HOW CAN MICHIGAN’S OPENER TURN INTO A SEASON-ENDER?

Can a season end the day it begins?

It just did.

The ant tripped the elephant. The skinny guy kicked sand in the bully’s face, grabbed his girlfriend and stole his car. Some kids from Appalachian State came down from the Blue Ridge Mountains and delivered a sermon in Michigan Stadium, before 109,000 non-believers.

Goliath falls.

End of hopes. End of rankings. Michigan can – and should – talk about regrouping, but it can win every game the rest of the way and still have a black eye come New Year’s. No national championship. No top spot in a poll. Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines are now – and will forever be – a slain and bleeding bull, the biggest college football team to ever lose to a Division I-AA squad.

Saturday deserves to be called one of the great upsets in sports history, but Michigan fans have always held their breath when a season starts. Whether it’s Notre Dame or Nobody U., the maize and blue often have trouble with the gas pedal. And good Lord, how they have trouble with mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses.

Saturday was trouble in triplicate, and it still has you rubbing your eyes – whether you were in the stadium, or watching on TV as I was. How can Michigan give up 34 points to Appalachian State? How can Michigan have two field goals blocked in the fourth quarter? How can Michigan sit its best player, Mike Hart, for the meat of the game? How can Michigan’s secondary look so bad? How can Michigan’s veteran offense look so average?

And, most important, how can Michigan, ranked No. 5 – that’s in the Big Boys’ poll, for which Appalachian State doesn’t even qualify – take the lead back, snag an interception, and STILL lose the game in the final minute?

Teams like Appalachian State, you are supposed to bury. If they get a lucky jump on you, you are supposed to wear them down. But you never – NEVER – let them come back once you’ve put them in their place.

Michigan let them back in, letting them “Hoosiers” their way to a field goal, on a drive of 69 yards in 71 seconds, for the winning points.

Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long may feel silly now for having come back to win it all this year, and already have it lost before the second week of the season.

But that is only part of the regret. An upset like this gets celebrated everywhere in the world – except by the team that surrenders it. Michigan is all alone now, in a place it never wanted to be. The Wolverines made history. And as far as big dreams go this season, they are history.

Goliath fell. Big ouch.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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