By Tim Gardner
This month Sports Illustrated magazine released a list of the biggest upsets in the long and storied history of college football. It consists of numerous nationally-ranked titans who fell to heavy underdogs when practically no one saw it coming.
Atop the list was Appalachian State University’s 34-32 victory at Michigan on Sept. 1, 2007.
Michigan paid Appalachian State, which then was a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) lower-level team, $400,000 to travel to Ann Arbor for what should have been a blowout victory. Instead, Coach Jerry Moore’s Mountaineers, whopping 41-point underdogs, hit a field goal with seconds remaining to win before a sellout crowd of 109,208 at college football’s largest stadium and millions more watching on the Big Ten Conference Network and listening on Appalachian State and Michigan Radio Networks.
Appalachian State was coming off a second straight FCS victory after capping its 2006 season with a 28-17 win over Massachusetts in the FCS National Championship game. Michigan entered the game ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and was favored to win the Big Ten title. Several of its top players bypassed the National Football League (NFL) draft to make a run at a national championship, which seemed a very realistic goal. That was until the Wolverines tangled with the Mountaineers.
FCS teams have beaten FBS teams before, but never a team as highly-touted as Michigan. It wasn’t just an upset. It was soul-crushing for the Wolverines.
Appalachian State managed to take a 28-17 halftime lead. After Michigan rallied to go up 32-31, the Mountaineers drove 69 yards down the field in just over a minute and with no timeouts left, setting up a 24-yard field goal attempt. Appalachian State kicker Julian Rauch gave the Mountaineers a 34-32 lead by nailing the field goal with 26 seconds left. After the ensuing kickoff, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne hit Mario Manningham for a 46-yard pass completion, and Michigan kicker Jason Gingell lined up for a game-winning field goal from 37 yards out with six seconds left.
However, Appalachian State’s Corey Lynch broke through and blocked Gingell’s attempt, preserving the victory.
That win put Appalachian State on the map like never before nationally and forever changed the program’s name, one now synonymous with slaying a giant.
The game served as the lead story of ESPN Sports Center and many other television and radio broadcasts across America that evening and the following week.
And according to the online dictionary, Wikipedia, only minutes after the game ended, Appalachian State students began celebrating on the two main roads in downtown Boone: King Street and Rivers Street. The group eventually advanced to Kidd Brewer Stadium and tore down one of the goalposts. The students proceeded to carry the goalpost for more than a mile before depositing it in the front yard of the school’s chancellor, Kenneth E. Peacock, who commented: “As good as today was for Appalachian State, they can take it up there and put it down. I can’t wait to get there and see it.”
Wikipedia also noted that when the players, coaches, trainers, managers, athletics staff members and the rest of the team’s travel party returned to Boone from Ann Arbor in buses that same night at around 11:00, they were greeted by a crowd of thousands of ecstatic students and fans. It took those headed to the locker room more than 20 minutes to get from their buses due to that rabid throng. The celebration in Boone was not limited to Appalachian State’s campus; the Mall parking lot was “flooded” with cars and joyous App students and other fans that night and into the wee hours of the next morning as were various other parts of the city.
There, indeed, was a buzz around the State of North Caroline and even across the nation following that victory. And it lasted for months with many on the hunt for Mountaineers apparel after the tectonic win. In fact, a sports shop in the Boone Mall, Sports Fanatic, reported that sales of Mountaineers apparel were seven times higher than normal following the upset.
Sports Illustrated featured the Mountaineers on its September 10, 2007 edition cover in honor of the monumental victory with the front title of “Alltime Upset-Appalachian State stuns No. 5 Michigan.” It includes a picture with an inscription that reads: Dexter Jackson of the Mountaineers scores one of his two TDs in a 34-32 win over the Wolverines.
That magazine issue remains a collector’s item for every Appalachian State fan in particular and college football enthusiasts in general.
Appalachian State became the first FCS team to defeat a ranked FBS team, and as a result of the game, Michigan dropped out of the Top 25 of the AP Poll entirely, marking the first time a team had fallen from the top five to out of the poll entirely as the result of a single game. In the aftermath of the game, Associated Press amended its polling policy to make FCS teams eligible for the AP Poll, which had previously been limited to FBS teams.
The Mountaineers finished the 2007 season with a 13–2 record and won a third consecutive FCS National Title. They also became the first FCS team to receive votes in the final AP Poll, tying South Florida for the 34th overall ranking. Michigan finished its season 9–4, winning the Capital One Bowl, and ranked No. 18 in the final AP Poll.
Appalachian State edged out Stanford’s 24-23 win over Southern California, which happened on Oct. 6, 2007, to claim the biggest upset ever.
The other games on the top 10 list included: Notre Dame’s 7-0 win over Oklahoma on Nov. 16, 1957; Oregon State’s 21-20 win over Washington on Oct. 19, 1985; Howard’s 43-40 win over UNLV Sept. 2, 2017; Carnegie Tech’s 19-0 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 27, 1926; James Madison’s 21-6 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 11, 2010; Temple’s 28-24 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 18, 1998; Navy’s 46-44 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 3, 2007; and Butler’s 23-21 win over Youngstown State on Sept. 1, 2018.
The Biggest Upsets List was compiled by Sports Illustrated journalist Ethan Thomas and in conjunction with the magazine’s recognition of 150 years of college football. A total of 15 categories were recognized by the magazine, including the Top 10 upsets.