|RUSSO ON FOOTBALL: Appalachian State content dominating second stage of Division I football|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 02 September 2007 13:56|
They're content dominating the second tier of Division I football - at least for now - and should serve as a role model to other schools who are itching to be go big-time but better off staying put.
``Why not enjoy where we are?'' Chancellor Kenneth Peacock said Sunday, less than 24 hours after Appalachian State became the first I-AA team to beat a ranked I-A team, stunning Michigan 34-32 in the Big House.
``At some point it may be the right thing for Appalachian State.''
With a two-time defending I-AA national championship team that regularly plays in front of sellout crowds at home, Peacock and athletic director Charlie Cobb are in no rush to give up the good life on the small stage, even if they could.
The NCAA approved a four-year moratorium last month on teams moving into what is now called the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly I-A.
Western Kentucky is beginning the transition this season to major college football, and the Hilltoppers will be the last until at least 2011.
Even before winning its first two national titles, Appalachian State had been a consistent winner in I-AA.
Cobb, who has been on the job for two years, said Appalachian State studied a move to I-A five years ago. What the university found out was its facilities needed upgrading and more money was needed for scholarships.
Appalachian State has an athletic budget of $9.5 million for 20 teams and 450 student-athletes. If you're wondering, Michigan had a $13.6 million athletic department surplus last school year.
The Mountaineers decided they weren't ready for the grand stage back then, but it didn't keep them from making improvements. If Appalachian State does reconsider a move up in the future, it will do so cautiously
``If we're going to do something we're going to do it the right way,'' Cobb said in telephone interview. ``If you can't do it successfully, you can set yourself back years.''
There's plenty of evidence to support that. Since 1992, Division I-A has welcomed 14 new members. Most of the schools have done so with little success.
Marshall, Boise State and South Florida are the exceptions. The rest: Buffalo, UAB, Central Florida, Connecticut and seven of the eight members of the Sun Belt Conference are either terrible, irrelevant or both.
The move already looks like a bad one for Western Kentucky, which won the 2002 I-AA national title but slipped to 6-5 the past two seasons.
As Appalachian State was becoming a household name on Saturday, the Hilltoppers were getting pounded 49-3 by defending national champion Florida. Eventually they'll be a full-fledged member of the Sun Belt Conference and it appears they'll fit in perfectly.
Here are some of the other Sun Belt scores from the opening weekend of college football: Troy lost 46-26 to Arkansas; Florida International lost 59-0 to Penn State; and North Texas lost to Oklahoma 79-10. Arkansas State carried the banner for the conference this weekend, losing 21-13 at Texas.
Even before the win over Michigan, folks in Boone, N.C., were pumped for the season. The Mountaineers are trying to become the first team to win three straight national titles in what is now called the Football Championship Subdivision.
``They love to come and watch when you're winning,'' said Peacock, who came home from Michigan to find the goal posts from Kidd Brewer Stadium in his front yard. ``They're not quite as loyal as you want them to be when you're losing.''
At Troy, North Texas and Arkansas State, the fans are hoping for a bid to the New Orleans bowl on Dec. 21. Whoopee!
Appalachian State could probably walk into the Sun Belt right now and win the league.
``They run that (spread) offense as precise as any offense you want to play against,'' Florida State linebackers coach Chuck Amato said.
Amato's North Carolina State team beat Appalachian State 23-10 in last year's season opener, and the Mountaineers haven't lost since.
``They have an awful lot of team speed as anybody who got a chance to watch (the Michigan game) saw,'' Amato said.
Could Appalachian State hang in one of the better conferences week-to-week?
Well, it's one thing to get up for one big game - the Mountaineers had been gearing up for Michigan all summer - and another to do it every week.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who began his career in I-AA and beat Appalachian State 22-15 in his first game with the Tigers eight years ago, said there's not a lot of difference in the upper echelon of I-AA and I-A teams and the spread-option offense helps close the gap further.
``It's like the wishbone was 25 years ago,'' he said. ``It gets one-on-one battles out there on the field, and usually quickness is going to win out.''
Quickness definitely won out on Saturday, but quickness needs a lot of depth to do it against the big guys every week.
Appalachian State is quite happy staying where it is right now. On top of the football world.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrussoap.org.