Here we go with Week 1:
Appalachian State @ Michigan
TV: Big Ten Network
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
Home advantage: 3.08 points
UM is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 25 points (rounded).
Series: First Meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
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. The way the Mountaineer nation sees it, it’s just that many more people to prove that we have a good football team. This will be the first time that Michigan has played a team that is not in the NCAA’s highest division. That stat alone shows the respect that the Michigan athletic department shows our Mountaineers. Well, that and a small scheduling quirk, but lets not talk about that. Let’s talk about football. It is that time again. Labor Day weekend is finally here, so let’s get down to business.
In its history, which dates back to 1878, when Michigan defeated Racine (WI), by the score of one touchdown to none, the Wolverines have an all-time record of 860-284-38. On the other hand, ASU defeated Montana State in last years playoffs to record the schools 500th victory. Michigan has gone to 38 bowl games in their history, including twenty Rose Bowls. Appalachian has seen eight bowl games, shockingly no Rose Bowls. Michigan has 11 national titles, Appalachian, 2. This is a game for the ages, right? Most will not see it that way, but for every fan, coach, player and drummer wearing black and gold, it will be.
Of course, we live in the ESPN era of sports. Some of you out there, likely most, have seen a college football preview show or twelve, and we all are aware, that this could be Michigan’s best offense ever. I tend to agree. Chad Henne is your typical pocket passer who has accuracy that can’t be taught. Mike Hart has not fumbled since junior high football. Mario Manningham is about as fast as they come with big soft hands at wide receiver. They have it all, on the offensive side of the ball. The questionable part about Michigan’s team is their defense. The secondary was less than spectacular last season against Southern California in the Rose Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, the Trojans had some pretty good receivers, but they were not going to run past anyone. Michigan must also replace three-quarters of their front line, a unit they gave up the fewest rushing yards in the nation last year. However, defensive captain Shawn Crable leads the linebackers, as he is Michigan’s active leader in tackles for loss(14.5) and sacks (8.5).
For the Apps, its almost as easy. Armanti Edwards is the cool as a cucumber sophomore quarterback who became only the 5th player in NCAA history to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season. Kevin Richardson has been ASU’s leading rusher for two years in a row, amassing over 3,100 yards on nearly 5.5 yards per carry. The offensive line has been solid over the last two years, dominating opposing teams in the trenches. The Mountaineers have arguably the deepest receiving corps in the Championship Subdivision, lead by the speedster Dexter Jackson, including freshman standout CoCo Hillary, and super sophomore Josh Johnson, to go along with veterans James Hill, TJ Courman and Hans Batichon. Last years Mountaineer offense was the most prolific in school history, scoring over 35 points a game.
The ASU defense also to plug a few holes on the defensive front, but are anchored by their “back” seven defenders. Cam Speer, Jacques Roman and Pierre Banks are the linebackers that cover sideline to sideline. Free safety Corey Lynch is an absolute ball hawk who needs only 8 interceptions to become the schools all time leader. On the corners, Justin Woazeah and Jerome Touchstone are always in position to cover as they both intercepted two passes last year. Titus Howard will replace Jeremy Wiggins at the strong safety position. The lone returning starter on the defensive front is Gary Tharrington, who thrived on the double teams of Marques Murrell, to the tune of 7.5 sacks. Rotating on the front line will be a combination of LSU transfer Tim Washington, Daniel Finnerty, Anthony Wilson, Anthony Williams, Gordy Witte and freshman Bobby Bozzo.
It is going to make than a few bounces of the ball for Appalachian to knock the mighty Wolverines. The mindset for the Mountaineers in this game is to get better with each play. Both teams will likely be a little rusty since it’s the first game of the season. ASU must hope the Big Ten referees are not too flag happy in the opening game. The Mountaineers are going to have to force a couple turnovers, and not give the ball to Michigan in turn, in order to stay with Michigan. The Apps must turn those opportunities into points, and not missed chances. Appalachian will be playing from behind before the kickoff. Each controversial play must go in favor of the Mountaineers. On top of that, Armanti Edwards will have to play like the calm freshman from last year. The ASU receivers will gave to grab every ball thrown their way, and avoid costly drops. Michigan will most likely try to find out how good they are. They will pass the ball just to get some rhythm back. They will also run between the tackles so much it will make the game boring at times. The ASU defense must contain the Wolverines offense, and avoid giving up big plays. Michigan will probably score more points than ASU when the final seconds tick away, but that is not saying that Appalachian will have lost. The experience from this game will pay dividends later in the season at some point. I think ASU has a chance to win this game, unlike most others. A lot of things will have to go the way of the Mountaineers. But when the final bell tolls on Saturday, I will be just as proud to be a Mountaineer as before the game. I hope our offense gives Michigan fits all day long. I hope ASU gets enough pressure on Chad Henne, that it gets him scrambling, and he throws an interception or two. I hope the Apps block a field goal and take it to the house. I just hope none of things happen to Appalachian. Michigan has more horses than Appalachian and they will use them all. ASU will fade in the fourth quarter, but will keep all 108,000 people on the edge of their seats until then. Too much Mike Hart for the young ASU defensive line.
The First Pick:
Black and Gold 16
Maize and Blue 35