When Appalachian State pulled off its monumental upset of Michigan last September in Ann Arbor, Football Champion-ship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) teams from all across the country took notice and rejoiced.

And because of that one colossal victory, the little guys at the little schools didn’t feel quite so insignificant, at least for just a few moments.

Almost a year later, as his team prepared for its season opener at Cincinnati, first-year Eastern Kentucky University coach Dean Hood wanted to remind his players of that stunning accomplishment.

However, he didn’t want to show the Colonels a simple 30-second highlight filled with touchdowns, big plays and celebrations. Hood wanted to showcase all the adversity the Mountaineers had to overcome during that stunning 34-32 victory.

“We want our kids to see those parts of the game,” Hood said of Wednesday night’s presentation at the team hotel. “So we highlighted all the times Appalachian State got screwed by the officials because they are trying to get Michigan the bowl money. Or all the times Michigan had a big play or other times they knocked the crap out of Appy and they got back up.”

Hood and the Colonels will be trying to pull off that same kind of upset when they take on the Bearcats at 7:30 p.m. today at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

EKU is coming off its first Ohio Valley Conference championship in a decade, but the Bearcats finished last season with a school-record 11 victories, won the Papajohns.com Bowl and finished 17th in the final Associated Press poll.

They are set to return 16 starters, including a trio of All-Americans.

“To beat a like Cincinnati would be pretty comparable to what Appalachian State did at Michigan, because Cincinnati is that good of a football team,” Hood said.

The Colonels have been considered one of the top FCS (I-AA) programs in the country for decades and have made a record-tying 18 playoff appearances, highlighted by two national championships — 1979 and 1982.

Still, EKU has a 4-12 record all-time against Football Bowl Series teams, with the last win coming against Louisville 23 years ago. The Colonels opened the 2006 season with a 31-0 setback at Cincinnati.

They also suffered season-opening losses at FBS schools in 2007 (Kentucky), 2003 (Bowling Green), 2002 (Oregon State) and 2001 (Central Michigan).

“I sort of like it because when you play someone of a high caliber, I think the kids really focus in and work hard in the summertime,” Hood said. “And I like that. They knew they need to be ready.”

Hood is certainly well-aware of the potential of FCS teams to knock off bigger schools from power conferences.

When he was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, Appalachian State almost defeated the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem. A few years earlier when he was on the staff at Ohio University, the Bobcats went on the road and beat Minnesota.

“You can either be the team that everyone is talking about, or you can be talking about them,” Hood said of FCS teams pulling upsets. “You just hope it’s you.”

In their first season under Brian Kelly, the Bearcats burst onto the national scene in 2007. They finished the season ranked 13th in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) and 16th in scoring offense (36.3 ppg) and led the nation in interceptions (26) and takeaways (42).

Cincinnati was ranked in the final AP poll for the first time ever and Kelly was named the Big East Coach of the Year.

“Our focus has been to get our kids to realize how important it is to duplicate the success we had last year,” Kelly said. “Part of that is recruitment, but most of it is developing your players.”

The Bearcats are not ranked in the preseason AP poll and were picked to finish fifth in the Big East preseason poll.

Still, senior quarterback Dustin Grutza (3,863 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons) is back to lead a group which includes 44 lettermen.

“They are well-coached and the thing that is a little bit scary is you’re watching film on Cincinnati and that’s just year one under Brian Kelly,” Hood said. “You don’t see a lot of guys messing up, guys fumbling the ball or things like that. They are a fine-oiled machine on both sides of the ball. And you know it’s year two in that system and the guys are going to play faster. That’s probably the thing that jumps out at you most on film.”

The Colonels lost 13 seniors from last year’s team, which lost to Richmond in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs.

However, EKU has plenty of returning talent, including Allan Holland, the 2007 OVC Offensive Player of the Year. Holland, a senior, threw for 1,990 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions last season.

The two teams have met only once and Cincinnati has never lost to an OVC school (7-0).

But, after Appalachian State’s victory last season at Michigan Stadium, every FBS in the country is a little more weary when take on the little guys.

“We know we are facing a challenge, but we are ready to get going,” Kelly said.



Editor’s note

The Richmond Register did not print a Colonel Gameday for the season-opener against Cincinnati. The special section will return next week and will appear in the newspaper the day of every EKU game the rest of the season.

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