The Youngstown State football team lost most of its big names to graduation, but there’s still plenty of respect for the program across the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Penguins had just one player on the MVFC’s preseason first team all-conference list — junior kick returner Andre Stubbs — but YSU was picked to finish fourth in the 10-team league despite graduating record-setting quarterback Kurt Hess.
YSU earned 240 points to finish behind three-time FCS champion North Dakota State (370), South Dakota State (330) and Northern Iowa (324) and just ahead of Southern Illinois (237). Illinois State, Missouri State, South Dakota, Western Illinois and Indiana State rounded out the poll.
A pre-season favorite has claimed the league crown 16 times (in 28 previous polls). North Dakota State was picked to win the league last season.
The Penguins went 5-3 in the conference last year but lost their last three games (to UNI, NDSU and SDSU) to fall out of the playoff race.
Last year, YSU was tabbed to finish fifth, but finished in a tie for second with multiple teams.
The Penguins do not play UNI this season for the first time since 1995.
Stubbs, who also plays wide receiver, earned first team all-conference honors last season after averaging 26.9 yards per kickoff return last season, which ranked third in school history. He had 1,198 all-purpose yards.
Two other Penguins, sophomore running back Martin Ruiz and senior long snapper Nathan Gibbs, earned preseason honorable mention.
Ruiz is coming off a record-setting freshman campaign that earned him the MVFC’s freshman and newcomer of the year honors. A second-team all-league pick, he set school freshman records for attempts (192), yards (1,094) and rushing touchdowns (15).
Ruiz finished behind two first team all-conference selections from last season: SDSU senior Zach Zenner and UNI senior David Johnson.
Gibbs has been YSU’s long snapper the last three years.
All 10 MVFC teams had at least one first team selection.
YSU opens the season at Illinois on Aug. 30.
Complete results, B2