There will not be many matchups this season that will rival the level of hype of last week’s Alabama-Michigan game, but the No. 8 Appalachian State taking on No. 9 Montana on Saturday is certainly the most-anticipated of the weekend.
Appalachian State and Montana are the two winningest programs in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) since 2005 with 79 and 78 victories, respectively. In addition, the Mountaineers of the Southern Conference and Grizzlies of the Big Sky Conference have combined for five NCAA championships (all since 1995), 10 FCS title game appearances and 40 NCAA playoff berths.
Yes, it is likely these two programs will be playing long into December, but with this non-conference clash this weekend, fans will get a taste of playoff football just two weeks into the season.
The home-and-home series came about a few years back when Appalachian AD Charlie Cobb and former Montana AD Jim O’Day were serving on the NCAA FCS Committee together. Cobb currently serves as chairman of the committee.
“We had these monthly phone calls and quarterly meetings about how to raise or elevate the brand that is FCS football,” Cobb said. “It is crucial for us to try and get the media attention we frankly deserve, but also crave in FCS.”
“[Cobb] wanted to get a home-and-home series going with title-contending type teams,” Appalachian head coach Jerry Moore said. “He thought it would be a good matchup.”
The series was announced in 2009 along with two other home-and-home series between national powerhouses. The Mountaineers and Grizzles will play in Boone this year, and Missoula next season. Appalachian will meet McNeese State in 2014 and ’15, while Montana and McNeese will tangle in 2016 and ’17.
“The thought was for us, Montana and McNeese to create some successful cross-sectional rivalry games,” Cobb said. “We’d really like others to follow suit, but I think it comes down to what your ultimate goal is in terms of being playoff ready.”
The Mountaineers are certainly used to tough competition early in the season. Appalachian (0-1) opened the season at FBS opponent East Carolina. In 2007, the Mountaineers pulled the upset of the year as they beat No. 5 Michigan to start the season.
“Every team we play is really a top-notch football team this season,” Moore said. “I think it is good for our division. Our fans are excited about it.”
Montana and Appalachian have met twice on the gridiron. In 2000 and ’09, the two teams squared off in NCAA playoff games in Missoula, and the Grizzlies have won both times.
“We seem to want to aspire to be like them, and they seem to want to aspire to be like us,” Cobb said. “We’re very competitive with hardly ever playing each other. It’s kind of fun to actually have the games to see how we compare.”
Moore not only likes the fact this game is an early gauge for the Mountaineers, but that it also prepares the team for postseason play.
“When you get nine games into the season and go into the playoffs, they’ve been there,” Moore said. “They know how to react and what to expect. I think it whets their appetite for it.”
Montana opened the season with a victory at home against South Dakota, and will hit the road for the first time this year. The Grizzlies will be looking to end Appalachian’s 17-game regular season home winning streak. The Mountaineers are opening their home schedule against a nationally-ranked opponent for the eighth time in the past 14 years. Appalachian is 5-2 in those games.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN3 at 6:30 p.m. ET.
• The highest-touted game of the week in Division II football is between a pair of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference foes that have not met since the 1997 season. No. 10 California (Pa.) and No. 11 Kutztown will clash in a cross-divisional match-up of PSAC West and East members.
While Kutztown has never lost to the Vulcans in nine meetings (8-0-1), Cal has made five consecutive NCAA playoff appearances and has claimed a share of seven consecutive PSAC West titles. KU is coming off a season that saw the program win its first PSAC championship and first NCAA playoff contest.
• No. 3 Wesley will visit No. 6 Salisbury in the lone top-10 matchup of the week in Division III football, and all eyes will be on the Wolverines’ Jared Morris and his ability to pick off the football. In last week’s 34-14 win at East Texas Baptist, this junior defensive back nabbed a school-record four interceptions — the only player to accomplish the feat in the first week of the Division III season.
However, if Morris is looking to wreak havoc on the Seagulls’ passing game on Saturday, there will not be many opportunities for him. SU attempted just six passes in a 40-16 victory against Christopher Newport last week, completing half of them for 50 yards with no interceptions.
• While North Carolina may be the unanimous choice as the No. 1 team in the NSCAA Division I men’s soccer poll, it seems like the entire Big East is hot on the Tar Heels’ tails. Seven conference teams are ranked in the top 20 led by No. 2 South Florida and No. 4 Connecticut, who both sport spotless records.
No. 12 St. John’s is unbeaten through its first four games (3-0-1) for the first time 2008, when the squad was also 3-0-1 in its four matches and No. 13 Georgetown (4-0) is off to its best start since 2008, when the team went 5-0. No. 17 Notre Dame is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2004 campaign, while No. 20 Marquette perfect on the season at 4-0-0 overall for the team’s best start since 2000. No. 18 Louisville is the only nationally-ranked Big East team with a loss. The Cardinals (1-2-0) fell to then-No. 3 Maryland last week, and dropped a 1-0 contest to St. Louis on Tuesday.
With so many squads receiving national attention, conference play should be fun. Big East head-to-head action starts Sept. 22.
• No head coach, no worries. At least that has seemed to be Virginia‘s motto so far this season while women’s soccer head coach Steve Swanson is moonlighting as the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team head coach at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Tokyo.
The Cavaliers are also missing sophomore midfielder Morgan Brian, who scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. in a 2-0 semifinal victory against Nigeria. The U.S. will meet Germany in Saturday’s final game at 6:20 a.m. ET. It will air live on ESPNU.
Meanwhile, back in Charlottesville, Virginia has reeled off five consecutive wins since opening the season with a loss to Penn State. The No. 9 Cavaliers will host George Mason and James Madison in the Virginia Nike Soccer Classic beginning Friday.
• The Angelo State women’s volleyball team cracked the top 10 of the AVCA Division II Poll for the first time in program history after sweeping through the Hilltopper/Rattler Classic last weekend. ASU’s previous high ranking was No. 13 in 1992.
The Belles (4-0) are benefiting from the play of Shelbi Goode, a transfer from Alabama, who dominated the tournament and garnered Most Valuable Player honors. This junior outside hitter collected 56 kills in four matches, and leads the Lone Star Conference with 4.67 kills per set.
ASU will take its unbeaten record to the Colorado Premiere Challenge along with eight other nationally-ranked teams, including No. 11 Cal-State Bernadino (2-2) who the Belles will open the tournament with on Friday.
• With seven goals last weekend, Princeton women’s field hockey senior Kathleen Sharkey became the school’s all-time leader in goals scored with 76. Sharkey will look to add to that total when the No. 4 Tigers travel to No. 8 Penn State on Thursday.
Last weekend, Sharkey netted three goals and an assist at then-No. 5 Duke, and followed it up with four scores at then-No. 13 Wake Forest. At that pace, Sharkey is undoubtedly within striking distance of becoming the Tigers’ all-time points leader as well. Her total currently stands at 175, while the record is 198 held by Kirsty Hale (1995-98).
• Washington head football coach Steve Sarkisian is known in Seattle for his antics in practice, and on Tuesday, he one-upped himself. As the Huskies look towards a meeting with the LSU Tigers on Saturday, Sarkisian brought in a 16-month-old Bengal tiger to watch the Huskies practice.
“Sheena“, who was caged on the sidelines at practice, was courtesy of “A Walk on the Wild Side” animal refuge and preserve in Canby, Ore. Sarkisian was apparently trying to emulate the atmosphere at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, where seven-year-old Mike VI is on the sidelines in his cage for most LSU home games.
After practice, Sarkisian tweeted, “It was great meeting Sheena the Tiger.”
• After a one-year hiatus, Massachusetts Maritime and SUNY-Maritime will resume their Division III football series on Friday in Throggsneck, N.Y. The fifth-annual game is dubbed the “Chowder Bowl” between the two colleges which prepare their students for careers in the nautical industry.
The series began in 2007, and while SUNY-Maritime has won all four meetings, the game has become a pretty heated rivalry. The Buccaneers have been gearing up to change their luck against the Privateers since spring practice. Friday’s game is the season-opener for both squads. Just one question — New England or Manhattan?
• The College of Charleston women’s golf team will host one of the most competitive tournaments of the fall season this weekend as 10 of the top 15 teams from the 2012 NCAA championship participate in the Cougar Classic beginning Sept. 9 at Yeamans Hall Club. The tournament will feature top five teams in order of finish from last year’s championship — 1. Alabama, 2. Southern California, 3. LSU, 4. Virginia and 5. South Carolina. LSU won last year’s Cougar Classic.
And, for a unique end to the tournament, a bagpiper walks down the first fairway around a pond onto the tee box for a small ceremony that precedes the final round.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy