After pulling off one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Appalachian State is still shaking things up. The Associated Press said Thursday that lower-division schools — that means you, Mountaineers — are now eligible for its 71-year-old poll.
"It's great they opened the door," Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said from his office in Boone, N.C. "Certainly we're not going to be the No. 1 team in the country. We know that. We're not even going to be in the top 10. But if you have a win over a nice football team, I like that it's not out of the realm of possibility for a school like us to be one of the top 20 or 25 teams in the country."
Several AP voters expressed interest in putting Appalachian State on their ballots after a shocking 34-32 upset at then-No. 5 Michigan last weekend. But the poll guidelines, which mirrored the coaches' rankings conducted by USA Today, limited eligibility to teams competing in the former NCAA Division I-A, now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Mountaineers compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, known before this season as Division I-AA.
The AP decided to make the change because schools that show they can compete with big-time teams on the field should have a chance to be recognized with them in the top 25, Sports Editor Terry Taylor said.
"Why not? The poll was always intended to measure teams that compete against each other, regardless of division, based solely on on-field performance," she said. "It was that way long before Division I was divided into I-A and I-AA in 1978."
One poll voter, Adam Van Brimmer, said he wanted to put Appalachian State at No. 25 after their win over the Wolverines, largely as a symbolic gesture. He might still do it next week, assuming the Mountaineers beat Division II Lenoir-Rhyne.
"If I have any openings in my poll, they would certainly be strongly considered," said Van Brimmer, who works for the Georgia-based Morris News Service.
In a previous job, he covered longtime Division I-AA powerhouse Georgia Southern, which, like Appalachian State, is a member of the Southern Conference.
"Having spent so much time watching those Georgia Southern teams, I'm sure the top teams in the Southern Conference are as good as any mid majors" in the upper division," Van Brimmer said. "They're probably as good as anybody in the MAC (Mid-American Conference). They're probably better than most in the Sun Belt."
Joe Giglio of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., said he would have voted for the Mountaineers this week, though he never considered where to put them after being told they weren't eligible.
He's not sure if Appalachian State will get another chance to crack his top 25 since the school doesn't face another big-time opponent, which affects strength of schedule. After Lenoir-Rhyne, the Mountaineers take on Northern Arizona before getting into their conference schedule.
"They could go unbeaten the rest of the way, which is certainly a possibility," Giglio said. "But that would be a problem, particularly in the methodology I use. They would never have a chance to improve their ranking."
Still, the Mountaineers were fired up just to have a shot at the rankings — something none of them expected when they signed on to play at the picturesque school in the Blue Ridge Mountains, most of them overlooked or underrated by the bigger programs.
"It shows what a team can do when it believes," senior cornerback Jerome Touchstone said after practice. "We believed in ourselves at Michigan and, as a team, we've changed the way that a lot of people think about us and about football that we play at our level."
USA Today plans no change in its poll, which will continue to be limited to schools in the division formerly known as I-A.
As Giglio pointed out, the Football Championship Subdivision has its own poll (Appalachian State was a unanimous choice at No. 1) and a playoff system to determine its champion (the Mountaineers have won the last two titles).
"We're probably better off just separating church and state, so to speak," he said. "How long is the shelf life for beating Michigan? At some point, it wouldn't be enough" to keep them in the top 25.
Another AP voter, John Heuser of The Ann Arbor (Mich.) News, agreed that Appalachian State might be able to crack the rankings next week, but would have a hard time staying there the rest of the season.
"It would be pretty difficult to evaluate some of the I-AA teams they play, because they don't have the same exposure as I-A teams," said Heuser, who covered Saturday's stunner in Ann Arbor. "We know how good Appalachian State is because they beat Michigan. But I would not really be able to assess how good their opponents are the rest of the season."
Taylor said those sort of issues should be up to the voters, not the news cooperative that organizes the poll and tallies up the ballots.
"This was an issue we never had to face before," she said. "But we thought about it and decided there should be no rule against ranking a I-AA team, as long as that team competed against a I-A opponent.
"Oddities of one sort or the other frequently crop up where the poll is concerned, and it's not unusual for us to make adjustments. This one was just the fair and right thing to do."
Heuser said the Mountaineers were certainly deserving of being in the top 25 for at least one week.
"They are an impressive team," he said. "I thought they were Michigan's equal on the field. I didn't think it was a fluke at all."