Eleven years to the date of the biggest upset in college football history, Penn State plays host to the program that pulled off that impossible feat. As the Nittany Lions were polishing off a 59-0 victory over Florida International, the college football world tuned into the Big Ten Network, in their first weekend on the air, to see a play that will never be forgotten.
Back to the present, Appalachian State is no longer an FCS school and competes in the Sun Belt Conference. They have won 27 of their last 30 conference games, but for a team that has experienced so much success, what awaits in 2018?
Appalachian State at a Glance
|Head Coach||Scott Satterfield (6th Season; 41-22)|
|2017 Record||9-4, 9-1 (Tie 1st Sun Belt)|
|2017 Postseason||2017 Dollar General Bowl – Beat Toledo 34-0|
|Biggest Losses||Quarterback Tyler Lamb, WR Ike Lewis, Guard Colby Gossett, Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody|
|Biggest Returnees||RB Jalin Moore, LT Victor Johnson, NT Myquon Stout, LB Akeem Davis-Gaither|
|Summary||Appalachian State lost a four-year starting quarterback, but returns plenty of talent. Can they reign supreme in the Sun Belt Conference?|
|Matchup With PSU||Penn State opens the season against a team that many don't know much about, but consider them a tricky opponent.|
The Mountaineers have to replace four-year starting quarterback Taylor Lamb who led them to two straight Sun Belt crowns. Lamb completed 61 percent of his passes a season ago. Next up appears to be sophomore Zac Thomas. Fortunately for him, the offense figures to again be run oriented, whether that is Thomas carrying the ball, or Jalin Moore. The senior back is coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
The Mountaineers may run a lot, but when the ball is in the air, they will need to find a replacement for last year's leading receiver Ike Lewis, who accounted for 733 yards on 51 receptions. Thomas Hennigan is no slouch (45 receptions, 585 yards in 2017), and figures to be Thomas' primary target. Jalen Virgil and Malik Williams return as well, and will be joined by Kansas State transfer Corey Sutton. Tight end Collin Reed is also a factor as he pulled in nine catches in 2017 for 157 yards.
If Appalachian State can get consistency at quarterback, they will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt conference.
Not only do the Mountaineers need to replace a quarterback, their biggest challenge may be replacing defensive coordinator Nate Woody. He took the same position with Georgia Tech. Appalachian State created an identity on defense, and in his final game, pitched a shutout vs. a high-scoring Toldeo in the Dollar General Bowl.
The Mountaineers run a 3-4 scheme. Seniors nose tackle Myquon Stout is the lone returning starter along the line. He will be counted on to the lead a youthful group up front. Senior end Okon Goodwin is no slouch either, and started six games in 2017, recording 5.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore end Demetrius Taylor had a solid freshman year with three sacks.
The real question comes at linebacker, however. Gone Devan Stringer and Rashaad Townes outside, and All-Sun Belt performer Eric Boggs inside. MLB Anthony Flory was an honorable mention all-conference member in 2017 recording 87 tackles. Next up are guys like D'Marco Jackson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Noel Cook.
Tae Hayes and Clifton Duck return at cornerback after combining for 10 interceptions last year. They are joined by junior Desmond Franklin who started 10 games in 2017 at safety. The entire secondary shined in the bowl game vs. Toledo when they not only sealed a shutout, but had three interceptions. This unit will be tested off the bat vs. Penn State quarterback Trace Mcsorley.
Appalachian State's special teams were not the strong suit last year. Kicker Michael Rubino made just nine of 15 field goals before switching to freshman Chandler Staton. The rookie settled things down going eight for nine. The Mountaineers finished 120th in punt efficiency, and return sophomore Xavier Subotsch. Henningan will reprise his role returning punts, but with Lewis' departure means a new face returning kicks.
Though Appalachian State has lost quite a bit, they still look to compete with Arkansas State and Troy for a Sun Belt crown. If Satterfield can pull off another successful season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make a jump in the college ranks to a larger program.
Penn State is a heavy favorite (-23), but this will likely not be your typical opening day slaughter. The Mountaineers possess enough talent in key spots to challenge the Nittany Lions. The 3-4 defensive front will challenge an improved offensive line, while a talented secondary will be a good test for passing game looking to replace two top targets.
James Franklin would probably prefer to not see it right off the bat, but , Appalachian State has the right personnel to challenge a defensive line and linebacking corps looking to find the right pieces early in the year.