Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Urban Meyer to announce retirement; How might it affect the Big Ten East?

Urban Meyer to announce retirement; How might it affect the Big Ten East?

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, seen here in a game against Maryland in College Park on Nov. 17, will announce his retirement from coaching today, according to reports. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

The most widely held insinuation in college football will become a reality this afternoon: Multiple news sources are reporting that Ohio State has called a 2 p.m. news conference at which head coach Urban Meyer will announce his retirement from coaching effective at the end of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl matchup with Washington. Cleveland.com is reporting that health reasons are a major factor in Meyer’s decision.

The Buckeyes will promote 39-year-old offensive coordinator Ryan Day to the head coaching position after the bowl game.

Meyer’s departure from the Buckeyes sideline has been an oft-made prediction since September. He was suspended the first three games of the season by the university for mishandling allegations of domestic abuse against a longtime assistant coach, and during a slew of games this season, Meyer’s sideline gesticulations have come under the microscope, with many opining that either the health issues that already led to one short-lived retirement from college football — following Florida’s Outback Bowl win over Penn State after the 2010 season — had returned.

Whatever the reason, the impact of his impending departure will be discussed not just this bowl season, but well into the summer of 2019 as the Buckeyes — always a favorite in the Big Ten — adjust to life without him. In seven seasons with the Buckeyes, he is 82-9 overall, leading them to the 2014 national championship. He was also 7-0 against rival Michigan, including the coup de gras, a 62-39 walloping of the favored Wolverines in Columbus on Nov. 24 that essentially eliminated Michigan from the Big Ten Championship Game and a likely berth in the College Football Playoff.

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Big Ten Bowl Predictions: One last try

This has easily been the most challenging year to attempt to predict the Big Ten bowl matchups that I can remember. Not sure if it’s because we all got fooled again by Michigan, which was blown out last weekend in The Game by Ohio State. Not sure if it’s because Ohio State has been so up and down and yet, somehow, still finished the regular season 11-1. Not sure if it’s because Penn State is right in the place in the rankings where they could make the New Year’s Six field, or could miss it. Not sure if it’s because the Big Ten West is so bad. But it seems like every week, we’re looking at a different group of scenarios.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s our final look at where the Big Ten teams could wind up heading once the bowl announcements are made on Sunday.

Big Ten

Rose Bowl

Pac-12

Ohio State

Jan. 1, 2019
Pasadena, Calif.

Washington

Once you determine where you think Ohio State is going to wind up, the rest of it should mostly fall into place.

The thing with the Buckeyes is, there’s going to be some foot stomping in the Big Ten offices. It has been strangely difficult for the Big Ten to get its champion into the playoff, and in a year when the champion only has one loss, it would be especially difficult for the conference to accept.

But if everything goes as expected, it’s going to happen. Ohio State enters the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings as the No. 6 team, which obviously means they’ll have to jump over two teams in the committee’s view to make the playoff field. Only one of the five ranked ahead of the Buckeyes, No. 4 Georgia, is an underdog. No. 5 Oklahoma will face off with No. 14 Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, and the Buckeyes’ only path to the playoff seems to be losses by the Bulldogs and Sooners.

But, we’ll talk more about that later.

At-large

Peach Bowl

At-large

Michigan

Dec. 29
Atlanta, Ga.

Florida

I got nothin’ on Michigan. Nothin’.

Big Ten

Citrus Bowl

SEC

Penn State

Jan. 1
Orlando, Fla.

Kentucky

The mere fact I’m predicting Penn State will go to the Citrus Bowl means I’m not seeing a likely path for it to get to a third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl.

Is it an impossibility? Of course not. We’ll discuss some of the scenarios in which they can get there soon. But the Nittany Lions look an awful lot like the first team out, at this point.

So, here’s the deal:

Penn State needs 1.) Oklahoma to not make the playoff, 2.) Oklahoma to win the Big 12 title and 3.) either Ohio State to get into the playoff field or the standings to look similar on Sunday to the way they do now.

Which seems like a paradox, doesn’t it? If Oklahoma wins, how can it not make the playoff, after all? Well, there are some scenarios where that makes a little bit more sense.

  • Ohio State would need to look a lot more impressive beating Northwestern than Oklahoma does beating Texas.

Not sure how that’s possible, honestly, considering Texas is a much stronger opponent than Northwestern. But perhaps the committee has been providing hints as to how it can be accomplished with both teams winning.

“The defense played better against Michigan,” CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens said after the rankings were announced Tuesday. “But that still is probably the shortcoming. Their offense has been able to carry them.”

Could the Buckeyes be able to author a dominant enough defensive effort on Saturday to make them look like a more complete team than Oklahoma, which has allowed at least 40 points in each of its last four games? Certainly.

Is it likely? Probably not. Northwestern has scored 30 in regulation just once in its last nine games. Not sure that’s going to be rewarded as a great defensive effort for Ohio State even if it truly is a great defensive effort.

  • Georgia would need to beat Alabama.

I know, I know. Hardy har har.

But this is probably the easiest way for Penn State to get into the New Year’s Six. If Georgia wins, it will obviously be in, but let’s face it, this tournament might as well be named the Alabama Invitational. There seems to be no chance the Crimson Tide could lose on Saturday and not make the playoff. They’ve been dominant all season, and their only loss — a loss which hasn’t kept them out of the playoff in years past, mind you — comes against a team ranked in the top 4? Alabama seems like a lock.

So, if you take the current top four, that leaves Oklahoma and not a Big 12 team (likely Texas) ranked outside the top 12 to get the Sugar Bowl bid, which leaves a spot open for the No. 12-ranked team and more than likely makes Penn State a New Year’s Six participant.

Some scenario in there is possible, for sure. Just, not likely. So, the Nittany Lions go to Orlando for a game that likely won’t move the needle much, but is still as good a bowl as you can get as a Big Ten team and not be in the New Year’s Six.

Big Ten

Outback Bowl

SEC

Michigan State

Jan. 1, 2019
Tampa, Fla.

Texas A&M

Big Ten

Holiday Bowl

Pac-12

Northwestern

Dec. 31
San Diego, Calif.

Utah

Big Ten

TaxSlayer Bowl

SEC

 

Wisconsin

Dec. 31
Jacksonville, Fla.

Missouri

Big Ten

Pinstripe Bowl

ACC

Purdue

Dec. 27
Bronx, N.Y.

Virginia

Big Ten

RedBox Bowl

Pac-12

Iowa

Dec. 31
Santa Clara, Calif.

Stanford

Big Ten

Quick Lane Bowl

ACC

Minnesota

Dec. 26
Detroit, Mich.

Wake Forest

Penn State announces timeline to purchase bowl tickets

It has yet to be determined where and when the Nittany Lions will play their bowl game in a few weeks, but if you’re interested in seeing it in person, you might want to be at the ready on the following dates.

Ticket requests are available now for eligible Nittany Lion Club members, and sales will be open to the general public starting Dec. 5. The College Football Playoff Committee’s final rankings, which are set to be released Sunday afternoon, will be the determining factor in where Penn State winds up finishing out the 2018 season.

For more information on how to purchase tickets, click here. Here’s a schedule of when fans can start seeking out seats:

BOWL GAME TICKET SALE TIMELINE
Eligible Nittany Lion Club Members:
Online pre-sale requests are now available and run through Monday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m.
Alumni Association Members: Online pre-sale requests run Tuesday, Dec. 4 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., pending availability.
General Public: Sale begins Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 10 a.m., pending availability.
Student Nittany Lion Club: Online pre-sale runs Monday, Dec. 3 from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Penn State Students: Online sale begins Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 a.m.

Hanover Area star lineman Kopko commits to Penn State

Hanover Area star lineman Kopko commits to Penn State

Hanover Area lineman Justin Kopko celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Joseph Curcio during a game against Holy Redeemer in September. Kopko accepted a preferred walk-on offer from Penn State on Monday. Times Shamrock photo by Christopher Dolan.

Penn State got a commitment from one of the better prospects in the Wyoming Valley Conference on Monday, with Hanover Area offensive lineman Justin Kopko verbally committing to be a preferred walk-on.

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“I have been going down to games this year,” Kopko told The Citizens Voice. “Coach Rahne sent me a message that he would give me a preferred walk-on and a guaranteed spot on the roster. He told me he wanted me to come to Penn State and make a difference. It is hard to say ‘no’ to Penn State.”

Kopko was listed as a 6-foot-4, 305-pound two-way lineman on the Hawkeyes roster and had offers from Bucknell and Army, which he verbally committed to in the spring. So, a good project for Penn State, to get an interior offensive line prospect who had a scholarship offer from a service academy to come into the program as a walk-on.

Here’s a look at Kopko’s work against some competition in the WVC and Lackawanna Football Conference.

PSU adds first commitment of 2020 class

It’s raining at Beaver Stadium, and Senior Day has been kind of a washout emotionally for fans who came to say goodbye to Trace McSorley, et al.

But it has been a significant day for Penn State’s future, as well.

The Nittany Lions got their first verbal commitment from a Class of 2020 prospect on Saturday before the game with Maryland, adding three-star offensive line prospect Grant Toutant.

Toutant is a 6-foot-6, 292-pounder from Warren, Mich., who hit the Nittany Lions’ radar during a camp last year. Rivals.com lists him as a three-star prospect, but those evaluations tend to rise once a player commits to a program this early.

Former Lions linebacker heading out West

Manny Bowen, the on-again, off-again, on-again and off-again linebacker who had a suspension-filled career with Penn State that officially ended just weeks before the regular season started in August, announced where he’ll play his graduate-transfer season in 2019.

It’s going to be the University of Utah.

Set & Stone #GoUtes pic.twitter.com/Yckc6wFcdK

— Manny Bowen (@mannybowen43) November 21, 2018

Bowen was a serviceable player for the Nittany Lions who had his moments, especially as a pass rusher. Seemed like it ended messy with the Nittany Lions, but there were some questions surrounding him off the field, and he and the program parted ways over it.

Looked like Bowen was heading toward the left coast for a while. He visited Utah last weekend, and he also made a visit to Arizona before that.

Parking changes for Maryland game announced

If you’re going to Saturday’s Senior Day game between Penn State and Maryland at Beaver Stadium, check your parking pass.

And if you typically park in a grass-covered parking lot, you’re going to need to make alternative plans come this weekend.

Due to the record snowfall and the near constant rainfall that has hit all of us this fall, Penn State has decided to close all grass parking lots around Beaver Stadium for the regular-season finale.

If you have a prepaid parking pass, and there is a white stripe through the permit, your space is not impacted by the closures. ADA parking also remains available.

However, fans are being asked not to bring RVs unless their reserved lot is on pavement.

Similar to the previous home game against Wisconsin on Nov. 10, free shuttle bus services will be offered from several locations off-campus to get fans to the stadium in time for the game.

Here are those locations:

Fans who have a Maryland parking permit for all closed grass lots should utilize the below parking alternatives and walk or take a shuttle. All lots will open at 8 a.m. and all alternative lots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to lot capacity restrictions, permits for the alternative parking locations will be restricted to the options listed below or off-campus locations.

Grass Lots- Alternative Parking Options
Yellow RV– Grange Park will honor RV permits starting Friday at 7 a.m. through Saturday
Green Stadium West- Innovation Park/Orange H / Lot 83 (both near intersection of Porter Road & Hastings Road) or Red A (tailgating available at all locations)
Green Stadium North- Innovation Park/Orange H / Lot 83 (both near intersection of Porter Road & Hastings Road) or Red A (tailgating available at all locations)
Purple (Car)- Innovation Park (tailgating available)
Purple (RV)- Grange Park (RV only) or Innovation Park with a car (tailgating available at both locations)
Brown- Innovation Park, East/Eisenhower/HUB parking decks on campus (tailgating not available inside campus decks)
Orange (Car)- Innovation Park, East/Eisenhower/HUB parking decks on campus (tailgating not available inside campus decks)
Orange (RV)- Grange Park (RV only); Innovation Park with a car or East/Eisenhower/HUB parking decks on campus with a car (tailgating not available inside campus decks)
Blue (RV)- Grange Park (RV only); Innovation Park with a car or East/Eisenhower/HUB parking decks on campus with a car (tailgating not available inside campus decks)
Blue (Car)- Innovation Park, East/Eisenhower/HUB parking decks on campus (tailgating not available inside campus decks)
All Yellow Lots- Nittany Mall, the Penn State Golf Courses, Tech Support, Mt. Nittany Middle/Elementary Schools or Red A lot (Until 10 a.m. or earlier if Red A is filled)

Alternate Lots for Beaver Stadium with Pre-Paid Permit
Penn State vs. Maryland; November 24, 2018
(All lots open at 8 a.m.)

Red A (CATA): Red A (West Campus Lots; off North Atherton Street near Rec Hall) Take CATA Red Link or Blue Loop to Beaver Stadium. Permits accepted: Red A RV, Yellow, Volleyball Event and Production Staff

Route 10: Innovation Park (100 Building Lot, 103 Building Lot & 329 Building Lot).
(Purple) Permits accepted: Purple, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange (no RVs)

Route 11: Mount Nittany Middle School and Elementary School (656 Brandywine Drive) and Oak Hall
(Orange) Regional Park (120 Linden Hall Road, Boalsburg).
Permits accepted: Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue

Route 12: Technology Support Building (Old Raytheon Building, 300 Science Park Road) & Chemcut (500
(Pink) Science Park Road), Sound Technologies (old Jostens; (401 Science Park Road).
Permits accepted: Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue

Route 13: Penn State Golf Courses (1523 West College Ave.) and South Hills Business School (480
(Yellow) Waupelani Drive). Permits accepted: Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue

Route 21: Nittany Mall (2901 East College Avenue), Summit Park Office (Old Corning Plant, 3500 East
(Red) College Ave. Permits accepted: Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue

Grange Park: (149 Homan Lane, Centre Hall) Beaver Stadium RV parking permits will be honored along with a
(Black) free shuttle via Cole Transportation on Saturday. Cole also offers a round-trip shuttle on Friday from Grange Park to downtown State College for $5 round-trip. grangefair.com.
Permits accepted: All RV

Big Ten Bowl Predictions: Nov. 13 edition

Big Ten Bowl Predictions: Nov. 13 edition

Can QB Trace McSorley (right) lead Penn State to a third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl? The next two weeks will determine the Nittany Lions’ fate. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

We’re getting to that point in the season, which somehow seems like it started just yesterday, where we can start guessing — with a good bit of data to base our opinions on — where teams might end up once bowls are announced in early December. We know the possibilities. We know the current records. We know which way the selection committee is leaning. We have two games left, and we know what might happen from here.

It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Now, that’s never as easy as it might seem, and as far as Penn State is concerned, there isn’t much consensus. There is some thought Penn State could make a return to the Citrus Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season. There’s even someone thinking they can head back to the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, with Trace McSorley ending his Nittany Lions career essentially where it started, as disappointing as many fans might find that destination. If you don’t like that, two prognosticators at ESPN think the Nittany Lions could force their way back to Arizona for a second consecutive Fiesta Bowl.

Bottom line is, everything is fluid. Penn State can still make a third consecutive trip to a New Year’s Six bowl, or it can go out West for a late-night kickoff a couple days after Christmas. We’ll know more next week at this time. We’ll know even more the following week. Just the way it goes.

But for now, lets take a look at how things are likely to go, until the annual chaos sets in and changes everything for Big Ten teams.

#4 CFP

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

#1 CFP

Michigan

Dec. 29
Arlington, Tex.

Alabama

Sure, there’s still a little thing called The Game that needs to be played in two weeks, and Michigan has to get by rival Ohio State on Nov. 24 to secure this bid. But if Michigan doesn’t beat Ohio State this year, it might never get there. And hey, there’s still a chance that the Wolverines winning out and beating the Buckeyes might not get them here. If Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game — an extreme longshot for sure — the committee might be tempted to put the Bulldogs in and knock the Wolverines out. Clemson should win out against Duke, South Carolina and Pitt in the ACC title game to seal one of the four CFP spots, and Notre Dame will be favored against Syracuse this weekend at Yankee Stadium and USC next weekend at the Coliseum to finish unbeaten with a win over Michigan. If the Irish go unbeaten, they deserve to go. But Michigan looks a lot like the Big Ten’s best team, and it seems illogical to believe the Big Ten champ will be held out of the playoff for a third consecutive year.

CFP AT-LARGE

Rose Bowl

CFP AT-LARGE

Ohio State

Jan. 1, 2019
Pasadena, Ca.

Washington State

The ultimate irony in the Big Ten this year is that a one-loss Ohio State team might be able to keep the conference out of the College Football Playoff. It’s not wholly inconceivable that the Buckeyes can beat Michigan, in Columbus, next weekend, finish the regular season 11-1 and get a Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship Game that might be the weakest Big Ten West champion ever. It does, however, seem wholly inconceivable that Ohio State can climb from No. 10 in the rankings to the top four even if it does all of that. The Cougars have had a great season in a bad conference, and they have a tough opponent remaining, in the regular-season finale against Washington. But it shouldn’t matter. Even a loss will get them to the Rose.

Big Ten

Citrus Bowl

SEC

Penn State

Jan. 1, 2019
Orlando, Fla.

Kentucky

The reality with Penn State is that it’s close — very close — to going somewhere a whole lot bigger than the Citrus Bowl, as strong a bowl as the Citrus would be for the program at this point in its rebuild.

Penn State fans always travel well and support the team. But lets face it, a matchup with Kentucky in central Florida after the playoff games have already started and after back-to-back seasons that ended in trips to New Year’s Six bowls isn’t exactly going to move the needle like the Rose Bowl did.

There is, however, plenty of intrigue for Penn State these last two weeks of the season. Assuming the Nittany Lions win their final two games — and they’ll be heavily favored to do so on the road Saturday against Rutgers and at home next weekend against Maryland — they’ll finish the regular season 9-3, and they’re currently stationed at No. 14 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. That means, they’re on the outside looking in. But, they aren’t that far on the outside.

It’s a simple deal for Penn State: Win out, and hope enough craziness happens to lift it into the top 12 by the time the final standings are released Dec. 2. They’d have to be in the top 11 if Central Florida, currently No. 11, loses a regular season game, because the committee is required to take the top-ranked champion from a non-Power 5 conference. (Out of the Mountain West, Utah State is also ranked No. 23, for what it’s worth.)

Said craziness typically happens in college football. It’s just that it isn’t easy to predict it. But, from a purely Penn State perspective, here’s a look at what could happen to help the Lions get into the New Year’s Six conversation again, and who Nittany Lions fans probably should be rooting for over the next three weeks:

  • Penn State needs to root for Notre Dame.There’s an obvious spot for the Nittany Lions to gain, and soon: If the Fighting Irish beat No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will most certainly move ahead of the Orange.
  • Penn State needs Northwestern to not win the Big Ten Championship. As odious as this might seem to Nittany Lions fans, they have to hope either Michigan or Ohio State wins the Big Ten title game. They won’t surpass a two-loss Buckeyes or Wolverines team, but Northwestern would head to the Rose as the conference champion, and there’s almost no chance four teams from the same conference will get a NY6 berth.
  • Penn State needs to root against West Virginia. This is the one team currently in the Top 12 that may, possibly lose more than once. The Mountaineers play Oklahoma State this weekend, and while the Cowboys have lost four of five, they beat Texas in that stretch and scored 47 last week against Oklahoma. They can score with anybody, but then again, so can West Virginia. The Mountaineers then have Oklahoma to end the season.
  • Penn State needs a big regular-season upset. If Rice or Texas A&M beat LSU, it would give the Tigers three losses and may drive them below the Nittany Lions. That might be a longshot, though. Where the Lions could really gain ground is if Florida State can upset Florida, but that seems fairly unlikely at this point

Big Ten

Outback Bowl

SEC

Michigan State

Jan. 1, 2019
Tampa, Fla.

Texas A&M

 

Big Ten

Holiday Bowl

Pac-12

Northwestern

Dec. 31
San Diego, Ca.

Utah

 

Big Ten

TaxSlayer Bowl

SEC

Purdue

Dec. 31
Jcaksonville, Fla.

Missouri

 

Big Ten

Pinstripe Bowl

SEC

Wisconsin

Dec. 27
Bronx, NY

Virginia

 

Big Ten

RedBox Bowl

Pac-12

Iowa

Dec, 31
Santa Clara, Ca.

Arizona State

 

Big Ten

Quick Lane Bowl

SEC

Indiana

Dec. 26
Detroit, Mich.

Georgia Tech

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking down the opponent: Pittsburgh

Breaking down the opponent: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has led the Panthers to wins in his first two career starts. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Here’s the look at the Pittsburgh depth chart ahead of Saturday night’s game against Penn State at Heinz Field.

OFFENSE

The quarterbacks

8 Kenny Pickett (6-2, 220, So.)
12 Ricky Town (6-3, 215, Jr.) OR 4 Nick Patti (6-1, 185, Fr)

Pickett doesn’t have the reputation or the pedigree of a great quarterback, but he has been great in his two starts for Pitt. As a true freshman in 2017, he started the season finale and led the 24-14 upset of then-No. 2 Miami by rushing for two scores and throwing for another. He became the first Panthers true freshman to start a game at quarterback since 2007, and he followed that performance up in the opener against Albany this season by putting together an efficient 16 for 22, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance throwing the ball, while also picking up 42 yards and a score on the ground.

“He is bigger than you think. He is much more athletic and mobile than you think. You’ve seen that time and time again,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of Pickett. “Obviously he’s been able to step up and play big in big games. So I think he’s earned a lot of respect from us.”

At least in terms of his style of play, Pickett is somewhat reminiscent of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.

The running backs

TB
30 Qadree Ollison (6-2, 225, Sr.)
22 Darrin Hall (5-11, 225, Sr.)
21 A.J. Davis (6-0, 215, So)

FB
35 George Aston (6-0, 240, Sr.)
81 Jim Medure (6-2, 235, Jr.)

Ollison and Hall have been quietly, and perhaps too quietly, one of the more productive running back duos in the nation over the last few seasons. Ollison, a senior from Niagara Falls, had five 100-yard rushing performances during the 2015 season with James Conner out, then had his best game of the 2016 season after Conner took over against Penn State. Last season, he split time with Hall, who had a 254-yard effort against Duke and two other ACC opponents. When Pittsburgh has had a 100-yard rusher under coach Pat Narduzzi, it has an 11-5 record; when they rush for 200 yards or more as a team during Narduzzi’s tenure, the Panthers are 13-3.

The receivers

WR
88 Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (6-0, 210, Fr.)
18 Shocky Jacques-Louis (6-0, 180, Fr.)
6 Aaron Mathews (6-4, 215, Jr.)

WR
82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes (5-9, 190, Sr.)
2 Maurice Ffrench (5-11, 190, Jr.)
17 Darian Street (6-1, 185, Fr.)

WR
11 Taysir Mack (6-2, 195, So.)
5 Tre Tipton (6-0, 190, Jr.)
9 Michael Smith (6-1, 215, Fr.)

TE
86 Tyler Sear (6-4, 250, So.)
10 Will Gragg (6-4, 250, Jr.)
84 Grant Carrigan (6-7, 280, Fr.)

All in all, this is a young group of Pitt receivers, but Araujo-Lopes has been around the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. As a junior, he had four catches for 42 yards at Beaver Stadium last season, and he went on to catch 43 passes for 531 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. He already matched the touchdown total last week in the win over Albany State, and he’s also a player the Nittany Lions will have to monitor on sweeps, too.

The offensive line

LT
70 Stefano Millin (6-5, 300, Sr.)
59 Carson Van Lynn (6-5, 290, Fr.)

LG
76 Connor Dintino (6-3, 315, Sr.)
56 Brandon Ford (6-5, 305, So.)

C
67 Jimmy Morrissey (6-3, 300, So.)
60 Owen Drexel (6-3, 290, Fr.)

RG
66 Mike Herndon (6-4, 310, Sr.)
71 Bryce Hargrove (6-4, 310, So.)

RT
78 Alex Bookser (6-6, 315, Sr.)
57 Gabe Houy (6-6, 310, Fr.)
74 Jerry Drake Jr. (6-5, 305, Fr.)

The Panthers will likely start four seniors against the Nittany Lions — Bookser missed the opener but is expected back this week — but Morrissey is one of the more experienced members of this front despite his sophomore eligibility. A one-time walk-on who earned a scholarship after winning the starting center spot before last season, the Pitt line pivots around him. He has started 13 career games, half as many as the veteran Bookser, who started at guard in the 2016 battle against Penn State before switching to tackle last season.

This group, even with Houy replacing Bookser last week, didn’t allow a sack against Albany.

DEFENSE

The defensive line

DE
8 Dewayne Hendrix (6-4, 265, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.)
5 Deslin Alexandre (6-4, 270, Fr.)

NT
93 Shane Roy (6-4, 280, Sr.)
90 Rashad Wheeler (6-3, 285, So.)

DT
10 Keyshon Camp (6-4, 285, So.) OR 34 Amir Watts (6-3, 290, Jr.)
55 Jaylen Twyman (6-2, 300, Fr.)

DE
17 Rashad Weaver (6-5, 260, So.)
91 Patrick Jones II (6-5, 265, So.)
40 James Folston Jr. (6-4, 250, Sr.)

Hendrix is the big name up front, and Camp and Roy are a handful in the middle. But the most dynamic player in this group is arguably Weaver, a one-time Penn State recruit who chose Pitt and has made a big impact even when he hasn’t started. He started just five games last year but piled up six tackles for loss and three sacks. He’s also built like a small forward, and he has proven adept at batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.

He took over in his first full season as a starter against Albany, registering three tackles, two quarterback hurries and a sack.

Penn State had some issues on the right side of the line last week, and the tackle tandem of Will Fries and Chasz Wright will have their hands full this week.

The linebackers

MONEY
25 Elijah Zeise (6-2, 240, Sr.) OR 9 Saleem Brightwell (6-0, 225, Jr.)

MIKE
58 Quintin Wirginis (6-2, 250, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.) OR 44 Elias Reynolds (6-2, 235, So.)

STAR
23 Oluwaseun Idowu (6-0, 230, Sr.)

28 Anthony McKee Jr. (6-2, 220, Jr.)
38 Cam Bright (6-0, 220, Fr.)

Idowu has been a stalwart of the Pittsburgh defense since taking over as a starter during the 2016 season, and he had a huge impact in the last win over Penn State at Heinz Field, recording six tackles and a fumble. Entering his senior season, his best games have seemed to come in Pitt’s biggest moments. The Penn State game in 2016. He had 10 tackles in the upset of Clemson that same season. Eight tackles, three for loss, and another forced fumble last season against the Nittany Lions. A team-best eight tackles against Miami. The media voted him to the All-ACC second team last year, when he led the Panthers in tackles.

The secondary

CB
32 Phillipie Motley (5-10, 180, Sr.) OR 11 Dane Jackson (6-0, 185, Jr.)
14 Marquis Williams (5-8, 160, Fr.)

SS
20 Dennis Briggs (5-10, 195, Sr.)
24 Phil Campbell III (6-1, 200, So.)

FS
3 Damar Hamlin (6-1, 195, Jr.)
7 Jazzee Stocker (6-2, 190, Jr.) OR 27 Bricen Garner (6-1, 190, So.)

CB
16 Damarri Mathis (5-11, 190, So.)
12 Paris Ford (6-0, 195, Fr.) OR 15 Jason Pinnock (6-0, 195, So.)

Jackson didn’t play against Albany, and the Great Danes did make some chunk plays through the air with him on the sideline against what without him is a rather inexperienced secondary. If he plays this week, Jackson gives the Panthers an experienced, proven corner to match against Juwan Johnson. Plus, Jackson played well against Penn State alst season, recording a season-high five tackles, and he intercepted a Trace McSorley pass at the goal line to close out the first half.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P
98 Kirk Christodoulou (6-1, 210, Fr.)
97 Ethan Van Buskirk (5-10, 220, Fr.)

PK/KO
97 Alex Kessman (6-3, 195, So.)
92 Jake Scarton (6-3, 195, Fr.)

H
92 Jake Scarton
48 Kellen McAlone (6-2, 210, Sr.)

LS
94 Cal Adomitis (6-1, 225, So.)
51 Grey Brancifort (6-1, 225, Fr.)

KR
2 Maurice Ffrench
12 Paris Ford

PR
82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes
12 Paris Ford

It’s no surprise, given his speed, how dangerous Ffrench can be on kickoff returns. But he showed it off immediately in the opener, bringing the kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown to start the game against Albany. Given the problems Penn State had on special teams against Appalachian State in their own opener, Ffrench is worth following.

Kessman, meanwhile, is a weapon on kickoffs who wasn’t the most accurate field goal kicker last season. He didn’t do much to change that perception against Albany, missing an extra point. That said, he also has a 55-yard field goal to his credit, the second-longest in Pitt’s program history. He’s prone to the occasional strikeout, but he is also a home-run hitter.

Breaking down the opponent: Appalachian State

Breaking down the opponent: Appalachian State

Penn State expects it will have its hands full with Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore today at Beaver Stadium. Associated Press photo.

Here’s a look at the Appalachian State depth chart ahead of its game today against Penn State:

OFFENSE

The quarterbacks

12 Zac Thomas (6-1, 200, So.)

7 Jacob Huesman (6-3, 203, So.) OR 13 Peyton Derrick (6-2, 182, rFr.)

Technically, there was a fierce competition for the starting job in camp. But it seemed pretty clear Thomas ultimately was going to win the job. He served as the top backup to four-year starter Taylor Lamb — one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation last year after throwing for 2,737 yards and 27 touchdowns against just six interceptions — and some think Thomas can be even better down the road, considering his dual-threat capabilities.

The running backs

25 Jalin Moore (5-11, 207, Sr.)
3 Darrynton Evans (5-11, 191, So.)

Penn State coach James Franklin raved about Moore’s freakish athleticism earlier this week.

“He has run 4.37 in a 40, and a 38.5 vertical jump, 11-1 broad jump, 390-bench,” Franklin said. “I mean, this guy obviously is a specimen and was the Sun Belt offensive Player of the Year. So that will be challenging.”

That’s all true — he was the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 — and his production should be highlighted for the Nittany Lions. Last season, despite playing through myriad injuries, he rushed for 1,037 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also had 12 catches. Penn State safety Garrett Taylor compared him to the former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.

Evans missed all of last season with an injury, but he’s a third-down weapon. He massed 814 all-purpose yards as a true freshman in 2016.

The receivers

WR
5 Thomas Hennigan (6-1, 206, So.)
15 Mock Adams (6-4, 205, Jr.)

WR
14 Malik Williams (5-10, 183, So.) OR 4 Dominique Heath (5-9, 166, Sr.)

WR
2 Corey Sutton (6-3, 205, So.)
11 Jalen Vigil (6-1, 206, So.)

TE
87 Collin Reed (6-4, 248, Jr.)
89 Devin Papenheim (6-6, 254, Jr.) OR 88 Henry Pearson (6-3, 243, Fr.)

Hennigan started last season as a relative unknown, had to assume a starting role because of some injuries, and wound up putting together a strong season, finishing second on the team with 585 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

The group got a boost this offseason, as Sutton and Heath — two transfers from Kansas State — became eligible to play.

The offensive line

LT
75 Victor Johnson (6-5, 296, Jr.)
56 Nate Haskins (6-4, 280, So.)

LG
58 Ryan Neuzil (6-3, 280, So.)
70 Cooper Hodges (6-4, 301, Fr.)

C
60 Noah Hannon (6-1, 270, So.)
52 Tobias Edge-Campbell (6-2, 272, Sr.)

RG
73 Cole Garrison (6-4, 283, So.) OR 51 Baer Hunter (6-2, 286, So.)

RT
78 Chandler Greer (6-4, 288, Sr.)
79 Luke Burnette (6-5, 268, Fr.) OR 55 Matt Williams (6-5, 286, So.)

The first-team all-Sun Belt Conference left tackle last season, Williams returns as the unquestioned best blind-side protector in the conference. He helped the Mountaineers allow just eight sacks in 2017 (the second-lowest total nationally) and he might be an even better run blocker.

Still, this group lost two other all-conference performers.

DEFENSE

The defensive line

DE
47 Okon Godwin (6-1, 250, Sr.)
90 Chris Willis (6-2, 245, So.)
54 Jermaine McDaniel Jr. (6-3, 223, rFr.)

NT
92 MyQuon Stout (6-1, 280, Sr.)
98 E.J. Scott (6-3, 279, Jr.) OR 96 Markell Clark (6-0, 264, So.)

DE
57 Elijah Diarrassouba (6-1, 250, So.)
97 Caleb Spurlin (5-10, 255, So.)
48 Demetrius Taylor (6-1, 260, So.)

Franklin said the Mountaineers’ nose tackle has an apt last name. Stout gave opponents fits in the base 3-4 defense last year, recording 41 tackles. But he was able to do the job all good nose tackles in the 3-4 do best: He commanded double-teams, freeing up linebackers to run free and make stops.

Godwin and Diarrassouba are first-year starters, but Godwin had 4.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in a backup role last season.

The linebackers

OLB
20 Noel Cook (6-0, 212, Jr.)
10 Tim Frizzell (6-1, 223, So.) OR 31 Nick Hampton (6-3, 202, Fr.)

ILB
44 Anthony Flory (6-1, 232, Sr.)

45 Trey Cobb (6-2, 220, Fr.) OR 51 Tyler Bird (6-2, 218, Fr.)

ILB
59 Jordan Fehr (6-3, 226, Jr.)
52 D’Marco Jackson (6-1, 220, rFr.)

OLB
24 Akeem Davis-Gaither (6-2, 208, Jr.)
29 Devonte Harrison (6-0, 201, So.)

Flory is a preseason all-conference pick at linebacker and is coming off one of his best collegiate performances in the Mountaineers’ Dollar General Bowl win over Toledo. In that one, he registered eight tackles, hurried the quarterback once, and had a 19-yard interception return to set up Appalachian State’s first touchdown in a 34-0 blowout. He was named defensive MVP in that game, and as Franklin noted, his overall skill set is very reminiscent of former Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell. He’s not going to set the world on fire athletically, but he’s smart, savvy, plays with good sense and always seems to get himself in position to make a play.

The secondary

CB
17 Tae Hayes (5-10, 183, Sr.)
16 Shaun Jolly (5-9, 171, rFr.)

FS
6 Desmond Franklin (6-0, 200, Jr)
9 Austin Exford (6-0, 200, Sr.)

SS
7 Josh Thomas (6-0, 206, Jr.)
13 Kaiden Smith (6-1, 196, So.) OR 21 Ryan Huff (6-1, 200, rFr.)

CB
4 Clifton Duck (5-10, 170, Jr.)
8 Shemar Jean-Charles (5-11, 1818, So.)
12 Steven Jones (5-10, 180, rFr.)

Duck against McSorley and either of Penn State’s top two receivers will be fun to watch, because an argument can be made that Duck is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation at the start of the 2018 season.

Street and Smith named him a second-team All-American in the preseason, and the Sun Belt Conference tabbed him its preseason defensive player of the year. No player in the nation has more than his 11 interceptions since he became a starter at the beginning of 2016, and Pro Football Focus says opposing quarterbacks have just a 50.4 passer rating when targeting the receiver Duck is covering with a throw. That is, according to PFF, the lowest passer rating against an FBS corner over that period. He is one of just eight FBS players since 2000 to record five interceptions or more in his freshman and sophomore seasons.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK
91 Chandler Staton (5-11, 184, So.)
41 Michael Rubino (6-3, 215, Jr.)

P
30 Clayton Howell (6-0, 183, rFr.)
39 Xavier Subotsch (6-1, 193, So.)

LS
93 Elias McMurry (6-0, 237, Sr.)
53 Max Durschlag (5-11, 197, Fr.) OR 50 Keaton Forbes (6-0, 215, Fr.)

H
39 Xavier Subotsch
2 Zeb Speir (6-2, 203, Sr.)

KR
3 Darrynton Evans
5 Thomas Hennigan

PR
4 Clifton Duck
5 Thomas Hennigan

Staton has a strong leg, and he was pretty accurate on field goals in limited chances during his freshman season in 2017. He connected on all 31 of his extra point attempts last season, and he was 8 of 9 on field goal attempts, with a long of 53.