It took all of one televised Thursday night game to remind of us of the magic of college football.

Here was ninth-ranked Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference, playing before more than 100,000 at storied Neyland Stadium. And here was Appalachian State of the Sun Belt Conference, being paid $1.15 million to play the role of opening game sacrificial lamb.

Instead, nine years to the day after the Appy State Mountaineers knocked off mighty Michigan in one of college football’s most heralded upsets ever, Appy almost did it again.

But for a missed extra point — and a missed field goal — the Mountaineers would have won over a team most experts have picked to win the SEC Eastern Division.

Tennessee survived, in overtime, 20-13, but Appy State reminded us of at least three college football truisms:

  • One not need to be 6 feet 5 inches tall to block and tackle. The shorter, more compact Mountaineers did both. Fact: Many of the two-star Mountaineers’ recruits would have been three- or four-star recruits if but a couple inches taller.
  • Preseason hype means nothing when the games begin. This may be the year Tennessee gets Alabama, as some have predicted, but the Vols have much work to do before challenging the Tide.
  • On any given Saturday, anybody can beat anybody.

That goes for Thursday, too. And now we have three more days of amazing football on this first weekend of the college football season …


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.