On Monday, Youngstown State’s athletic website posted this letter from head coach Eric Wolford:
“Youngstown State Fans,
These last two weeks we watched as you took it upon yourselves to spread the word nationally about Youngstown State football and our community.
As we enter the final two games of the MVFC schedule, we need that enthusiasm and passion even more now. When it gets to the third down, Rock Stambaugh!!! Heck even on first and second down let’s make it a loud place. We can make our own memories these final two games.
We value your support more than anything. You are the most important people to us. The Youngstown State fans and supporters. We appreciate each and every one of you. Now is the time for us to come together and show what we are made of.
We play for Youngstown. We play for You!”
The letter — the first of its kind from Wolford — seemed to acknowledge that last weekend’s loss to UNI sapped much of the excitement around Saturday’s game against North Dakota State.
YSU fans had been pushing for ESPN’s College GameDay to come to Youngstown for the contest, and the city apparently was very much in the discussion, according to GameDay producer Lee Fitting, who wrote this on his Twitter account on Sunday: “Yes. #Youngstown State, hosting @NDSUathletics was in the mix for @CollegeGameDay this week, until they lost last night. Next time.”
GameDay analyst Kirk Hebrstreit went a step further, tweeting that Youngstown “was the leader in the middle of the afternoon.”
If you’re a YSU fan, it’s best not to dwell on this. It’s over. Your chance to date Kate Upton has passed (for now).
When asked about the GameDay possibility earlier this week, Wolford said, “I don’t know. I don’t get caught up in all those kinds of things. We’re just excited to be back at home. We haven’t played them [the Bison] here in two years.”
It was the perfect answer. With or without GameDay, this is still a big game. The two-time defending national champs are in town. The Missouri Valley Football Conference title is on the line. Jim Tressel will be inducted into YSU’s Hall of Fame. (Note to all those uppity NDSU fans who seem offended that YSU is honoring a “cheater”: Go soak your head.)
November games have traditionally been a tough sell at YSU over the past decade, as lousy weather scares off businesses (who buy hundreds of tickets in order to draw a big tailgate crowd) and playoff-less teams scare off fans. It doesn’t help that Wolford’s teams have tended to shrink in the spotlight. (See last October and the Missouri State game in 2011.)
But with a Saturday forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s, weather isn’t an excuse. And if you’re skeptical of YSU’s chances of pulling the upset, well, staying home and watching the Ohio State-Illinois massacre isn’t going to help.
“We’ve always said since we’ve been here, since Day 1, we play for Youngstown,” Wolford said. “This is what we’re all here for. This is what I came here for.”
By Thursday afternoon, YSU had distributed a little over 10,000 tickets, which is well below the season average of 14,480. The school is giving away four tickets to military personnel — active or not — and has promoted the game on TV and the radio, as well as in this newspaper.
But no amount of promotion is going to change what seems increasingly obvious: There just isn’t much excitement about this team. And until YSU proves it can play with the best — like Tressel’s teams did — that probably won’t change.
“On Saturday at 2 o’clock, we’ll be kicking that ball off and find out if we’re ready to take that next step,” Wolford said.
The question is, will you be there?