By DUGAN ARNETT
First up on the Appalachian State football team’s 2010 to-do list? Replace arguably the best player in Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) history.
For the first time in four years, pint-sized (but highly effective) quarterback Armanti Edwards won’t be running the Mountaineers’ multiple spread offense. Edwards, who tallied 14,753 total yards during his career and led Appalachian State to one of college football’s greatest upsets in a victory over then-No. 5 Michigan in 2007, was essentially the Tim Tebow of the FCS, capturing two Walter Payton Awards (given annually to the top player in FCS) and leading the ASU program to four conference titles and two national crowns.
Rebounding from the loss of Edwards looks to be the most daunting task facing the Mountaineers entering the season, but if head coach Jerry Moore is able to do so with even relative success, the program appears poised to be in the thick of yet another national FCS race.
The program, which has won three national championships in the past five years and is coming off a 11-3 season in which it won its fifth consecutive Southern Conference title, returns 11 players who earned all-league honors last season.
National player of the year candidate Devon Moore returns after a sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,374 yards and 19 touchdowns, as do the team’s top three receivers in Matt Cline (85 catches, 981 yards, 2 touchdowns), Brian Quick (61 catches, 982 yards, 4 touchdowns) and CoCo Hillary (37 catches, 514 yards, 4 touchdowns), giving the offense a good level of both experience and firepower.
Quarterback duties will fall to either junior DeAndre Presley or freshman Jamal Jackson, neither or whom enters the fall with any kind of experience. But whoever emerges with the starting job will have the luxury of playing behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters from last year’s team.
A deep group of defensive playmakers also returns, meanwhile, highlighted by senior linebacker D.J. Smith (137 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries). Smith was the cornerstone of a unit that finished ranked third in the Southern Conference in scoring defense, and the defensive line and secondary are both stocked with talent.
Following a season in which he finished with 6.5 sacks and a team-high 11 quarterback hurries, senior defensive end Jabari Fletcher enters the year as a viable All-American candidate, and safety Mark LeGree (70 tackles, 7 interceptions, 13 passes defended) will headline a defensive backfield that grabbed 18 interceptions in ’09.
By most accounts, the pieces appear to be in place for another dominant run. Moore and Smith represent arguably the conference’s best offensive and defensive players, respectively, and there’s no denying the job done by Moore, who in his 21 years as the Mountaineers’ coach has turned the program into an annual juggernaut.
It’s been nearly three years since Appalachian State marched into The Big House and handed the Wolverines – a team with visions of a national title – a stunning 34-32 loss that represented the first time an FCS team had beaten a ranked FBS program.
Since then, they’ve come up short in their only matchup with a ranked opponent – against then-No. 7 LSU in 2008, the Mountaineers suffered a 41-13 thrashing in Baton Rouge – but will get another chance to slay a giant during a Nov. 20 matchup this season with Florida at The Swamp.
Common sense tells us that the Mountaineers’ chances of an upset over the Gators are more than slim – with a wealth of talent bolstered by a number of top-three recruiting classes in recent years, UF remains a dark horse candidate for a national title game berth this season – but if ‘07 taught us anything, it’s that, when Appalachian State is concerned, you just never know.
FLORIDA’S FOES: Appalachian State / Saturday, Nov. 20 / Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. / TBD
Location: Boone, N.C. Conference: Southern. Nickname: Mountaineers. Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium (21,650). Debut season / Overall record: 1928 / 538-302-28.
Head coach: Jerry Moore (Baylor, 1961). Record at Appalachian State (Years) / Overall (Years): 189-76 (21) / 216-124-2 (27) (11-11 in two season at North Texas; 16-37-2 in five seasons at Texas Tech).
Staff: Dale Jones, defensive coordinator/linebackers (Tennessee, 1988); Chris Moore, running backs (Appalachian, 1999); Mark Speir, defensive ends/recruiting coordinator (Clemson, 1990); Brad Glenn, quarterbacks (Clemson, 1995); Jason Blalock, defensive tackles (Appalachian, 2001); John Holt, tight ends (Appalachian, 2008); Scot Sloan, defensive backs (Clemson, 1992); Bob McClain, offensive line (Waynesburg, 1996); John Mark Hamilton, defensive assistant (Appalachian, 2009); Mike Kent, strength and conditioning (Fairmont State, W.Va., 1982).
Basic offense: Multiple spread. Basic defense: 4-3.
Starters back/lost: 18/6. Offense: 9/2; Defense: 7/4; Kicker/punter: 2/0.
Top players returning: Senior RB Devon Moore 256 carries, 1,374 yards, 19 touchdowns; junior WR Brian Quick 61 catches, 982 yards, 4 touchdowns; senior WR Matt Cline 85 catches, 981 yards, 2 touchdowns; senior LB D.J. Smith 137 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries; senior DE Jabari Fletcher 63 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries; senior SS Mark LeGree 70 tackles, 7 interceptions, 13 passes defended.
Did you know? Appalachian State and Florida have combined for five of the past 10 NCAA Division I FBS and FCS national championships.
SoCon: Southern Conference game
Sept. 4 (Saturday) / at Chattanooga (SoCon) / Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn. / 3 p.m. SportSouth
Sept. 11 (Saturday) / JACKSONVILLE / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 (Saturday) / NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 (Saturday) / at Samford (SoCon) / Seibert Stadium, Birmingham, Ala. / 3 p.m.
Oct. 9 (Saturday) / ELON (SoCon) / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 3 p.m.
Oct. 16 (Saturday) / THE CITADEL (SoCon) / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / TBD
Oct. 23 (Saturday) / at Western Carolina (SoCon) / E.J. Whitmire Stadium, Cullowhee, N.C. / 3 p.m.
Oct. 30 (Saturday) / FURMAN (SoCon) / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 (Saturday) / at Georgia Southern (SoCon) / Allen E. Paulson Stadium, 2 p.m.
Nov. 13 (Saturday) / WOFFORD (SoCon) / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / TBD
Nov. 20 (Saturday) / at Florida / Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. / TBD
Sept. 5 (Saturday) / at East Carolina / L, 24-29 / Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium, Greenville, N.C. / 0-1 (0-0 SoCon)
Sept. 12 (Saturday) / MCNEESE STATE / L, 35-40 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 0-2 (0-0 SoCon)
Sept. 26 (Saturday) / SAMFORD (SoCon) / W, 20-7 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 1-2 (1-0 SoCon)
Oct. 3 (Saturday) / at The Citadel (SoCon) / W, 30-27 (OT) / Johnson Hagood Stadium, Charleston, S.C. / 2-2 (2-0 SoCon)
Oct. 10 (Saturday) / N.C. CENTRAL / W, 55-21 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 3-2 (2-0 SoCon)
Oct. 17 (Saturday) / at Wofford (SoCon) / W, 44-34 / Gibbs Stadium, Spartanburg, S.C. / 4-2 (3-0 SoCon)
Oct. 24 (Saturday) / GEORGIA SOUTHERN (SoCon) / W, 52-16 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 5-2 (4-0 SoCon)
Oct. 31 (Saturday) / at Furman (SoCon) / W, 52-27 / Paladin Stadium, at Greenville, S.C. / 6-2 (5-0 SoCon)
Nov. 7 (Saturday) / CHATTANOOGA (SoCon) / W, 35-20 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 7-2 (6-0 SoCon)
Nov. 14 (Saturday) / at Elon (SoCon) / W, 27-10 / Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C. / 8-2 (7-0 SoCon)
Nov. 21 (Saturday) / WESTERN CAROLINA (SoCon) / W, 19-14 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 9-2 (8-0 SoCon)
Nov. 28 (Saturday) / SOUTH CAROLINA STATE / W, 20-13 / Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C. / 10-2 (8-0 SoCon)
Dec. 5 (Saturday) / at Richmond (NCAA) / W, 35-31 / University of Richmond Stadium, Richmond, Va. / 11-2 (8-0 SoCon)
Dec. 12 (Saturday) / at Montana (NCAA) / L, 17-24 / Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Missoula, Mont. / 11-3 (8-0 SoCon)