Michigan Surprised Against Appalachian State, Loses Ranking

This was supposed to be the year.

For the Michigan Wolverines, the season began with lofty goals. One of the perennial powerhouses of college football, the Maize and Blue was a favorite for the Big Ten conference championship and a contender for the national title. Sports writers sang the praises of a solid defense and an unstoppable offense bolstered by four-year starters.

As of last Saturday, Michigan’s season has all but ended. Two-time defending Division I-AA champion Appalachian State dominated Michigan Stadium with a spread offense that left the No. 5 Wolverines’ woefully inexperienced secondary in tatters. Mountaineer quarterback Armanti Edwards dashed and threw wherever he pleased, stirring painful memories of Michigan’s inability to contain Troy Smith and Vince Young before him. The home team’s problems were compounded by frustrating penalties and failed two-point conversions. Special teams breakdowns, including two blocked field goals late in the game, sealed the Wolverines’ fate.

The fallout was as immediate as it was spectacular. Headlines decried the defeat as “The Biggest Upset in College Football History,” an example of a second-tier underdog knocking off a storied program. Comparisons to David and Goliath saturated sports media, and many speculated as to Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s replacement. Predictably, the Wolverines tumbled out of the Associated Press rankings, the highest fall ever. Celebrations in Appalachian State’s hometown of Boone, North Carolina filled the press; the entire city welcomed its heroes home, and the team uprooted a goalpost and subsequently planted it in the school chancellor’s lawn.

The trials and tribulations of Michigan fans received considerably less attention. Mere minutes after the conclusion of the game, a Michigan State fan sent me a text message: “Appalachian State.” Ohio State fans took it upon themselves to be slightly cleverer; I received an instant message with “MichiGONE” copied and pasted multiple times along with suggestions that I find a new team to back. Even The Tech’s sports editor called to ask about the loss. Even walking down dorm row in my lucky maize and blue shirt elicited jeers about how “the rodents managed to lose” to a Division I-AA school.

Despite falling to Appalachian State, the season still isn’t over for Michigan. Chad Henne, the Wolverines’ star quarterback, showed remarkable poise under pressure, tossing a bomb with six seconds left on the clock to set up an attempt at a game-winning field goal. Mike Hart rushed for 188 yards in little more than two quarters, after having missed part of the contest due to a minor injury. Even with a high-powered offense, Michigan should never have been ranked as high as fifth because of its unproven defense, which had to replace seven starters.

As the secondary gains experience, the Wolverines will be a force to be reckoned with in the conference and the national scene, beginning with tomorrow’s home contest against Oregon. Michigan’s loss to Division I-AA Appalachian State does not forecast defeat in the annual showdown against Ohio State, nor does it exclude the possibility of a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s all about next season. After all, 2008 is supposed to be the year …