Youngstown State University will uncork a brand new season a week from Thursday when they host Dayton. The Penguins have never beaten the Flyers in a football game (0-9), but the last contest was played way back in the seventies. Things have changed, and it is a mark of progress to see how the Youngstown State team has advanced almost 40 years later.
There have been National Championships and years to brag about. This is the year that YSU Football gets back into the playoffs, and regains some of its national charisma. I will not wait to tell you I am predicting a 10-2 season for the Guins. If you do not think the Missouri Valley Football Conference is tough, you have not been keeping up for the past decade or so.
So why two losses? Why doesn’t the “homer”, as I have been affectionately named by other members of the media, pick these Penguins to run the table and put up a perfect season? I will tell you why…
Michigan State is a program that is in much better shape than Pitt was last year. They have an established coach using his own recruits. Last season Pitt was ripe. They had a new coach and little motivation as they were just trying to find a team identity. That does not take away from the fact that the win was still considered a big upset, and a notch in the program’s belt. Keep in mind, those same Panthers ended up getting their act together and taking Notre Dame to the wire.
I believe that the Michigan State game, win or lose, is a good measuring stick to see what level of competition YSU can provide. Don’t think for a minute MSU will not use the Penguins win over Pitt as motivation. They got a taste in East Lansing two years ago, and Youngstown State was in the game until midway through the fourth quarter. I’m not saying it can’t happen again, but it would have to be a flawless effort this time around.
The Penguins should, in all probability, be 3-1 after the non-conference games. I think the average margin of victory against Dayton, Morehead State, and Duquesne could be in the thirty point range. After that, the conference games start and anything seems to happen at some point every year.
The hardest part of the conference schedule seems to be at the end, beginning with a road game against Northern Iowa. That game is followed by two home games against last years #1, North Dakota State, and a good South Dakota State team. To make my 10-2 prediction valid, the Penguins have to win two of these three games.
The other game to put a mark next to is the November 2 contest at South Dakota. The reason why is because it follows a bye week, which is when everything fell apart last season. Eric Wolford knows he will have to keep his team in rhythm through that two week stretch, and it did not go so well last season.
“We talked about maybe doing a little scrimmage in between, to kind of keep our edge this time”, said Wolford. “I want to keep guys healthy, at the same point, but we are going to have to get into a little more active situations out here. The most glaring thing after the bye week last season, even though we coaches harped on it, was that we lost our edge. We had eleven turnovers in three quarters of football, and you just can’t do that.”
Wolford critics are circling Stambaugh Stadium more rapidly in our constant “win right now” atmosphere. Some say Wolford has to make the playoffs to keep his job this season. Get your pen ready coach.
Timing and mistakes will go away with repeatability. This is obviously a very young offensive line and a very young defensive front. A healthy Kyle Sirl and Steve Zaborsky will pay dividends on the defensive side of the ball. With a rash of injuries and legal problems in the secondary, Coach Davis has his work cut out. However, anyone who knows the game will tell you that the best pass coverage is a good rush on the opposing quarterback.
The strength of the offense is Kurt Hess, period. Hess has the tools to carry this offense following the blueprint. He can throw accurately and takes care of the ball. He has the experience to find a fourth read, and he can tuck it and go if he has to.
New running backs coach, Eric Gallon, has the difficulty of figuring out which running backs to recommend to get playing time. Torrian Pace, Adaris Bellamy, and Demond Hymes were the three that figured to get the reps. An injury to Hymes has made everyone look deeper to where at least two more backs have stuck their flag in the dirt. Redshirt freshman, Jody Webb, has had a great camp and has turned heads. True freshman, Ryan Mosora has also made a good impression.
Don’t be surprised to see all five running backs get reps against first-team defenses all season.
Keep an eye on Carson Sharbaugh at tight end. Under the tutelage of Coach Mangino, Sharbaugh will prosper. Sharbaugh is already a very good blocking tight end who would sneak out into the open spot of a zone once in the while to catch a pass. This season, he will be utilized more as a threat to score.
The new coaches (four in all) have seemed focused and have experience in pressure situations. Gallon and Mangino are joined by Kurt Beathard and Jamie Bryant. Beathard was with Wolford at Illinois when a Rose Bowl berth was captured. Bryant was a defensive coordinator in the SEC spending nine years at Vanderbilt.
Last Summer, things looked too good. The team seemed to max out against Pitt, and never really recovered their demeanor until Indiana State toward the end of the schedule when they decisively won a “must-win” game to have any chance of a playoff berth.
Some feel the Penguins should have made the playoff field, others felt that they blew the chance and did not. Either way, Coach Wolford knows that winning can take the guesswork out of the equation.
“Our approach is going to be that we control our own destiny. We can’t leave it up to some jury, to some committee, sitting in some room. There is nobody on that committee that wants Youngstown State back in the playoffs. We can’t bank on beating Pitt counting for two wins because it is a BCS team. We are done relying on that system. All we can do is strive to get better every day, play hard, and take care of our bodies. That is what we control. As of today, we control our destiny. If we start losing, we give up that control. We control our own destiny, and I plan on not giving that up.”
Wolford recently had to suspend Dale Peterman because of legal problems.
“In this day and age, you have to be accountable for your own actions”, said Wolford.
“We are under the microscope now more than ever. Hopefully they change some of these NCAA rules moving forward. We are not allowed to be around our players in the Summer. You don’t read about college basketball players getting in trouble over the Summer because they are allowed to be around their coaches, they changed that rule. We need to change the rule for football. You mean to tell me that all of these kids that got in trouble over the Summer would have been in trouble if their coaches were allowed around them on a regular basis? I don’t think so. Changes need to be made.”