Saturday, September 1, 2007
Updated: September 2, 3:39 AM ET
Appalachian State earns role as conquering hero
By Pat Forde
In the wake of the most astonishing college football result I can remember, it's important to hail the victors before we rip the vanquished.
(And we will rip the vanquished. Just wait a few paragraphs.)
So hats off to Appalachian State, which completed a week like none in school history.
First came word via "The Today Show" of a recruiting coup for the little school in the North Carolina mountains. Caitlin Upton, the freshly famous Miss Teen South Carolina, whose dingbat answer to a beauty pageant question became an instant YouTube classic, told Matt Lauer she planned to attend Appalachian State. This might not have dazzled the academic folks on campus, but I guarantee the male students are stoked.
Including the football team, perhaps? Maybe Miss Upton's commitment was the final motivation for the Mountaineers to defrock college football's winningest program in America's largest stadium.
Remember the score: App. State 34, Michigan 32.
We'll still be talking about it a few decades from now. Especially in the locker rooms of every huge underdog, where they'll say, "If Appalachian State can beat Michigan, why can't we shock the world, too?"
These are the kinds of things that don't normally happen in college football, where the chasm between have and have-not is wider than in any other sport. In fact, as the preposterous partial scores from Ann Arbor kept rolling in, Labor Day weekend began to feel like March Madness. That charm is usually lost on the gridiron, but not Saturday.
You got the feeling everyone nationwide not wearing maize and blue was pulling for the underdog. Just like the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This wasn't a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 -- that would be an insult to the two-time champions of the Division Formerly Known As I-AA. More than anything else, Appalachian State proved Saturday that the best of the little fellers can play exceptional football. That they must be accorded respect. That they are not as far behind the big boys as we've always assumed.
But given the difference in stature between the two programs, this is still a Buster Douglas-beats-Mike Tyson upset. It's a 15 beating a 2, at least.
Since they dreamed up the partition of Division I back in 1978, no FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, the idiotic new NCAAese for I-AA) team has beaten a team ranked in the AP Top 25. And the Wolverines weren't just in the Top 25; they were in the top five and feeling cocky.
(I wish I had a dollar for every Michigan fan who wrote me this summer, full of outrage at my not including Wolverines quarterback Chad Henne among my top five QBs in the country. There was one quarterback in the Big House Saturday who deserves mention for postseason honors, and he didn't play for Michigan. Say hello to the Mountaineers' Armanti Edwards.)
Michigan has a long history of scuttling its lofty early rankings with an ugly September loss, but nothing this bad. This is off-the-charts bad.
Elite teams usually pick their teeth with the bones of smaller schools. Louisville and Boise State played FCS opponents Thursday night and won 73-10 and 56-7, respectively. Florida played first-year FBS call-up Western Kentucky and won 49-3 in a game terminated by bad weather with eight minutes still to play.
Michigan? Different story.
Here's the only good news for Lloyd Carr: His athletic director is Bill Martin, not Frank Broyles.
If it were Broyles, Carr could be Unemployed Lloyd by sunup Sunday. They'd be scraping his name off his office door right now. Remember 1992, when Arkansas lost its season opener 10-3 to I-AA The Citadel? Razorbacks AD Broyles trapdoored coach Jack Crowe the next day.
And that Arkansas team was not expected to contend for a national title, which this Michigan team was supposed to do.
The only certainties for the Wolverines now are these: They will see thousands of Appalachian State shirts and hats around the Big Ten this year, and Carr will face more fan dissatisfaction than any coach in the country.
For a program trying to rinse the taste out of its mouth from a third straight 0-2 finish, this was an unmitigated disaster. The only thing that could make Michigan fans even begin to forgive and forget would be a Big Ten title, complete with a defeat of Ohio State along the way.
How many people right now want to put money on the Wolverines doing that? After this game, they'll be fortunate to get out of September (Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State, at Northwestern) with a winning record.
(Side note: Has any matchup ever lost more luster in one day than the Sept. 15 Notre Dame-Michigan game? The Fighting Irish couldn't score a touchdown at home while losing by 30 to an unranked opponent. The Wolverines couldn't stop Appalachian State from scoring. National media members everywhere are canceling hotel rooms in Ann Arbor as we speak.)
The media are guilty of assuming Michigan would overcome the loss of 12 starters, including seven very good defensive players. We tend to accord those benefits of the doubt to the big-time programs while giving up on the likes of Boise State, which lost 11 starters after having a better 2006 season than the Wolverines.
Shame on us, voting for laundry.
The only possible downside to this seismic shift in the college football landscape is that teams might stop giving the likes of Appalachian State a chance. The Mounties have future games contracted with LSU, Florida and Georgia, and it would be a shame if those opportunities dried up.
Just in case, I called Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who was grilling steaks after his Gators grilled Western Kentucky. He said his team will honor the contract.
The Gators will do more than honor the contract. They'll respect Appalachian State, as well.
The Mounties have earned that much.
Pat Forde is a national columnist for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
The only thing that could make Michigan fans even begin to forgive and forget would be a Big Ten title, complete with a defeat of Ohio State along the way.