The team that Youngstown State used to be will host “College GameDay” on Saturday.
The team that Youngstown State was supposed to be will get hours of free publicity in front of millions of viewers on the best pregame show in sports.
The team that Youngstown State wants to be will hold a party in downtown Fargo, N.D., with tens of thousands of fans laughing at Lee Corso’s jokes and soaking in Kirk Herbstreit’s compliments and savoring the chance to be known for more than being the place where Carl’s body got fed into a woodchipper in the Coen Brothers movie.
And it’s hard not to feel a little bit jealous.
Obviously, the fact that ESPN has chosen North Dakota State is a boon to both the Missouri Valley Football Conference and FCS football, which has lost several high-profile programs in the past few years, including Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
When YSU coach Eric Wolford was asked about GameDay this week, he said all the right things, calling it “awesome” and “great for our conference” and “good exposure.”
But it’s also a reminder that, just nine years after moving up from Division II, North Dakota State sits atop the FCS world.
And YSU doesn’t.
When GameDay senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting was asked by the Associated Press why ESPN would depart from its typical big-campus backdrops (Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, etc.), he said: “North Dakota State, in a way, is sort of the Alabama of the FCS. They’re two-time defending national champions, ranked No. 1 in the current poll, 10 national titles for the program.”
YSU, of course, used to be the Alabama of I-AA, winning four national titles in the 1990s and playing for two others. While it’s unrealistic to think that will ever happen again — Jim Tressels are hard to find and even harder to keep — NDSU’s rise has occurred at the same time YSU has been mired in mediocrity, going 38-43 in MVFC play since 2001 (Jon Heacock’s first year) with just one playoff berth.
Wolford was supposed to reverse that trend, but he’s gone 9-15 in conference play, including 4-4 the past two years. If YSU can finish third in the MVFC this fall, it would be cause for celebration.
That’s not exactly what YSU’s administrators had in mind four years ago when they poured significant resources into upgrading the football program.
“I personally think Youngstown State should be the Alabama, Southern Cal, Oklahoma of I-AA football,” said Bob Hannon, YSU’s play-by-play announcer for the last 23 years. “I think if those programs went 7-5, 8-4, it would be alarming. I think it should be alarming here if they’re not 10-2, 11-1, 9-3. That’s the expectation. I think that’s where it should be. If that’s not where it is, let’s come out and say, ‘That’s not where we think we should be.’ But I think it [the expectation] should be there.”
Is that fair? Doesn’t matter. It’s the standard Tressel set and the standard Wolford has repeatedly embraced.
It’s also the standard North Dakota State has reached, and all of college football will know about it on Saturday.
Sure would be nice if it were happening here.