Mountaineers take on Wolverines in Ann Arbor
By Steve Behr
It’s a story that is as old as sports. The heavy underdog has nothing to lose playing the big, bad, bully favorite.
Yet that’s what Appalachian State has going into its first game of the season at Michigan — nothing to lose.
Well, almost nothing to lose.
Sure, the Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision, put their 14-game winning streak on the line when they hook up with the Wolverines this Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
But they also want to do more than collect the big check they’ll receive for making an appearance in the 107,501-seat Big House. They want to be a better team, win or lose, when the game is over.
“We’re aware of the circumstances we’re going into,” Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore said. “I like the challenge for our team. It makes us a better football team playing people like them. That was the bottom line, to make us a better football team.”
An optimist will look at Appalachian State’s track record against other Football Bowl Subdivision teams (formerally Division I-A) and cite the near victory over Auburn in 1999 (22-15 loss), the 20-16 victory over Wake Forest in 2000 and an outstanding effort in a 24-0 loss to then-No. 5 LSU in a game that saw Appalachian State trail by just a 14-0 score heading into the fourth quarter.
A pessimist points to the beatings Appalachian State took in season openers in 2004 against Wyoming (53-7), Hawaii in 2003 (40-17) and Marshall (50-17) in 2002. To be fair, the Mountaineers were without starting quarterback Joe Burchette against Marshall and a green redshirt freshman named Richie Williams got his first collegiate start with less than a week’s notice.
Still, the Mountaineers, who lost to North Carolina State 23-10 in their season opener last year, don’t plan on conceeding the game without competing.
“We’ve been having great practices,” Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards said. “Everybody knows what their key is and we’re just trying to put it into play Saturday.”
“The fact is that Michigan has a good football team and we have a good football team,” Moore said. “We would not take a team up there if it wouldn’t compete.”
Michigan, ranked No. 5 by the Associated Press in the Football Bowl Subdivision, returns some of the top offensive weapons in the nation. Quarterback Chad Henne is a four-year starter and is a candidate for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the country.
Henne and running back Mike Hart are on the Maxwell Award list. That award is given to the top player in the nation by the Maxwell Football Club. Henne has thrown for 7,777 career yards and 70 touchdowns at Michigan and is the key to the Wolverines’ high-octaine offense.
Henne and Edwards have something in common — they became starters in their freshman seasons.
“You listen to some of the rookies in the NFL and the theroy was that a quarterback needed four or five years to develop,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Today, you see guys coming in and playing right away. At our level, it takes an extrordinary guy to come in and operate without going through spring practice.”
“I’ve seen him play,” Edwards said of Henne. “He’s a pretty good player. He’s pretty big and he’s got great accuracy.”
Hart, who was fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year, rushed for 1,562 yads and scored 14 touchdowns.
Michigan also returns an excellent receiver in Mario Manningham, who led the Wolverines with 38 receptions for 703 yards and nine touchdowns.