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Media Meme: No Shame in I-AA Walk, Plus! Preseason Meme Revisited

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SMQs' taking an early look at this week's "Walk of Shame," because its slumming entrants - Arizona, Army, UConn, Georgia Tech, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and  Purdue - are acting as if Appalachian State's shivving Michigan justifies the entire enterprise of downscale scheduling. As if it's not shameful. For coaches, that's an easy sell, because coaches are constantly terrified of the ramifications of losing a game against an obviously inferior team (and for good reason: see Lloyd Carr) and have always said what they have to say to keep their team from going flat.

But the media? The independent, bullshit-calling bastion of truth? Reporters don't have to buy those lines about "any given Saturday." They know better, their readers know better, and they can say it. Three is a trend, and Appalachian State is only one. And yet...

Northern Arizona at Arizona: NAU may be Wildcats' buagaboo

"Major college coaches warn their teams every year about overlooking Division I-AA teams, painting their second-tier opponents to look like the Green Bay Packers.

`That's all we talk about as coaches,' UA coach Mike Stoops said. `Sometimes players don't listen.'

Not this week.

Not with the UA struggling offensively heading into Saturday's home opener against Northern Arizona.

Not in the wake of Division I-AA Appalachian State pulling off one of the greatest upsets in college football history, a 34-32 win at No. 5 Michigan, on Saturday.

`Hopefully, with our guys, that'll get their attention,' Stoops said, `and understand this is a very good, well-coached team.'"
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Samford at Georgia Tech: Michigan pointed out as lesson
"With Notre Dame in the past and Division I-AA Samford dead ahead, Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey had his team look another direction altogether.

On Sunday, the day after the Yellow Jackets won at Notre Dame, Gailey brought up what happened in Ann Arbor, Mich., where I-AA Appalachian State upset mighty Michigan on Saturday. Can you guess a primary teaching point this week?"
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Western Illinois at Illinois: Upset no laughing matter
"Illinois' head coach is grateful not because Appalachian State pulled off one of the mind-boggling upsets in college football history Saturday by jolting fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32 on the Wolverines' home field.

Zook would never publicly rejoice at a conference brother's misfortune, even if privately he felt doing hand springs. Former Illini coach Ron Turner's distaste for Michigan might have prompted a public fist pumping, but Zook hasn't been around long enough for that.

No, Zook's gratitude lies in realizing Appalachian State sounded an alarm louder and more clearly than any speech he could have made this week as Illinois slides into the role of favorite while preparing to host Western Illinois Saturday evening."
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Don't Worry...: Be Appy: WIU relishes opportunity to take on the big boys - Illinois
"Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams was out running errands Saturday and decided to tune in to the Illinois-Missouri game when he got home. That's when he heard about the college football story of the year, or the decade, or the millennium -- that Appalachian State had won at Michigan.

`The first thing I thought was, 'OK, that's huge,'' Williams said.
This week the Leathernecks go for their own memorable upset when they provide the opposition for the Illini's home opener Saturday."

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SE Louisiana at Kansas: Mangino A-OK with I-AA opponents
Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino heard the giggles back in 2005 from schedule-strength pundits.

With the '05 season just months away, KU quickly was running out of options to find one more nonconference opponent for its football schedule. Associate athletic director Larry Keating finally opened up communication with Division I-AA schools and found a team willing to come to Lawrence on the weekend Kansas needed someone.
That team? Appalachian State.

`I don't think anybody is snickering anymore,' Mangino says now."

Well, they're not snickering because KU played Appalachian State, anyway...
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Louisville's not even facing a I-AA team tonight - the Cardinals draw a tomato can from the Sun Belt in Middle Tennessee State (even more dangerous!), which played in the Motor City Bowl last year after falling to the Cardinals by a mere 27 points in October - and still is getting wary, Appalachian-inspired warnings from the Courier-Journal:
"Steve Kragthorpe gave his University of Louisville football team a speech on Saturday morning about not looking past any opponent.
A few hours later, that point was made for him.

The Cardinals' players and coaches were sitting in their locker room waiting for meetings to begin when they got drawn in by the Appalachian State-Michigan game on TV. Kragthorpe postponed the meetings until the game ended, and the team saw Appalachian State pull off the shocking upset.

`I wanted them to watch it,' Kragthorpe said. `I've said it before and sometimes people don't believe me, but the proof's in the pudding. Anybody can beat anybody.'"
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Ooh, coach, we're shakin'. At a deadline, mostly, and a dearth of other topics. Or editors: Appalachian State: everybody's talkin' about `em. The people love those kids! Localize it!

Statistically, over the last five years, BCS conference teams beat I-AA teams at more than a 95 percent clip; in well over 200 BCS vs. I-AA games in that span, the I-AA team has won eight times. By year:

 2002: Villanova over Rutgers
 2003: None
 2004: Maine over Missississippi State; New Hampshire over Rutgers
 2005: UC-Davis over Stanford
 2006: Montana State over Colorado; New Hampshire over Northwestern; Southern Illinois over Indiana; Richmond over Duke

Set aside that those specific incarnations of Rutgers and Duke and maybe Mississippi State (the same MSU team later beat Florida, which simultaneously validates Sylvester Croom's abilities and dooms his inability to recreate that success against, say, Maine) were hardly distinguishable from I-AA outfits, and Colorado, Northwestern and Indiana were dreadful teams last year. The statistical risk of losing a game to a I-AA team is so extraordinarily small. With Michigan's loss to Appalachian State, in fact, the odds in recent history suggest it may not happen again, and won't happen more than once if it does. If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'd let it all ride on the Bowl Subdivision teams above running the table. We're a one of two improbably blocked field goals away from not even having this discussion, you know. And then where would our beat reporters be?!*

One other trend to addess, quickly: last month, I addressed kickoff anxiety when stories started popping up about chronically on-edge coaches fretting about moving the kickoff back five yards this year, from the 35 to the 30. The field position! I mean...the health! Think of these poor kids' health out there! Mark Richt guessed the change might add 15 yards to average field position, Ron Prince thought teams should start preparing for drives that began nearer to midfield - way nearer, in his opinion, like the 40 or 50 - Tommy Tuberville considered changing his entire approach to the kickoff and Rich Brooks was so terrified of his fledglings' cover ability that he suggested it might be better now to just kick the ball out of bounds and take the penalty on defense than let the other guy have a shot at returning it.

The numbers are in for the first week, via the excellent CFB Stats, through The Wizard of Odds. Prepare for Earth-shaking consequences to life, limb and point totals...

2005-2006 (All) 2007 (Week One) Change
Avg. Return 20.35 21.16 + 0.81
Avg. Start Position own 26.99 own 29.78 + 2.79

Did you notice the kickoff change at all? I didn't, and apparently neither did a lot of scorekeepers: CFB Stats reports that more than 50 kickoffs were still officially scored from the 35 yard-line, not the 30, with no penalties, and therefore aren't included in those numbers due to either official or statistical negligence. As opposed to the clock changes, which were omnipresent and drove everyone nuts last season, and which I still find lingering in the brain like a ghost limb towards the ends of halves. The kickoff rule is nothing.

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* - SMQ loves beat reporters and considers them essential as a rule. You rock, guys!