ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan has a chance to even its series with Appalachian State. And maybe erase some of the memories of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
The Wolverines were beaten 34-32 at the Big House by the Mountaineers in 2007, becoming the first Top 25 team to lose to a second-tier program. Three years ago, Michigan decided to take another shot at beating Appalachian State and scheduled a rematch Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
The Wolverines have dismissed the historical angle of the game and any notion of redemption, saying they are simply focused on bouncing back from a disappointing 7-6 season.
Appalachian State is hoping last year was an aberration as it moves to the Sun Belt Conference and into the Bowl Subdivision. The Mountaineers were 4-8 in coach Scott Satterfield's debut, the school's first losing season since 1993 and first one with eight losses since 1979.
Like it was in 2007, Michigan is favored to win by a lot and is nearly a five-touchdown favorite.
"I think just the fact that we beat them in '07, it proves the underdog can win," Satterfield said.
Here are some things to watch Saturday in the season opener for both teams:
MOVING ON UP: Appalachian State will have about 20 more players on scholarship than it had seven years ago when it stunned Michigan, making a game-winning kick with 26 seconds left and blocking one as time expired to pull off the upset. The Mountaineers will have more young men in uniform because they've joined the highest level of college football as a member of the Sun Belt Conference after 32 seasons as a second-tier program and more than four decades in the NAIA.
ADVANTAGE APP STATE?: Michigan's weakness seems to be its offensive line, a unit that is replacing a pair of senior tackles from a group that struggled to protect quarterback Devin Gardner and to open lanes for the running game. The Wolverines plan to count on true freshman Mason Cole to start at left tackle in an opener for the first time in school history. Sophomore Ben Braden is slated to make his first career start at right tackle. Coach Brady Hoke is keenly aware that Appalachian State has much more experience on its side up front. "Their offensive line, they have 130 starts between eight of them," Hoke said.
ON THE GROUND: The Wolverines will use multiple formations, putting Gardner under center and in the shotgun, but they are determined to return to their roots as a running team under first-year coordinator Doug Nussmeier. He was hired away from Alabama after Hoke fired his friend and offensive coordinator Al Borges. A slimmed-down Derrick Green emerged as the No. 1 running back, beating out De'Veon Smith, Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson for the job. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Green has lost 28 pounds since last season, giving him a better chance to take advantage of the opportunity.
DYNAMIC DEBUTS: Michigan might have breakout performances from freshmen on both sides of the ball. Highly touted recruit Jabrill Peppers is expected to be a starting defensive back and to get the first chance to return punts. When Gardner drops back to throw, Freddy Canteen, a sleek and speedy receiver, has a chance to turn a short catch into a long gain.
STAY OUT THERE: Devin Funchess came to Michigan to play tight end. The 6-4, 230-pound junior has found a new home as a wide receiver. He potentially gives the Wolverines a big-play option because of his size, speed and ability to leap over defenders to make catches. Funchess set a school record with 748 yards receiving as a tight end last year, and may have a chance to increase that total by quite a bit because Gardner's go-to receiver, Jeremy Gallon, has graduated.
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