By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BATON ROUGE, LA. — Someday, it will happen again.
Perhaps the thunderclap will sound across the college football world tonight as Towson takes on the challenge of playing the Associated Press No. 3-ranked team LSU in Death Valley.
Maybe it will happen in a different venue, one year from now, five years down the road, or another 10 seasons.
But it will happen.
On a Saturday morning five years ago, I was driving from Detroit to Ann Arbor, MI. for a Labor Day weekend game between Appalachian State and Michigan, after spending an entire summer telling anyone who would listen that the Wolverines would have their hands full with a talented and speedy Mountaineer squad that was coming off back-to-back national championships and would eventually become the first team in the Football Championship Subdivision to win three consecutive NCAA Division I titles.
It didn't matter that Michigan was ranked No. 5 in the country.
As Towson coach Rob Ambrose and this writer talked on Friday afternoon about significant FCS vs FBS matchups, I noted to the reigning Eddie Robinson Award winner that ASU didn't even bring its "A" game that day.
"If the Mountaineers had played their best, they would have hung 50 points on the Wolverines that day at Michigan Stadium," I told Ambrose.
For a writer who remembers games from 35 years ago in vivid detail, the events of that weekend are even more indelibly stamped on my brain.
I don't need the DVD to remember Dexter Jackson zooming through the Michigan secondary for his first of two touchdowns, Armanti Edwards going airborne into the end zone for another score, or T.J. Corman's spin move on the sideline and CoCo Hillary breaking free in the middle of the field for a reception that set up Julian Rauch's field goal in the final seconds.
The iconic Mark Campbell photograph of Corey Lynch blocking the final Michigan field goal attempt isn't necessary for me. I watched the event unfold from the floor of Michigan Stadium, standing just outside the 30-yard box on the ASU sideline.
I was a few feet away when Lynch's teammates mobbed him on the field on the Michigan sideline, near the 10-yard line where he was tackled as the game ended.
The scoreboard on the far end of the field read Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 as the crowd of more than 109,000 fans sat in stunned silence. All but a few thousand Mountaineer faithful who were screaming their lungs out in one corner of the stadium.
I'll also never forget driving along the 101 Freeway in California, on my way to a Montana-Cal Poly game in San Luis Obispo as I listened on XM Satellite radio as James Madison finished off a 21-16 victory over nationally-ranked Virginia Tech.
A young linebacker named Stephon Robertson announced himself to the college football world as the national defensive player of the week.
Older FCS fans will remember The Citadel going down to Arkansas and beating the Razorbacks 10-3 to open the 1992 season, or the Bulldogs' 38-35 win over South Carolina in 1990.
That's why it was all the more ridiculous to hear ESPN's college football commentators ragging on the Towson-LSU game.
An indignant Kirk Herbstreet was asking on the air why that LSU would play a team like "Towson State," while Chris Fowler was saying that Towson ought to bring its lacrosse sticks along for Saturday night's contest.
I guess Herbstreet — a football neanderthal of the highest level — has forgotten how much he blasted Michigan for playing Appalachian State in 2007 and then was shocked when the Mountaineers pulled off the upset.
It was also rather ludicrous to hear a local television reporter, while interviewing Towson athletic director Mike Waddell during the Tigers' walk-through on Friday afternoon, assume that Towson had aspirations of eventually moving to FBS.
LSU already knows about the potential of an upset. Coach Les Miles and company remember a national-championship Tiger squad struggling to put away Western Illinois for three quarters before grinding out a 35-7 victory that was much close than the score.
I was in Death Valley in 2005 when Appalachian State played LSU virtually even for three quarters. On back-to-back drives, in a 14-0 game, the Mountaineers had sure-handed Kevin Richardson drop a TD pass when he was 10 yards behind the secondary and then march to a first and goal at the Tiger eight before a bad play call blew up and cost the Mountaineers another touchdown.
A field goal attempt hit the right upright and ASU eventually lost 24-0, but LSU knew the real game was much tighter.
"When you play in games like this, you can't make mistakes," said Ambrose, whose squad had six turnovers in a season-opening, 41-21 loss to Kent State last month. "You cannot have turnovers when you play a team like LSU."
Ambrose and his staff have been emphasizing that the common denominator of this game is that 11 players are lining up against 11 other players.
"How well each team plays in the moment is what is going to determine how we do," Ambrose explained. "I am an optimistic realist. For one game, for 60 minutes, the disparities are not that great. It's how much you believe in yourself."
Ambrose said he had told his father earlier this week that LSU was "the most physically impressive group of players I've ever had the chance of evaluating on game tape."
Trying to develop an offensive game plan this week, Ambrose — one of the most innovative coaches in FCS — felt somewhat overwhelmed by LSU's talent.
"On Tuesday, my head hurt."
But despite the immense challenge, Ambrose knows that someday, somewhere, another FCS squad will pull off a major upset.
"As a competitor, you want to test your metal against the best," said Ambrose. "I've never gone into a game as a player, or a coach without thinking I have a chance to win."
He just hopes that the next great FCS/FBS upset will come on Saturday night.