Expectations still high for retooling ASU
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If, and perhaps when, Appalachian State makes a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, head coach Jerry Moore will miss having his team work toward participating in a national playoff.
Playing in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl just doesn't compare to the playoff system in the Football Championship Subdivision, of which ASU won three straight national titles under Moore from 2005-07 and has appeared in over each of the last six seasons.
"I don't think there's anything more gratifying than winning the national championship," he said. "Now if you're playing a bowl game for a national championship, that's a different category. But if you're going to go play a bowl game, just a bowl game, and you win the bowl game and everybody gets excited for four or five days, no, there's nothing like winning the national championship. And I've had the opportunity in my career to be part of both."
At least until Appalachian State moves up from the FCS, Moore has raised the expectations almost to the point that it's national championship or bust.
Such thoughts might have to be tempered this season considering the Mountaineers face a significant hurdle in just winning a seventh straight Southern Conference title.
ASU, which finished 10-3 last season, lost 10 starters while Wofford, which shared the SoCon crown with the Mountaineers last, and Georgia Southern, which reached the FCS national semifinals, return veteran squads. Plus the likes of Chattanooga, Elon and The Citadel may create waves in the conference race.
Jerry Moore has raised the expectations almost to the point that it's national championship or bust.
ASU opponents, though, will have to contend with the team's new look on defense. The Mountaineers are switching from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. Moore and defensive coordinator Dale Jones have instituted the switch to maximize the talents of their personnel, especially the gifted linebackers.
Junior Lanston Tanyi, who missed last season because of a toe injury, has the ability to drop from defensive end to linebacker. The Mountaineers have a pressure defense and Tanyi's pass-rushing ability will help offset the loss of top returning tackle Justin Wray, who will miss the season after upcoming offseason shoulder surgery.
"We match up on paper what the 3-4 is supposed to do," said Moore, who is one win shy of 200 at ASU through 22 seasons. Overall, he is second among active FCS head coaches with 226 wins.
"Just like in 2004, when we went to the spread offense, we had the players to do it. And I think that we've got the players to do this. But also, I remember, first game, we played Wyoming. On the plane coming back, I was ready to go back to the I - huddle them up and call the power play. And then things turned for us. Virginia Tech will be an awesome team to open up against (Sept. 3), certainly test every aspect of your football team. And particularly with us, the new defense, the 3-4."
The Mountaineers are one of the few FCS programs that can feel reasonably good about their national title hopes even after losing three players to the NFL Draft -- strong safety Mark Legree, center Daniel Kilgore and middle linebacker D.J. Smith -- and two other All-SoCon first-team selections -- defensive end Jabari Fletcher and place-kicker Jason Vitaris.
The new defensive scheme worked particularly well during spring practice. Junior linebackers Brandon Grier, Jeremy Kimbrough and John Rizor, senior nose tackle Dan Wylie, senior cornerback Ed Gainey and junior cornerback-turned- strong-safety Troy Sanders will be asked to stabilize the defense in the midst of its losses.
There are few better returning talents in the nation that senior quarterback DeAndre Presley, who finished third in the voting for the 2010 Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com), which is given to the FCS player of the year. After he replaced 2008 and '09 Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards, Presley threw for 2,631 yards and 21 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,039 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"He's a little bit more vocal actually than Armanti was," Moore said, "but Armanti was a great leader just for what did on the field. DeAndre's a lot the say way, they're not big locker-room gabber guys. They go about their business. And I think our team respects that."
Running back Travaris Cadet returns for his senior season after leading ASU in all-purpose yardage last season (1,694 yards; 130.3 per game). Senior wide receiver Brian Quick will be one of the top FCS selections in next year's NFL Draft, but sophomores Jamill Lott, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington are stepping into bigger roles in the passing game. Senior Ben Jordan is one of the best tight ends nationally.
The offensive line is being rebuilt. Right guard Matt Ruff and right tackle Orry Frye, a pair of seniors, are its two returning starters.
"We're going to be young," Moore said. "We've got some older skill guys, the quarterback's coming back. We have two or three nice receivers. Up front we're young. Defensively we've gone to the 3-4. And I don't think you get a real test on that until you play some good football teams, and we open up against a very good one - Virginia Tech. We're going to have an idea what we're facing after that ball game."