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Swampland Sports Six-Pack for the week ending 9/2/07

Posted: Sep 05, 2007

Your weekly filter for the top sports stories around the South

1. Our biggest story of the week was the biggest in the nation as the whole country has now learned about Appalachian State of the Southern Conference. The 2-time defending I-AA (sorry for not using the NCAA’s new PC title for that Division) National Champs from Boone, North Carolina pulled off one of the more improbable upsets Saturday when they defeated Michigan in Ann Arbor. After all the steroids, ref scandals, dog-fighting charges, and other arrests that ate up the sports pages over the summer, Week 1 of the college football season gave us a refresher course in why we love sports. Our region can be very proud of the effort and execution of the Appy State football team as well as the fact that they left Michigan fans eating all of their Southern stereotypes with a bit of crow.

This upset had a ‘March Madness’ feel as if we had just seen the first #16 seed beat a #1 seed. All over the country for many years to come, you get the feeling that teams and fans will refer to the possibility of a huge upset as an “Appalachian State”.

2. Another huge story in our region this week was the messy divorce of the Jacksonville Jaguars from their former first-round pick Byron Leftwich. Coach Jack Del Rio did not believe in the leadership or consistency of the oft-injured quarterback, and now thinks that he will be on the same page with David Garrard. While many believe Del Rio has mismanaged the situation, he has to do whatever he thinks will get his squad back to the Playoffs and consequently save his job. It definitely bears watching how well Garrard can lead the team in what could be considered a crucial time for the organization. Being one of the (very) few NFL franchises that struggles to draw interest, the Jaguars must win consistently to have any kind of long-term viability in North Florida.

3. The Jacksonville situation brings to the surface a question we often raise here at Swampland and that is what is your team’s “identity”. And for most NFL teams, their identity is defined by their signal caller. Looking around the South, there seem to be more questions than answers when looking at the quarterback position. The Buccaneers have decided to keep 4 quarterbacks in search of a field general, while the Dolphins are still looking for just something close to the next Dan Marino. Of course, big changes are happening in Atlanta with the Michael Vick suspension and the hire of Bobby Petrino. Who would have thought a year ago that Joey Harrington would be the starter for the Falcons? The vacancy in Atlanta was created when they traded Matt Schaub to the Texans who now have a fresh outlook at quarterback since they let David Carr go to Carolina to back up Jake Delhomme. With all of these questions, it could be a pivotal season for those franchises without a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

4. Fans in the South take much pride in their college football team facing one from another conference and/or region of the country. It was a fairly successful weekend for teams from our region playing in intersectional games. Georgia Tech dominated Notre Dame in South Bend; Georgia handled a tough Oklahoma State offense with ease; and Auburn had a hard-fought victory against Kansas State. The only blemish was Tennessee struggling on the West Coast against the high-octane Cal Bears.

5. The Appalachian State victory had some Athletic Directors around the country exhaling heavily as they were glad not to be the victim of losing a game that their fans consider a “cupcake”. South Florida also scheduled a I-AA opponent from the Southern Conference and struggled to an ugly win. Over in Orlando, another upset occurred when Central Florida took down North Carolina State 25-23. With improved facilities and a fertile recruiting base, watch for the Bulls and the Golden Knights to become bigger players on the college football scene over the next decade.

6. With only one race left until “The Chase” is decided, it seems like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is already looking to next year. Every action out of his camp involves a new number or new sponsors for the 2008 season. #8 is 128 points behind 12th place going into Richmond, and his car could use some ‘Mountain Dew’ or ‘Amp’ if he has any chance to make it to the Postseason.

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