Host of “The Drae Smith Show”
November 3, 2014
The Youngstown State Football team continued their push for the playoffs this past Saturday, November 1st, at Stambaugh Stadium. The Penguins faced 2-6 South Dakota who entered the game with the worst record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. This game was an absolute must-win for YSU at home with the final 3 games all coming against ranked opponents (at #12 Illinois State, vs. #19 Indiana State, at #1 North Dakota State).
Until the 4th quarter, the game was a flashback to October 11th when YSU lost to an inferior Western Illinois team on their home field. Turnovers, mental mistakes and miscues plagued the Penguins and it seemed as though their playoff hopes were fading away down 17-7 after 3 quarters. A loss to a 2-6 football team at home would have been a major blow with 3 daunting games ahead. However, the entire game changed in the 4th quarter when breakout freshman QB Hunter Wells hit Andrew Williams on a 58-yard touchdown pass. The play awakened the defense who then forced a punt that would eventually lead to a 60-yard, Jody Webb touchdown run. YSU would score once more and finish with 21 unanswered points to win 28-17.
While ugly and nerve-racking, the win showed an extreme amount of mental toughness and resiliency which is very encouraging heading into the final 3 contests. That focus and determination will be tested next week on the road against a 7-1 Illinois State team that just lost for the first time. They will certainly be eager to get back on track against a Youngstown State team who they have struggled with in recent history. The Penguins enter the game ranked #13 in the FCS, nervously close to finally reaching the playoff berth that has eluded them since 2006.
If they can find a way to win next week, it would be very hard for me to see YSU not reaching the playoffs. We have defeated a slew of highly-ranked and respected schools, while playing in the nation’s most demanding conference. However, we have seen this story play out before and not end well for the Penguins. Many thought YSU should have been in the playoffs last year with their resume and it was not enough. Therefore, nothing short of winning out guarantees the team a chance at postseason play. Below, I have provided the scenarios that I believe would push the Penguins to the FCS Playoffs.
at #12 Illinois State - Nov. 8th
vs. #19 Indiana State - Nov. 15th
at #1 North Dakota State - Nov. 22nd
Win last 3 games:
If YSU wins out, they would have won 6 in a row and possibly 6 games over then-ranked opponents including the 2-time defending national champion, North Dakota State. They would finish 10-2 (7-1 in MVFC). Already ranked #13, that would no doubt catapult the Penguins to a solid playoff spot and possible MVFC title.
Win 2 of 3 games:
If YSU wins 2 of the last 3 games, they would finish 9-3 (6-2 in MVFC) and in contention for the conference championship. I believe that this would also lock up a playoff spot for the Penguins with little argument at all.
Beat North Dakota State:
However it plays out, if YSU goes to Fargo and upsets the Bison as they did in 2011, it would be nearly impossible to keep them out of postseason play. NDSU has only lost 2 times since 2010 and will most likely enter as the undefeated, #1 team in the nation. Even with losses against Illinois State and Indiana State, this scenario would seal the deal. YSU would finish 8-4 (5-3 in MVFC) but lets realize that this scenario also should not be counted on and even the players and coaches understand that.
Win at home and be competitive on the road:
The most important game of this stretch for YSU will be the home game vs. Indiana State in 2 weeks. In my opinion, the Penguins need to win this game to give themselves the best chance to advance. If they win at home and are at least competitive in the 2 road games, they would finish 8-4 (5-3 in MVFC) and in great position since the MVFC will more than likely receive at least 4 playoff bids this year, if not 5. However, if YSU wins at home and gets absolutely dominated in both road games, it could spell trouble for their hopes of moving on.