Back in the spring I did an interview with former Ohio State defensive lineman Vernon Gholston, who had just been selected as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and was about to become a multi-millionaire.
With tongue in cheek I asked Gholston if the reason that he passed up his senior season at Ohio State was because he didn’t want to face Youngstown State again this year.
After he stopped laughing he said, “Yeah, you got me, that was the reason.
This week if I had a chance to talk to Buckeyes’ All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis, I’d ask him if the reason he returned to the Buckeyes and passed up the NFL was because he wanted another shot at the Penguins.
The truth is that neither Gholston or Laurinaitis give one hoot about the Penguins, especially this year in Laurinaitis’ case. For him the Penguins are just a number and that number is one.
The Buckeyes, who have won two straight Big Ten Championships and lost in the BCS National Championships game the past two seasons, know that the only way they are going to get back to the championship game is to run the table this season.
Twelve wins and nothing less will do it.
The only thing the Buckeyes know about Youngstown State, who they open the season against on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium, is their head coach Jim Tressel built his coaching reputation there, winning four national championships.
Last year when the two teams met in Columbus, Ohio State came into the game a very inexperienced football team and still beat the Penguins 38-6, although they never really looked that impressive on offense, where the Penguins made them work for all of their rushing yardage.
This year things could be considerably different. The Buckeyes are experienced —loaded is the word that most college football experts use.
They return 19 of their 22 starters and they are big, strong and quick and have great depth all over the roster.
Even Tressel might have a hard time keeping the score down in this one, because his second and third teams have so much talent it is actually scary.
Putting things in perspective for Youngstown State, this game is all about money. The $650,000 that YSU receives for playing the game will go a long way to helping the football program and the athletic budget.
YSU began playing the “money games” back in 2005 when they first played at Pittsburgh and then at Penn State in 2006. YSU athletic director Ron Strollo has been able to do some unbelievable things with that money.
The Penguins have computerized their video operations to the point it is comparable to an NFL team’s. They purchased state-of-the-art field phones, remodeled the football offices and this year added a new playing surface to Beeghly Center for basketball and volleyball.
The Penguins have a another game scheduled with Penn State for 2010 and Strollo is working for a game next season.
Realistically the Penguins have no chance of beating the Buckeyes on Saturday. Making a respectable showing is a possibility, but highly unlikely. A blowout is predicted.
About the only people who give the Penguins any kind of chance on Saturday are the football players and the coaching staff at YSU.
YSU coach Jon Heacock doesn’t know how to coach any other way. He plays every game to win and he’s instilled that attitude into his coaches and his players.
A lot of the Penguins will be making their first collegiate starts against the Buckeyes and probably 105,000 screaming fans, who will be goading the Buckeyes to score as many points as possible. Tressel won’t allow that to happen.
For the 65 players who will make up the YSU traveling squad, Saturday’s game will be one they never forget.
The only thing you can hope for is that the Penguins make a good showing and nobody gets seriously hurt, because the Penguins still have 11 more games following the opener and it’s going to be a tough road to follow.
X Pete Mollica covers YSU for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.