Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Appalachian State: Hardly a mountain

Breezing over Michigan’s 2007 football schedule, you come across familiar names you haven’t seen in awhile like Purdue and Illinois, big games like Ohio State and Notre Dame, and … what’s this … a mountain range?

No, it’s Appalachian State. Appalachian what? Appalachian State. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person picturing their football practices in a quiet valley nestled between two gigantic mountains with the occasional “buffalo timeout,” as the backup kicker chases the herd away, consequently running for his life, sooner rather than later.

And you’re certainly not alone in not knowing such an institution even existed.

Last Friday, the Wolverines unveiled their upcoming schedule. Perched at the top was this unknown school from Boone, North Carolina, causing fans everywhere to stare into their newspaper or computer screen and say “Who?”

Consider us here in Michigan uninformed because after all, who doesn’t know of Appalachian State? They’re kind of a big deal—in the same way the Danville Braves rookie club is a big deal in the Appalachian League.

The Mountaineers—how fitting—were an impressive 14-1 last season, and have won back-to-back NCAA Division I football national championships. Wait, what? So Florida’s thumping of Ohio State was just an aberration?

No, not exactly. Explaining the NCAA football divisions is a lot like explaining the BCS. You can’t. However, I’ll do my best.

This is according to Michigan’s official athletic website,, which definitely doesn’t shy away from pumping up the Mountaineers as if they posed a smidgen of a threat to the Wolverines (see their online schedule):

“The Division I football classifications formerly known as I-A and I-AA are now Division I Bowl Subdivision (FBS - formerly I-A) and Division I Championship Subdivision (FCS - formerly I-AA). The 16-team FCS playoffs are officially known as the NCAA Division I Football Championship.”

I’m going to abstain from repeatedly pounding my head on the keyboard out of complete frustration on how stupid that is and put it in Lehman’s terms for you: Appalachian State is a Division 1-AA football team.

And just like that, Bo Schembechler turns in his grave.

Michigan hasn’t played a Division I-AA team since 1943. There are certain things you can bank on every year regarding their schedule. A healthy serving of early season cupcakes, a season-ending Ohio State game, and a Division I-AA-less schedule.

You can’t say that for the latter anymore. Now, instead of just one cupcake, Lloyd Carr is treating his players to an entire cake walk to open the season.

There were undoubtedly more viable candidates for the September 1st opener than Appalachian State. Invite your usual MAC team to the Big House, give them some lifelong memories, beat their brains out, and send them home. But why pick on a Division I-AA school?

Better yet, pluck a semi-relevant team out of a major conference, much like last year’s Vanderbilt game. But it’s become clear Carr is taking the utmost precautions to get out of September unscathed after critics have come after his inability to stay in the national title hunt for any longer than a few weeks.

Last year, Florida beat up on Western Carolina November 18, hours before kickoff in Columbus. It wasn’t the least bit surprising to see Urban Meyer stroke his ego to the tune of 62 points on the puny Catamounts. But to see Michigan do that?

It’s been out of the question. They have prided themselves as a tradition-rich school with the utmost class and integrity. But this move separates the current state of the program from their long-standing morals.

Nothing good comes out of taking a team like Appalachian State behind the woodshed and blistering them by 42 points. Nothing. If anything, you’re going to hurt your players more by lining them up across from such inferior talent.

While Michigan is sleepwalking through games with teams like Appalachian State, Ohio State is getting right down to business with games against top-flight talent. The past two years they’ve completed a home-and-home series with Texas, and in 2008 they begin a two-year engagement with USC.

It’s not a coincidence Ohio State’s three-game winning streak over Michigan has come at the exact time they started upgrading their competition. Gone are the days Michigan comes to town as the best team the Buckeyes will see all year. It’s a “been there, done that” attitude the Buckeyes have been carrying into their annual rivalry game.

So pencil in Mike Hart for 150 yards and a couple touchdowns. Add in a couple Henne to Manningham strikes. Throw in a handful of turnovers and a defensive touchdown or two and light up the scoreboard with crooked numbers.

The Big House sells out, the athletic department gets another nice payout, and the football team is 1-0. All is well in Ann Arbor.

Just remember that with one game under their belts, the Michigan Wolverines haven’t seen one thing that everyone else has: a Division I-A football team.

Hopefully the cake tastes good.