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App State May Be Penn State’s Best Non-Conference Opponent This Season

Don’t overlook Appalachian State.

The Mountaineers have come a long way in a short amount of time and they’re for real. After their famous win against Michigan in 2007, it’s been nothing but roses for the team. In 2014, App State officially entered into the FBS as the newest addition to the Sun Belt. Three straight bowl game wins and two straight conference championships later, the Mountaineers haven’t looked back.

Ever since the North Carolina school fell to 1-5 to start the 2014 season, the team is 36-9 overall with a 27-3 record in conference play.

Heading into the 2018 season, Appalachian State sits at No. 63 in the S&P+ rankings. Bill Connelly of SBNation puts together the rankings, which weigh recruiting, returning production, and recent performance together. The result is a pretty insightful ranking (which has Penn State at No. 8).

In any case, App State sits just behind Nebraska, Kansas State, and Marshall. The Mountaineers beat out the likes of Kentucky, Cal, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Maryland.

If all that doesn’t make you sit up in your chair, the Mountaineers leapt all the way to No. 18 in the S&P+ rankings after dismantling a very talented Toledo squad in the Camellia Bowl 34-0. That Toledo team, by the way, ranked No. 20 in the S&P+ offensive ranking.

Between their strength in returning players on defense — including cornerbacks Tae Hayes and Clifton Duck, who combined for 10 interceptions last season — and the rush game that ranked at the top of the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers have the talent to challenge Penn State on both sides of the ball.

Pitt, on the other hand, is almost like the antithesis of App State. Whereas the Mountaineers are fresh faces in the FBS and seem to be getting better every season, Pitt is trending downward after back-to-back 8-5 seasons in 2015 and 2016.

Pitt lands at No. 45 in the S&P+ rankings if you were wondering, in large part due to Pat Narduzzi’s okay recruiting (No. 37 overall) and the squad’s okay performance (No. 31) over the past five seasons. It’s probably important to keep in mind that the recent performance indicator ignores each team’s most recent record — in Pitt’s case, that’s 5-7.

Where the Panthers really get pulled down in the rankings is at returning production, where they rank No. 64.

On offense, Pitt will be without skilled threats Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah, as well as lineman Brian O’Neill. On the other side of the ball, Narduzzi’s squad is without star defensive back Jordan Whitehead. 

In fact, Appalachian State’s returning production sits at No. 34 against Pitt’s No. 64 ranking. The Mountaineers have a legitimate returning unit that’s likely to outperform Pitt’s in many respects, but especially on defense.

On paper, App State probably poses the biggest threat for the Nittany Lions during their non-conference sprint this season. Pitt does, however, have the comfort of playing at home for the week two matchup — a luxury not afforded to App State. Plus, the Nittany Lions did lose last time they visited Heinz Field, so there may be a psychological hurdle of sorts to overcome in Pittsburgh.

Penn State should take care of both teams pretty easily. The early odds point to the Nittany Lions taking care of App State by 23.5 points and Pitt by about two touchdowns.

If something does go wrong for the Nittany Lions, though, don’t be surprised if it comes at the hands of the Mountaineers. They’re certainly no strangers to upsets. 

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected]

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