What you need to know: Penn State vs. Appalachian State

Starting today, we are your go-to site for all things Penn State football. Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions every Saturday this season.

Game details: vs. Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m. kickoff, BTN.

Records: Penn State 0-0, Appalachian State 0-0.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State has finished undefeated the last two seasons.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 76 degrees, with a chance of a morning shower.

Overview: Finally, Penn State football returns. That’s the real headline. And with the season, plenty of stories to follow. Who will emerge as Trace McSorley’s top receiving target? How will the defense look with so many players from last season gone? Can the offense match the production from last season? Looking at Penn State’s opponent, the Mountaineers enjoyed an impressive 2017 season, winning the Sun Belt Conference and shutting out Toledo (34-0) in the Dollar General Bowl. So the line—the Nittany Lions are favored by more than three touchdowns—might be deceiving.

The line: Penn State—23.5.

All-time series: First meeting.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions can force Appalachian State to become one-dimensional in the second half. The Mountaineers actually gained more yards rushing last year than passing (224-216 per game). So Penn State’s defensive line will be tested right away. If Penn State can get to a 14-plus point lead after halftime and force the Mountaineers to play catch-up, that should favor the Nittany Lions against a team that’s used to relying on the ground game.

Appalachian State wins if: the Mountaineers can recreate some gridiron magic, just like they did against Michigan in 2007. Circumstances will be the same: opening day opponent in front of a 100,000-plus crowd. Appalachian State won 34-32 that day in Ann Arbor, but we don’t expect history to repeat itself Saturday, even if the Mountaineers are used to playing top-tiered teams. They opened up last season against Georgia, losing 31-10, against a squad that played in last season’s College Football Playoff. Fans are certainly hoping that little piece of history does happen again.

Count on: Miles Sanders having a big day, as the Nittany Lion junior running back finally gets his chance to lead the rushing attack. Based on what we've heard from his teammates, Sanders has already proven himself, so this isn’t an instance where fans should wonder what they’re getting. Sanders is a true difference-maker, so look for him to compile some highlight plays.

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s defensive line. With both Ryan Buchholz and Torrence Brown ending their careers recently because of health reasons, the opportunity is there for Fred Hansard and Antonio Shelton—among other players—to make an impact perhaps earlier than expected. Going up against a little bit of an overmatched opponent that focuses on the run is a good first step to see how Sean Spencer and his guys can gel into a cohesive unit.

Trivia tidbit: As Penn State begins its 132nd season, the Nittany Lions currently stand eighth all-time in college football victories (878). The two programs Penn State is closest to are Oklahoma (884) and Notre Dame (886).

*Prediction: Penn State 45, Appalachian State 24

*HappyValley.com prediction

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