The Youngstown State football team learned their postseason fate on Sunday afternoon, and it was not good news. The Penguins were not awarded an at-large bid by the FCS Selection Committee.
Credit the coaches and team for picking up the pieces and making an exciting run by winning their last three games of the season.
The 7-4 season, which most programs would relish, was not enough.
October was a disaster for this team. In my opinion, the real problem started in September. On September 22, the Penguins won a game many thought they could not, defeating Northern Iowa to run their record to 4-0.
After wins against Pitt, Valparaiso, Albany, and Northern Iowa, the Penguins were forced to hibernate for a week. September 29th was a bye week. Some saw the bye week as an advantage to better prepare for North Dakota State the following week, but the bye week may have took the sharpness out of the tack.
The next four contests were ugly as YSU got hammered in Fargo. The next three games, all losses, dropped the Penguins to 4-4. The resiliency of the football team shined through with wins over South Dakota and Western Illinois (mostly everyone else in the league got to play these two teams also). The crescendo of the season may have been on the final day, as the Penguins seemed to do everything right in defeating Indiana State.
Dom Rich may have said it best after the game.
“If we get in, we will not lose a game”, said Rich. ”We are playing our best football right now.”
Coach Eric Wolford knew that winning the last three games would still not regain control of the Penguins own destiny and that their fate would be determined by other teams results and voters opinions.
Wolford thought the win over Pitt should carry the weight of two wins, as a win over any FBS team should. The YSU coach was confident that his Penguins would be given strong consideration.
The reality of being excluded was the automatic bids. Teams from less talented conferences got a team in, ten of the twenty altogether. That left two at-large bids going to Illinois State and South Dakota State from the MVFC. It is a rare feat for a conference to put four teams into that small of a field.
Unseeded at-large bids went to Appalachian State, Cal Poly, Illinois State, New Hampshire, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Stony Brook and Wofford.
Trevor Parks, YSU Sports Information Director, and I exchanged texts during the second half of the Penguins game about other teams who would have probably needed to get beat for the Penguins to get in. By the end, just about all of those teams either were winning or had already won.
So suddenly, the season that started with so much hope has elapsed. Coach Cochran will probably have a program in place by December. Linemen will be eating rocks and glass, backs will vow to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and 2013 can be another step forward for a program inching closer to the declared standards of making the playoffs and winning championships.