By Joe Scalzo
In 2006, Bryan Cranston was in his final season playing a dad on a popular TV series, Warner Brothers was rolling out a Superman movie after a long hiatus and Youngstown State’s football team was hoping to win a playoff game for the first time in seven years.
In other words, the more things change ...
After missing the postseason by one game in each of the past two seasons, YSU (8-1, 5-0 Missouri Valley) can clinch its first playoff berth since 2006 by winning one of its final three games.
“We plan on making the playoffs,” wide receiver Christian Bryan said.
The Penguins are one of 21 teams in MVFC history to start 5-0, a list that includes this year’s North Dakota State team.
The previous 19 all finished second or better in the league standings and only one, Western Illinois in 1987, missed the playoffs, although that came under a 16-team format.
The FCS playoffs expanded from 20 to 24 in the offseason, with 11 conference champions receiving automatic bids. The top eight seeds will receive a bye, with the other 16 teams playing first-round games on Nov. 30.
The Sports Network, which runs one of the two major FCS polls, unveiled a bracket projection on Tuesday that has YSU hosting Lehigh in the first round.
All season, YSU’s players have been wearing shirts with the phrase “Let there be no doubt,” a reference to leaving their fates in the hands of the playoff committee the past two years.
YSU coach Eric Wolford believes the Penguins should have made the postseason last year, even though their 4-4 record left them tied for sixth in the MVFC standings.
“I felt like last year that having a BCS win [over Pitt], that should count as two [wins],” said Wolford, whose team finished 7-4 overall. “We had a better record than Indiana State did. They were talking about taking them.
“We play in the best conference and I think a lot of times there’s politics involved and those kinds of things.”
The MVFC had just three playoff teams last year — eventual champion North Dakota State, Illinois State and South Dakota State — despite being ranked No. 1 in the Gridiron Power Index, which is sort of like the BCS standings of the FCS (although nowhere near as influential).
The MVFC is again ranked No. 1 in the GPI by a comfortable margin but Wolford believes it doesn’t get enough respect from the playoff committee.
“I don’t think we get enough credit for the strength of our conference across the country,” he said. “That’s something that we’re starting to get noticed for. But it remains to be seen if we’re really getting that respect when it comes to the [playoff] announcements.”
Wolford believes the Penguins can’t make the playoffs if they have more than three conference losses, a high standard considering the league’s balance.
“We’re in a conference that’s a dogfight every week,” he said. “It’s not like it was when you played an independent schedule [like YSU did in the early 1990s]. We’ve got eight or nine teams that can flat-out play.
“It’s the No. 1 conference in the nation and your mindset has to be that you’ve got to find a way to win your conference games.”
So far, YSU has done that.
With one more win, they’ll leave no doubt.