepest position on the field. Sophomore CoCo Hillary returns from a season in which he logged total yards in five different positions: quarterback, wide receiver, running back, punt return and kick return. He may be ASU’s best offensive player not named Edwards. Rounding out the receiving corps is senior T.J. Courman, possession receiver Josh Johnson and redshirt freshman Brian Quick who blocked one of Michigan’s field goal attempts last year.
Despite losing all-time leading rusher Kevin Richardson, Appalachian is as deep at running back as it is at wide receiver. Although Devon Moore is the only proven returnee with 459 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2007, backups Robert Whelton and Cedric Baker have been impressive in spring and fall practices and will surely get carries as the season progresses. Virginia Tech transfer Devin Radford is one of the fastest Mountaineers on the field and will certainly get a couple touches against the Tigers.
The Appalachian defense lost some key players from 2007 to the tune of the entire secondary and perhaps one of the best defensive backs in school history, Corey Lynch, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the entire line backing corps return including SoCon preseason player of the year Pierre Banks, leading tackler Jacque Roman and D.J. Smith who has been compared to ASU’s best ever linebacker Dexter Coakley. Vanderbilt transfer Quavian Lewis looks to provide a pass rush along with 2007 leading sacker Tony Robertson. Stopping the run will be Georgia Military transfer Malcolm Bennett and All-American Anthony Williams.
This is first game in college football history that matches up the defending BCS and FCS champions. LSU is the first two time BCS champion and Appalachian has won three straight titles of its own. In the past 5 years, there have been 10 national titles awarded on the Division I level of football and these two schools own half of them. Talk about a battle of the champions. Both programs get the best athletes available to them. Across the nation, LSU is after the top ten high schools athletes at every position. At Appalachian, they are after what other BCS conferences don’t want. It is not rare to see Mountaineer recruits mention other BCS schools in the same breath as Appalachian in the recruiting circles. This is one reason why this game will be exciting. Both teams have lost important players and the newcomers want to prove they belong, especially in the first game of the season. Surely there will be some rust being the first game of the year. LSU has been noted to have a power running game and nobody blames them with their big running backs and lineman. ASU will use all of their weapons the field in order to keep defenses guessing. LSU is certainly favored in this game, seeing that they are one of the top programs year in and year out, but ASU plays and practices as if they have a chip on their shoulder. Despite the love fest for Armanti Edwards, many sportswriters in the past weeks have come out and said that history will not repeat itself. The win over a Michigan was a fluke. Appalachian’s speed will not be a difference against LSU. I am not here saying the Mountaineers will win by any means, but everyone knows that its not impossible that they could win. LSU will start an unproven quarterback, whoever it is, and that is enough in my mind to feel like this game isn’t as safe for LSU as some college football experts think. Eventually LSU will have to throw the ball and hit some completions down the field, to keep ASU from stacking the box. ASU’s spread attack will be able to move the ball up and down the field and will score some points. I am guessing at least three touchdowns. I will be surprised if LSU is able to score at will, especially with an untested quarterback. Neither team can afford to give the other a short field. I would not be surprised at all by a shootout. My only question for ASU is the fact that they return only 12 starters from last year. Those 12 guys are playmakers on both sides of the ball, but I think the inexperience in this game may lead to ASU’s demise. ASU’s unbeaten record (12-0) on ESPN is in jeopardy.
The First Pick: