The U is coming to The Rock.
That sounds vaguely like it has something do with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He’s the the former Miami football player who went from the make-believe world of the WWE to Hollywood’s tinsel-town movies, but in this case the reference is actually an event of much more substance.
“The Rock” is what Appalachian State calls its home-field advantage at 24,050-seat Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
“The U is coming to The Rock” is App State’s promotion campaign for Miami’s visit on Sept. 17 to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.
Making such a trip away from South Beach might have generated howls of protest from Miami’s showy players representing the Hurricanes’ five-time national championship era — think Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Jeremy Shockey or Kellen Winslow II – but the 2016 Hurricanes under new head coach Mark Richt are doing their homework.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, a third-year starter as a junior, was asked at the recent ACC Kickoff media days what the Hurricanes thought about traveling to Appalachian State. If the reporter thought he was setting up Kaaya for a snarky answer, he failed.
“It shows you how far they’ve come,” Kaaya replied. “They’re a legit program. They lost two games last year. They’ve come far. They can’t be taken lightly. Any team playing them has to be prepping for them as we are now. They’ve got some players that play hard. When you watch film on them, you respect what they’ve done.”
In 2015, the Mountaineers finished 11-2 with a Camellia Bowl win over Ohio of the Mid-American Conference.
They are the 2016 preseason favorites in the Sun Belt Conference, adding to their smooth transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision and Sun Belt Conference in 2014 from a storied history in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Mountaineers won three straight FCS national titles (2005-07). The 2007 season included one of the all-time college football upsets with a win at Michigan.
This year App State returns 14 starters with six on offense and eight on defense under fourth-year head coach Scott Satterfield, an App State alumnus. Five players are national award candidates.
— Junior quarterback Taylor Lamb was named to the Davey O’Brien Award watch list as the nation’s top quarterback. Last year the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder threw a school-record 31 touchdown passes with nine interceptions. He was 170-of-283 passing (60.1 percent) for 2,387 yards. He was honorable mention All-Sun Belt.
— Senior running back Marcus Cox (5-10, 205) is on watch lists for the Maxwell Award (top player) and the Doak Walker Award (top RB). Cox ran 243 times for 1,483 yards (5.9 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He scored another two TDs catching the ball with 18 receptions for 160 yards. He was second-team All-Sun Belt.
— Senior left guard Parker Collins (6-3, 295) is on the Outland Trophy watch list for the nation’s top interior lineman. He was second-team All-Sun Belt last year.
— Senior tight end Barrett Burns (6-4, 250) is on the John Mackey Award watch list for tight ends. He only caught 15 balls for 163 yards, but he’s a strong blocker and big target in the red zone. Eight of his 15 receptions were for touchdowns.
— Senior nose tackle Darrian Small (6-2, 315) is a backup, but his academics and community service earned him a spot on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy billed as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service.”
The Miami game is the Mountaineers’ third contest and second home date on a challenging non-conference start to the season. App State opens with a Thursday night affair televised on the SEC Network Sept. 1 in Knoxville.
App State is ready for Miami’s visit to The Rock, but Satterfield’s players better not expect overconfident Hurricanes looking down their noses at the Mountaineers.