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SoCon Notebook: ASU, Western prepare for big tests
Wofford plans to air it out
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    It should be an interesting weekend for Appalachian State and Western Carolina.
    Both Southern Conference schools open their seasons Saturday with games at major Football Bowl Subdivision foes as the Mountaineers head to Michigan and the Catamounts pay a visit to Alabama.
    “What a challenge for our football program, but what an opportunity” said WCU coach Kent Briggs, whose team is looking to improve on an injury-plagued 2-9 season in 2006. “I look forward to having our program be in the limelight, even though the limelight is not because of us. It gives us an opportunity to be seen in all the media outlets, and I think it give our players the opportunity to be measured against the best. I think they’re excited about that.”
    ASU and WCU will be playing in front of enormous crowds, and the Mountaineers are as ready as they can be for their trip to Michigan Stadium, nicknamed The Big House. The largest football stadium in the world, game attendance in Ann Arbor, Mich., often exceeds 111,000.
    “All of the kids that are here are aware of Michigan, they’re aware of the stadium atmosphere,” said Mountaineer coach Jerry Moore, who’s led ASU to consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles. “They’ve never been in it, but they are aware of it.”
    Moore insists the Mountaineers — riding the nation’s longest Division I winning streak at 14 games — have prepared for Saturday’s game as though it were any other.
    “We’ve gone about our business, I want to say, in an orderly fashion and not talked a lot about the atmosphere up there,” he said.
    Western Carolina will face a similar environment at Alabama, which has been an absolute zoo since coach Nick Saban left the Miami Dolphins for the Crimson Tide in January. More than 92,000 fans came out to watch this year’s spring game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Alabama has sold out every home game since 1988.
    “I think that’s what you dream about when you’re a football player — being in the big-time atmosphere,” said Briggs, adding that the Catamounts will attempt to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to offset the discrepancies in the trenches. “I think it’s a real positive for our program even though it’s going to be a tremendous challenge. There are a lot of things we have to do to make sure we have a chance to be successful.”

Wofford passing the ball?
    Believe it or not, Wofford coach Mike Ayers said the Terriers have been working really hard on their throwing game. Yes, throwing.
    That’s newsworthy for a school known for its potent ground attack which ranked second in the nation and first in the SoCon with an average of 264.5 yards per game last season.
    Ayers said the Terriers, who return 10 of their top 11 rushers from 2006, are aiming to be a little more balanced. Wofford threw for 379 yards during a recent scrimmage, and Ayers is confident his quarterbacks are comfortable with the emphasis on passing. He commended senior QB Josh Collier’s play this preseason.
    “We are still going to start with the run,” Ayers said. “We are trying to run the option out of multiple sets. I think right now we are probably at about 18 different formations. If we’ve got to throw the ball, we want to be able to throw it effectively. And in situations where we are controlling the game with our run game, we are going to take our shots as far as trying to get deep balls down the field. We feel like we’ve got a package that fits us probably more so than anytime in the past.”
    Star halfback Kevious Johnson missed about two weeks of preseason practice because of bone spurs in his foot, but he’s back on the field and working through the pain.    
    The Terriers open their season Saturday night at home against Ayers’ alma mater, Georgetown (Ky.).
    “They are a tough football team,” Ayers said. “They’re a team that we have a lot of respect for, a team that we are going to have to play well if we are going to have an opportunity to win the game.”

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.