When Appalachian State hosts No. 25 Miami on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN), it’ll be one of the biggest moments in the history of the school’s football program.
It’s not a new thing for non-power schools to get visits from teams with national stature. It happens a few times most years.
But Saturday’s game in Boone, two hours northwest of Charlotte, is a cool thing for the Mountaineers. This is a program that transitioned upward to college football’s FBS just three years ago. Now it’s got a spotlight, hosting a five-time FBS national championship program on ESPN, immediately after the network's popular College GameDay.
"We’ll have more people not just at the game, but in the town of Boone, than maybe ever in the history of our city," App State athletic director Doug Gillin told SB Nation.
This is how a team like Miami arranges to visit a team like App State.
Little teams visiting big ones and getting slaughtered is a national ritual, played out in the opening weeks of every season. But this is different, for two reasons.
- App State’s hosting,
- The Mountaineers are highly competitive.
Gillin arrived in Boone from Missouri, and he had an immediate interest in luring a big brand to play there. The Mountaineers have never hosted one of the country’s blue bloods in this era, and Gillin and his staff wanted to change that. So they hit the phones, armed with now being an FBS team.
"Before that, Power 5 was never gonna come to an FCS school," Gillin said. "So the fact that we were an FBS school at least gave us some talking points as a conversation, to at least maybe try to enhance people to come up here."
App State made a bunch of cold calls. The pitch was based, primarily, on two things.
"We just started calling people, and I think part of our sales pitch was, ‘Boone’s a great place to play.’ It’s a great place for opposing fans to come visit," Gillin said. "It’s a resort area in the mountains of North Carolina. And then, the second part of that, what I was telling folks on the return trip: we travel really, really well."
The Mountaineers gained confidence, the Winston-Salem Journal reports, from landing a series with the nearby Wake Forest, a conference mate of Miami's, and noticing the Hurricanes had been willing to schedule home-and-homes with mid-majors Arkansas State and Toledo.
On the home-and-home idea, Miami bit. Ten months before kickoff, Gillin struck a deal with Hurricanes athletic director Blake James, and this year's game only got bigger when Miami hired former Georgia coach Mark Richt.
In return, App State will head to Miami on Sept. 11, 2021.
"Scheduling's a complicated thing," James said in February. "It wasn't our first choice. You have to fill out your schedule. We're excited to go to App State and finish out our schedule. There are a lot of moving parts any time you schedule a game."
"It's the crazy world of scheduling," he added this month. "We were in a situation where we thought we had a school coming here for a home game, and that fell apart at the last minute. Appalachian State was interested in doing a home-and-home, and we felt it was a fit for us."
App State is taking extraordinary steps to get this thing set up.
Kidd Brewer Stadium, affectionately nicknamed "The Rock," is not big. It has a track around the gridiron, not unlike a high school field. It ordinarily seats 24,050, but App State expects closer to 35,000 on Saturday. That’ll smash the 31,531 the school crammed in for a game against Elon in 2010, the current record.
According to StubHub data cited by ESPN, Miami-App State is one of Week 3's toughest tickets. Only a few battles between ranked Power 5 teams -- Florida State-Louisville, Alabama-Ole Miss, and Ohio State-Oklahoma -- are currently priced higher on the secondary market.
To set a new record, the school is opening up closed-off parts of the stadium. Students, who get in free, will be allowed to stand on a big hill and at field level in the stadium’s south end zone. The school brought in an extra video board for the north end zone. They’re also putting premium-style seats at field level.
Oh, and skydivers will deliver the game balls at midfield.
For the Mountaineers, this moment means a lot.
This is the first time the main ESPN network has ever broadcast a Saturday Sun Belt home game. It’s a neat bit of exposure for an upstart that hasn’t always gotten it. And, as just four-point underdogs, it’s a game the Mountaineers could definitely win.
Richt on App. State "This will be one of the better teams we will play, period."— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) September 13, 2016
Local confidence appears high. App State coach Scott Satterfield:
Satterfield, on Miami: We are fine with giving up a little size, but we are going to be able to make up for it in speed.— David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) September 13, 2016
And the two fanbases have done a bit more jawing on Twitter than you might expect from sides representing different levels of FBS.
The three-time FCS national champions introduced themselves to the world when they upset Michigan at the Big House in 2007. They’ve since built themselves into a quality Sun Belt outfit, and they re-introduced themselves by almost beating Tennessee at Neyland Stadium two weeks ago.
"That was on SEC Network, so the majority of the country saw that, saw what type of program we have," Gillin said. "And I think we’re excited to show the nation again what type of program we have on Saturday."