Originally Posted by Stewart Mandell
The Mother of All Upsets
My job is to help put major college football developments into perspective for you, the reader ... but in the case of Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 ... sorry Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32, I feel utterly unqualified.
As Mountaineer player Cory Lynch raced down the field of the Big House with the ball he’d just blocked to put the final, excruciating nail in the Wolverines’ coffin, broadcaster Thom Brennaman began spouting off some of the biggest upsets in college football history -- Centre College over Harvard (1921), Carnegie Tech over Notre Dame (1926). I can’t speak with any authority on those contests, which took place in a whole other era long before top 25 polls, “I-A” and “I-AA” or “BCS’ and “non-BCS” even entered the sport’* lexicon.
All I know is this. In the 29 years since the NCAA formally split Division I into two separate entities, no I-AA team had ever defeated a team ranked in the AP poll. When it finally happened, it wasn’t the No. 24 team that went down. Or the No. 19 team. It wasn’t a Hawaii or a Rutgers or some other marginally respected program that just happened to be ranked.
The victim was the winningest program in the history of the sport. The No. 5 team in the country according the pollsters. Winner of 11 games just a season ago. A squad with at least four future NFL draft picks on its offense alone. Participant in three of the past four Rose Bowls. Consensus favorite to win the 2007 Big Ten title.
All of those things may still come true for the Wolverines, but one game into its season, this Michigan team has already etched itself into history for the most embarrassing possible reason -- by becoming the first ranked team ever to lose to a I-AA squad.
For everything that Boise State’* historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma said about the new era of college football, Appalachian State just trumped it ten-fold. What every coach tries to tell his players and the media every week only to be met by perennial skepticism has now been confirmed as true. No one is unbeatable in college football anymore. Anything can happen.
Granted, Appalachian State is no run-of-the-mill I-AA team, as anyone who watched Saturday’* game can attest. (Which, thanks to the Big Ten’* new network, wasn’t that many folks.) With its jitterbug quarterback, Armanti Edwards, throwing to a plethora of speedy receivers in the now ubiquitous spread offense, the two-time defending I-AA champions looked no different to the human eye than any number of similarly pesky I-A teams in recent years (Bowling Green with former QB Omar Jacobs immediately comes to mind), so it’* not like the Mountaineers weren’t a legitimate threat.
But come on. This wasn’t a high-level I-AA team knocking off a low-level BCS-conference team (like Montana State over Colorado or New Hampshire over Northwestern). This was a team with at least 22 less scholarships and one-tenth as much funding as its opponent (according to public data, Michigan’* football program raked in more than $50 million in revenue in 2005-06; Appalachian State pulled in less than $5 million) walking into a 110,000-seat stadium and knocking off a team chock full of Rivals.com five-star recruits and future NFL draft picks.
There’* no logical reason whatsoever this should have happened. But it did. And it wasn’t the slightest bit fluky.
The Mountaineers came out in the first half and simply tore the Wolverines’ defense to pieces. It was like the Rose Bowl all over again, only instead of USC, this was Appalachian State. Halftime score: Mountaineers 28, Wolverines 17. And just to avoid any confusion, the West Virginia Mountaineers were playing Western Michigan today.
For more than 28 minutes of the second half, however, the Wolverines’ defense dominated. Shawn Crable and Tim Jamison mauled Appalachian’* blockers the way they probably should have from the beginning. The secondary’* coverage tightened up. Michigan forced turnovers.
The problem, however, was Michigan’* much-touted, star-studded offense. False start penalties. Delay of games. A four-year starting quarterback (Chad Henne) throwing an extremely stupid interception in the red zone. A purported All-American receiver (Mario Manningham) catching just two passes for 20 yards through more than 59 minutes of action. If not for a warrior-like effort from banged-up RB Mike Hart (23 carries, 188 yards and three touchdowns), the Wolverines may very well have lost by two touchdowns.
Instead, they had more than enough opportunities to stave off the upset. From Appalachian State dropping a wide-open ball in the end zone and turning it over three times, to Henne’* pick on a drive that could have wound up with Michigan in the lead, to another drive that ended on fourth and 5, the Wolverines had plenty of chances to take the lead throughout the fourth quarter. And then, when they finally did (on Hart’* 54-yard dash with 4:37 left to go up 32-31), backup Brandon Minor promptly fell down on the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt. A subsequent interception by the Michigan defense deep in App. State territory only led to the first of two blocked field goals.
And then, the truly unthinkable happened. In the span of a minute-plus, Edwards calmly led the Mountaineers on a 69-yard drive, including a dazzling 24-yard catch-and-run play to set up what would end up being the game-winning 24-yard field goal with 30 second left. Even then, Michigan gave itself one last chance to win on Henne’* miraculous 46-yard bomb to Manningham with six seconds left, but poor freshman kicker Jason Gingell looked doomed the second he walked out there, kicking yet another one into the hands of the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32.
“It shows you we’ve got good football in I-AA,” visibly stunned Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore said afterward. “And we beat a good Michigan football team.”
Moore’* kind words will serve as no consolation for all those Wolverines faithful whose season of hope just got flushed down the toilet three hours into it. The dream season Henne, Hart and Long came back for? Done. Over.
As humiliating as the BCS bowl blowouts were for the Big Ten last January, this loss is on another level entirely. Even if the Wolverines manage to win their next 11 games and somehow rise all the way to the top two, should they even be allowed a spot in the BCS title game? Only if it’* to rematch by-then three-time I-AA champ Appalachian State. In fact, it would actually behoove the Big Ten for Michigan to be exposed as an all-out fraud very soon (Oregon comes to town next week), because if this team is truly the class of the conference, that’* not exactly a strong testimonial. One could very easily argue we are witnessing the fabled league’* all-time low point.
As for the Mountaineers, I was disappointed to learn upon calling the AP’* sports desk this afternoon that they are not eligible to receive a vote in my top 25 ballot this week. The AP poll, an employee confirmed, is officially considered a I-A poll. That’* too bad. It may well turn out that Michigan was grossly overrated, but all I know is this: There will not be 25 other teams that accomplish more this opening weekend than Appalachian State did Saturday. There won’t even be five.