Virtually any college football fan that is 20 years of age or older remembers the upset.
Then-FCS power Appalachian State famously knocked off then-No. 5 Michigan to start the 2007 season in what is still considered one of the great upsets in college football history.
That game will make the Mountaineers synonymous with upsets for years to come. So it’s an easy storyline to bring up as UT sits seven days from its opener against App. State on Sept. 1.
The similarities are there. Tennessee comes into this game ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll, the Vols have the same offensive coordinator (Mike DeBord) and defensive line coach (Steve Stripling) that were on the sidelines for the Wolverines that day.
Like Michigan, which faced a gauntlet of Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State the weeks after that opener, Tennessee also will have the temptation of looking ahead to the Battle at Bristol, Florida and others that loom in the coming weeks.
There are key differences too. For starters, this isn’t FCS-level Appalachian State, this is a well-adjusted FBS program coming off an 11-2 season and a bowl win. Many key players are back. This team easily could run the Sun Belt table and might be an upset over UT or Miami away from crashing the New Year’s Six.
DeBord was asked to recall that game – to give some background into the infamous afternoon that certainly had to serve as a low point for anybody involved in that game from the Michigan side. He declined.
“That’s so far in the past,” DeBord said earlier this week. “I don’t even remember all that, so I’m here to talk about them this year.”
It is relatively far in the past, I’ll give that to DeBord. Far enough back that when I asked sophomore Kahlil McKenzie if he remembers watching that game, he said he wasn’t even sure. He’s aware of it. It certainly didn’t leave an indelible mark on him, though. Why would it? He was around nine or 10 years old.
I also understand DeBord wanting to focus on this year’s game, but I think it would also be wise for everybody in the program to remember that game – or maybe to learn about it for the first time.
And not because the Vols should be incredibly concerned about this opener. I’m not going crazy UPSET ALERT on UT for Week 1. The Mountaineers are a quality non-Power 5 team, but Butch Jones, after all, has proven to this point in his career at UT that he can take care of business.
He’s never lost a game as a consensus Vegas favorite through three years in Knoxville.
National media tried to target UT as a potential upset victim in the first FBS game of UT’s last three seasons – Western Kentucky, Utah State and Bowling Green. None came very close. And as Jimmy Hyams pointed out, App. State hasn’t exactly been a giant killer since that 2007 upset.
I think the lesson, though, is what that 2007 game should teach all programs that come into a season ranked in the top 10: Everybody is coming for you. That’s a new position for Tennessee this year. Sure, the Vols were favored in some games last year. It’s different now.
Everybody’s heard all offseason about how this is the year for the Vols.
Florida, the defending East champs, feels disrespected. Georgia feels rejuvenated and is looking for revenge and another trip to Atlanta. Kevin Sumlin is fighting for his job at A&M. Virginia Tech isn’t showing up to Bristol to get run over.
Tennessee has the talent, and the experience, to win big in 2016, but all of those teams, and others, are coming at UT with a 2007 Appalachian State-like mentality. They all have a lot more talent than the 2007 Mountaineers too. It was easier for Tennessee to get up for every game when the Vols weren’t that good.
The Vols must find a new level of maturity and confidence to fend off all of these challenges this season as they potentially head into every game, or at least a vast majority, as the favorites. It’s easy to say this team should win 10 or 11 games. It’s much tougher to go out there and do it on a week-to-week basis.
There’s no reason to dwell on that 2007 game or to fear Appalachian State just because of it. But it’s a good reminder that there will be 2007 Appalachian States all over the schedule, starting with the actual Mountaineers on Sept. 1.