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Previewing the 2018 Appalachian State Season: Happy Valley beginnings

We begin a month long process of previewing the 2018 App State season with Penn State, Charlotte and Southern Miss.

Dollar General Bowl - Appalachian State v Toledo Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Fresh off another bowl victory and co-champions of the Sun Belt in 2017, Appalachian State enters 2018 with new but intriguing faces in key spots, but also return some old faces too.

In 2017, we took a month-long path to previewing the 2017 campaign. In 2018, we will break the schedule down three games at a time.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Week 1: @ Penn State (2017 Record 11-2)

Before I begin here, may I just say thank god Saquon Barkley is in New York and not Happy Valley.

Appalachian will begin the 2018 taking on a Penn State team that feels like they are headed for another New Years Six bowl game with quarterback Trace McSorley calling the shots for James Franklin. The question mark on this Nittany Lion team will be on defense where they are having to replace nine starters from 2017. However, Appalachian State will be breaking in the successor to Taylor Lamb and all signs point to sophomore Zac Thomas.

Appalachian will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator in this matchup and could possibly struggle early with the athletes that the Nittany Lions have all over the field. Everyone knows the tout going into this game will be 11 years since App shocked Michigan on the Big Ten Network. That is the network that will carry this game so tout will be of zero shortage.

Appalachian State will have to play a near perfect game, slow down McSorley and force turnovers to walk out victorious. But one must wonder with a lot of new question marks for this App State team if that will be enough.

Prediction: PSU 45 - App 17 (0-1)

Week 2: @ Charlotte (2017 Record 1-11)

Middle Tennessee v Charlotte Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

After a tough Week 1 outing, Appalachian State will hit the road once again, but this time it will be a trip down I-77 to battle in-state foe Charlotte. No matter what the outcome of the Penn State game is I expect Appalachian to be a pretty good favorite here. App nation will be coming out in full for this matchup, hence why UNCC is adding 2,100 seats to their stadium for the game.

New 49ers offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery does return a good number of guys on offense, but its a group that was worst in the nation on third down and only managed 14 points per game last season. Quarterback Hassan Klugh has the mobile ability, but has struggled as a passer for Charlotte. Miami Transfer Evan Shirreffs is coming in to potentially take over one of the nation’s worst passing games.

The 49ers secondary was constantly shredded in 2017 and they are still questions on that part of the defense. I look for Zac Thomas to settle in for this game and lead the Mountaineers to their first win of 2018 over an in-state foe.

Prediction: App 36 - UNCC 14 (1-1)

Week 3: Vs Southern Miss ( 2017 Record 8-5)

Southern Miss v Tennessee Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

“Welcome To The Rock” and I mean Boone not Hattiesburg. App State and Southern Miss meet for the first time since a heartbreaking loss the Golden Eagles handed Mountaineers a 21-20 loss in 2014. Since that meeting App State is 36-12 and Southern Miss is 25-23.

The biggest question mark for USM will be on offense where five starters return from a year ago. Keon Howard has transferred out of the program and leaves Kwadra Griggs as the best option with Louisiana Tech transfer Jack Abraham also in the mix. USM also returns three starters from one of the best pass blocking lines in the country so whichever QB lines up behind center should have plenty of time to move an offense.

Southern Miss also boasts a good pass rushing defense that could give a young QB in Thomas some trouble but Appalachian also has a good offensive line returning so this could be a game that is won in the trenches. However, USM struggled in the secondary and with guys like Thomas Hennigan, Corey Sutton and Jalen Virgil at wide receiver, Thomas could find some relief and some big plays. The game all in all should be a fun G5 matchup and be close throughout.

Prediction: App 31 - USM 24 (2-1)

Next week, we will be the break down of Weeks 4-6 as the Mountaineers finish out non-conference play and begin Sun Belt play with a BIG time battle in Jonesboro.