Saturday, August 30, 2008

Long shot For Heisman, Biggest Hurdle LSU

Long shot For Heisman, Biggest Hurdle LSU
for Heisman Hopefuls

Armanti Edwards, flying over Les Miles' beloved Michigan

Entering the August 30th season opening first ever match-up between defending National Champions, much of the expectation and hope for the Appalachian State Mountaineers rests squarely on the shoulders of their junior quarterback, Armanti "Money" Edwards.

"Anybody that plays sports should go in expecting to win," said Edwards, who accounted for an amazing 3,536 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2007 as a sophmore.

While LSU was invited to the BCS National Title game due to a complex and murky combination of mathematical and voting conditions and back alley political dealings, where LSU decidedly defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in a rout that made people wonder for the second year in a row, "How did Ohio State even get there?". Appalachian State, on the other hand, played through a playoff in what was formerly called "Division IAA" (now "Football Championship Subdivision"), and some believe that Armanti Edward's campaign for the 2008 Heisman Trophy began last December with an epic performance in the Mountaineers' 55-35 win over Richmond in the FCS semifinals: 313 yards and four touchdowns rushing; 14-of-16 for 182 yards and three TDs passing.

Years ago, when Mike Vick was still a Virginia Tech Hokie, he was thought to be the heralding of a new type of "athletic quarterback" that would eventually become the norm throughout every level of football. While this golden age has not completely began yet--and Mike Vick is not, and probably never was, considered a "dual-threat" with anything other than crime and drugs--Armanti Edwards is no doubt one of the elite dual-threat quarterbacks in the game.

Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore believes that Edwards is a top-flight talent. "He could play at any school in the United States," said Moore. "He's not going to go to West Virginia and beat that guy [Pat White] out there, he's not going to go to Florida and beat that guy [Tebow] out there. But another school in that same league, he could go play."

While Appalachian State and Edwards may be notable to the average football fan only for last year's historically improbable win over then-#5 ranked Michigan, his 22-2 record as a starter is what warrants further attention. Two consecutive FCS National Titles (three for Appalachian State), team records in almost every conceivable offensive category, and being on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award again this season--winning would make it his third straight, Armanti Edwards is now without a doubt the highest profile FCS player of all time.

Since the NCAA instituted the IA/IAA distinction in 1978, only two lower-division players have finished among the Heisman finalists -- Holy Cross's Gordie Lockbaum (fifth in 1986, third in '87) and Alcorn State's Steve McNair (third in 1994). Four others, including Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), placed in the top 10 in the early '80s.

"If he continues to play and perform at the level he is now, I think he deserves the opportunity to be on those 'Heisman Watch' lists," said Moore.

The Michigan Win may have been enough to solidify a legend in Armanti Edwards and bring the spotlight finally to a powerhouse FCS team that had long been ignored outside of their immediate geographical zone and beyond the student population, in 2008 it will again be an opening game of tremendous magnitude that will define a season for Edwards and The Mountaineers, a season only hours old will be remembered by most for the results of one game, the first game, the game that has been on the minds of The Mountaineers continuously for well over a year.

The legendary date with Michigan had originally been scheduled as a game at LSU, but was changed so that it could be televised this year. Les Miles had this to say after The Michigan Win when asked , if the Appalachian State game is a cautionary tale for other highly-ranked teams...“I can only tell you that the men that represent Michigan are hard pressed to find a smile. I believe that they understand adversity and they will do the right things. I trust and am comfortable with what Lloyd Carr will have them do. It is not the first time, during many seasons there are times where you have to pick yourself up and play. I also understand that Appalachian State is a great football team. No one has to apologize for the style they are. They are a winning team and a national championship team. There is a constant reminder with any team that takes the field. If you are not ready to play your opponent, you suddenly become very even. If you don’t have intensity and a want to compete then suddenly you become very average...”

Lloyd Carr was already a coach on his way out, and Appalachian State's win over Michigan may have sealed that fate even more so than later losing efforts against Oregon, Wisconsin and arch-rival Ohio. Les Miles, in fact, was highly speculated to be on the short list to replace Carr, a rumor that dogged him most of last season. It is no secret that Les Miles' allegiances lie mostly in the Big 10.

What may be the biggest factor in Appalachian States' chances against LSU may be in the high-flying spread offense that they utilize. Michigan was ill-prepared for the largely southern-style offense, whereas it is nothing new for an LSU team that routinely plays spread offenses such as Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, and now Auburn. Armanti Edwards may need more athletes to help him than he has available. "We know we're a huge underdog and the chances are even worse than David and Goliath," Moore said. "We don't have enough stones up here, but we're looking forward to it."

The quarterback situation at LSU is less than decided, and presumptive starter Andrew Hatch, a dropout from Harvard, has only thrown two passes in his entire college career. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee is continually injured, and true freshman Jordan Jefferson is also available should Hatch and Lee both falter. "Obviously they're a quality program, but playing a team like Michigan with tradition like that, it was definitely surprising," Hatch said. "I guess we're just preparing. We respect all of our opponents and we'll be ready to go like any other week."

Les Miles, the notoriously lazy coach who is apt to under prepare himself and his team for a game, only began coaching his team specifically against what they saw from game film--largely the Michigan game film--starting this past week. On paper, and using conventional college football wisdom, Appalachian State shouldn't have a chance at LSU. They have 22 fewer scholarships (85-63) and are out sized on both lines. After using less than 40 players at Michigan, they'll likely face hot, humid conditions in the Bayou, three years after they lost there 24-0. Appalachian State did not switch to their current offense until midway through that season, and have a 36-4 record since the shift to the spread offense. LSU is itself well-known to bog down and play as if inadequately conditioned for the climate conditions experienced in Death Valley, LSU's stadium. The game being moved to 11:00am from it's planned 4:00pm kickoff due to concerns over Hurricane Gustav may have a great effect in helping both teams avoid early-season conditioning problems, but if any do take place, you can expect them on the LSU team more so than on the highly athletic Mountaineers.

The effects of a win for the Appalachian State Mountaineers could have profound effects on the season and the national perception of college football. If for the second year in a row a team that wins it's "National Title" by outright competition can take down a supposed "Division IA" powerhouse, and in this case, the defending National Champion, the ripple effect could lead to a re-examination of the Bowl Championship Series, and the often resulting controversies that come up almost every season when seemingly one deserving team is left out of the hunt for the BCS Championship. A paradigm shift, including recognition for Armanti Edwards, and more national exposure for FCS footall, could follow immediately this season and in the years to follow.

What stands before Appalachian State today is for them to daringly display under the national spotlight what they have been doing largely in the shadows for over three years. They may catch Les Miles and the LSU Tigers sleeping, and even if they are wide awake, Appalachian State may take them down in a straight-up fight. Les Miles and his LSU Tigers have much more to lose than the Appalachian State Mountaineers, and the best team will win.