Key Factors (for Opponents) Outlined for 2018 Season

We’ll continue to have a weekly preview with key facts, figures and stats this fall, and because we know you’re just as eager as we are for the season to begin, here’s an early look ahead to the 2018 football campaign. 

For each game, we outline key factors and/or provide some background info, when looking at each week’s opponent.

Appalachian State (Sept. 1)
The Mountaineers enjoyed an impressive 2017 season, winning the Sun Belt Conference and shutting out Toledo (34-0) in the Dollar General Bowl. Appalachian State finished 9-4 last season, playing one ranked opponent. That was a 31-10 setback to Georgia in the season opener, when the Bulldogs were ranked only 15th. Georgia went on to play in the College Football Playoff. One last note: This will be the first matchup between the two teams.

Pitt (Sept. 8)
Announced in the spring, this is set for an 8 p.m. kickoff at Heinz Field, a season following when Pitt was actually outscored for its entire campaign (23.9 points scored versus 26.6 points allowed per game). The Panthers scored at least 30 points in only three games last season, so if the Nittany Lions can reach that number (they averaged 41 in 2017), chances are Penn State will collect a victory.

Kent State (Sept. 15)
This will be Kent State’s fourth trip to Beaver Stadium since 2010, and while the Nittany Lions won’t need to play at their top level to win, keep an eye on Penn State’s secondary. Last season, Kent State quarterbacks threw only eight touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

Illinois (Sept. 21)
The key factor here isn’t a stat or a name. Rather, it’s a date. For the first time, Penn State will play a Big Ten Conference game on Friday night. One less day to prepare and rest, and because James Franklin’s squad will be traveling (and Illinois won’t be), the Nittany Lions lose out on even more time.

Ohio State (Sept. 29)
For the first time since 2013, Penn State won’t have to contend against J.T. Barrett. The four-year starting quarterback closed out his career against the Nittany Lions last season by playing (essentially) perfect in the second half of the Buckeyes’ comeback in Columbus. While Urban Meyer likely won’t name a new starter until sometime during fall camp, the important thing to know is Penn State’s defense will go up against a first-time starter when the teams clash at Beaver Stadium.

Michigan State (Oct. 13)
The Spartans had only a plus-4.5 scoring margin last season (24.5-20), an incredibly low margin for a team that finished 10-3. This year’s contest serves as the Homecoming games, which bodes well for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have an all-time Homecoming record of 71-22-5, including 11-2 in the last 13 years.

Indiana (Oct. 20)
The Hoosiers finished in the top half of the conference in both scoring offense (27) and offensive yardage (396), with sophomore dual-threat quarterback Peyton Ramsey seeing enough time last season to attempt 205 passes. Indiana typically has a capable offense and subpar defense, with the Penn State-Indiana final score (seemingly) always around 45-24. In favor of the Nittany Lions, of course. Penn State has won all but one of 21 all-time games against Indiana.

Iowa (Oct. 27)
Plus-19 — that’s the touchdown-interception ratio for Hawkeye quarterback Nathan Stanley, who tossed 25 touchdowns against only six interceptions last season. Versus Penn State, the then-sophomore finished 13-for-22 with 191 yards and two scores in the Nittany Lions’ road win. He also threw five touchdowns in Iowa’s blowout upset of Ohio State (55-24).

Michigan (Nov. 3)
The Wolverines finished best in the Big Ten last season, allowing only 150 passing yards per game. This is a particularly important stat considering that Penn State led the conference a year ago, averaging 290 passing yards per game on offense. The Nittany Lions easily handled the Wolverines a year ago in Beaver Stadium, though it’ll be a different environment for Penn State’s offense in Ann Arbor.

Wisconsin (Nov. 10)
The Badgers are the Nittany Lions’ most underrated rival (by this writer’s estimate), and they’ve found their next great running back in freshman Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. It’s entirely possible Wisconsin will be undefeated and/or ranked in the Top 10 for this encounter at Beaver Stadium — a road test at Michigan might be the only blemish — contributing to one of the toughest (and most exciting) home schedules in recent history.

Rutgers (Nov. 17)
The Scarlet Knights have been outclassed ever since they joined the Big Ten. Here’s one of many examples: Penn State averaged more than twice as many points as Rutgers last season (41 vs. 18), with the Scarlet Knights totaling only 28 touchdowns a year ago, second-worst in the conference. And the end-of-year schedule is absolutely brutal for Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights finish against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State.

Maryland (Nov. 24)
As a program, the Terrapins have steadily backpedaled since the infamous non-handshake at Beaver Stadium back in 2014. Maryland’s defense was dreadful a year ago, allowing 37 points pre content, worst in the Big Ten. Penn State’s 66 points in a road victory helped inflate that stat. Also noteworthy is Penn State will likely have plenty to play for in the regular season finale, while Maryland might, at best, be trying to position itself for a mid-tier bowl. 

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