When Big Ten teams are looking to fill their non-conference schedules, maybe they should go ahead and lose the number to the Appalachian State athletic director.
The small school from North Carolina best known for beating Michigan at the Big House in 2007 offers all sorts of risk for Power Five teams and very little reward.
Win the game and nobody is especially impressed. Lose, and you’re done.
Well, the way things seem to go, winning is hardly a given.
Just ask Penn State.
“I don't know what's in the water in Boone, North Carolina, but it seems like they've been doing this for a long time against whoever they play,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I started the game at 46 years old. I ended it at 51.”
While the Penn State coach aged five years in a matter of a few hours, imagine how Nittany Lions fans were feeling. For a team that many believe has a chance to win the Big Ten, an early loss to a non-Power Five team would have been a critical blow to any thoughts of getting to the College Football Playoff.
The angst was obvious on the faces of the forlorn faithful the TV cameras were more than willing to document as Appalachian State rallied to take a 38-31 lead on the Nittany Lions with less than two minutes to play.
With the struggles the Penn State offense had been having in the fourth quarter, a comeback didn’t seem likely. But former Orchard Lake St. Mary’s standout KJ Hamler returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards and then snatched a 15-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to tie the game with 42 seconds to play.
“One of the things we probably have to look at is ways we can get his hands on the ball a little bit more offensively and on special teams,” Franklin said of Hamler, “because he has a chance to change the game at any moment.”
Appalachian State had one more shot to win it in regulation but a 56-yard field goal attempt from Chandler Staton missed wide right.
It proved to be the opening Penn State needed as the Nittany Lions scored on their possession in overtime then ended things with an interception.
“It was kind of just like, 'Thank you, God.' We can just sneak out of this one with the win,” said Amani Oruwariye, who grabbed the final interception. “I’m just happy to come out of this one with the win.”
In a perfect world for the Nittany Lions, they’ll be able to look back weeks down the road and simply remember it as a close call. And if they’re able to build off it, even better.
“Being able to push through that adversity is a great opportunity for us to use this as a platform and continue to build on that and get better and better in the coming weeks and use this as a springboard,” McSorley said. “You push through and you face it head on. And then through that adversity, you’re able to grow from it.”
That might end up being true. Maybe Penn State is in another nail-biter later this season and can draw on what it went through on Saturday.
But if the Nittany Lions never see the Mountaineers again, they’ll be fine with that, too.
It would probably have been hard to find too many people picking Maryland to win its opener at home against No. 23 Texas.
Forget that the Longhorns once again get the benefit of the doubt from the pollsters despite any evidence of being a top-25 team, it was the Terrapins that entered the season with head coach DJ Durkin on leave and offensive coordinator Matt Canada in charge in the wake of the offseason death of Jordan McNair.
Yet, it was Maryland that jumped out to a 24-7 lead then forced three fourth-quarter turnovers to pull off its second straight season-opening upset over Texas.
“I just can't say enough about our players, everything they've been through and the way they stuck together," Canada said. “It was a great way to honor Jordan. This was a win for Jordan. We're certainly proud of our team, proud of our program.”
Where things go from here for the Terps remains to be seen. The off-field issues will eventually be figured out but there were some good signs on the field. Quarterback Kasim Hill played well while freshman Jeshaun Jones accounted for three touchdowns.
“Everything that has happened this summer has brought us closer together,” Hill said. “It was just fun to be back out there.”
There was a Big Ten game in the opening week of the season, and it turned out to be a good one.
Northwestern was impressive, going on the road and beating Purdue and the reactions were about what you’d expect. The Wildcats were feeling good, especially about the return of quarterback Clayton Thorson and the 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Jeremy Larkin.
“He did an awesome job,” Thorson said of Larkin. "It's a credit to how he worked in the offseason and we'll be behind him all season.”
For Thorson, it was a quick recovery from a knee injury suffered in last season’s Music City Bowl.
“To see Clayton come back after that type of injury and be back for the opener, I think, is nothing short of just absolutely inspiring,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Things weren’t as rosy for Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who got the Boilermakers back to a bowl game last season, far quicker than most expected.
In addition to three interceptions from quarterback Elijah Sindelar, the defense had Brohm boiling.
“I didn't think they played very hard in the first half,” Brohm said. " I didn't think they finished, I didn't think they ran to the ball. It was very disappointing.”