The Last Time the USMNT Did Not Qualify for the World Cup, Penn State Won the National Championship

The Penn State Nittany Lions are on track, statistically to best the 1986 Penn State team, which won the National Championship. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

USMNT Missed the World Cup. Penn State Won the National Championship.

The USMNT failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia; the last two times this happened was 1982 and 1986. The Penn State Nittany Lions won the National Championship in 1982 and 1986. Penn State won the National Championship against the Georgia Bulldogs in 1982.  They then went undefeated and beat the Miami Hurricanes in 1986. It is halfway through the Penn State football season and the boys in blue are again currently undefeated.

Furthermore, the 1986 Nittany Lions started the season ranked No. 6 and steadily moved to No. 2. The current team also started the season ranked No. 6 and has steadily moved up to No. 3. This does not mean that the Nittany Lions will win a National Championship this year, but let’s look at the 1986 team versus the current.

1986 Offense vs. 2017 Offense

The 1986 quarterback was John Shaffer. He threw for 1,510 yards, 9 touchdowns and four interceptions in 1986. Through the first six games of the season, Trace McSorley has already beat Shaffer’s yardage and touchdowns, throwing for 1,597 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Shaffer also had three rushing touchdowns on the year, while McSorley already has four. Shaffer’s main tight end was Brian Silverling who recorded 279 receiving yards on the year. McSorley’s tight end target, Mike Gesicki, already has 176 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

It is no secret that former head coach Joe Paterno commanded a rush-heavy offense, so it is no surprise that McSorley has already surpassed Shaffer’s passing yards and touchdowns under up-tempo offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. The 1986 National Champion team starting running back was D.J. Dozier. Dozier had a total of 12 touchdowns on the season, 10 rushing and two receiving. Furthermore, he had 1,098 all-purpose yards on the year. Through six games this season Saquon Barkley already has 1,044 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns. Barkley is also on the Heisman Trophy watch-list.

The offense as a whole is also performing in line with the 1986 National Champion team. The 1986 Nittany Lions averaged 28.3 points per game. This season, the current Penn State team has averaged 39.7 points through six games. This average may drop and be closer to 1986 after the next three games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State.

1986 Defense vs. 2017 Defense

When Penn State won the National Championship in 1986, the defense was ranked No. 3 in the country. Through six games this season, the Penn State defense is also ranked No. 3 in the country. Furthermore, the 1986 Nittany Lions allowed just 133 points on the season, while the Nittany Lions have currently allowed 54. Penn State is on pace to best the 1986 total. Furthermore, through the first six games the Nittany Lions have recovered nine fumbles and have 11 interceptions. The 1986 Penn State defense intercepted 20 passes, including a key interception by linebacker Pete Giftopoulos to seal the game in the final seconds of the game.

Defensive statistics were not as well kept in 1986 as they are now, but there is no doubt that the 1986 linebackers made an impact. Penn State earned the name “Linebacker-U” with the 1986 National Champions. This year the linebacker corp has not disappointed. Starting middle linebacker, Jason Cabinda, has 20 solo tackles, 3 for a loss and one sack through six games this season. Furthermore, linebackers Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer have 22 combined tackles 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks through the first half of the season.

If the current Penn State defense can keep its dominance through the tough stretch ahead, they should best the 1986 Nittany Lions statistically.


On paper, the 2017 Nittany Lion football team is right in line with…or better than… the 1986 team when Penn State won the National Championship. As we have seen already this season, it does not matter how good a team is on paper. The Nittany Lions will have to continue creative and dominant play if they want to be lifting the National Championship trophy at the end of the season.


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