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DZENIS: Penguins fever has cooled off

Saturday, September 8, 2018

There isn’t quite the same buzz today for a Youngstown State versus an FBS team matchup.

Coming off a 23-21 loss to the athletic scholarship-free Butler, it’s hard to feel great about the Penguins as they face No. 17 West Virginia.

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples called the Penguins’ defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs the biggest win in any sport in Butler’s history, a win that stands up even if Gordon Heyward’s shot downed Duke the 2010 national title game. He contends its even bigger than Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007.

“Appalachian State — which has since moved to FBS — had 63 scholarships to Michigan’s 85,” Staples wrote. “Youngstown State had a 63-0 edge in scholarships.”

That’s nice for Butler, but Youngstown hasn’t taken much time to appreciate the game that way. The YSU message boards are a dour sight.

The bookies in Las Vegas aren’t touching today’s game. A common question in my inbox is “is Bo Pelini on the hot seat?” and the answer is no, but it’s easy to see why the fanbase is getting restless.

The Penguins (0-1) are staring down the possibility of being 0-2 for the first time since 2008 in the Jon Heacock era.

Pelini is looking at having that record for the first time as a head coach.

In the long view, the Penguins are continuing to be a letdown after the 2016 national title game and one would think the Penguins learned after getting blown out by Illinois State last year with the playoffs on the line.

It’s disconcerting to hear defensive tackle Savon Smith say players have been late to meetings and practices. The Penguins need all the preparation they can get for WVU.

The Mountaineers (1-0) are considered a dark horse for the College Football Playoff and the status comes with having Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier. So far, he’s lived up to the hype with 429 passing yards and five touchdowns against a rebuilding Tennessee for a 40-14 win.

But enough about the Mountaineers’ star, there’s another signal-caller on offense worth shouting out. Hubbard grad Matt Jones will be directing the guys responsible for keeping Grier upright as the team’s starting center.

The redshirt-junior won the starting job last year, then briefly lost it in spring ball this year when he was hurt before having to win his job again this fall.

West Virginia did not make Jones available for comment this week.

Youngstown State has nothing to lose in Morgantown, just like Butler in Youngstown last week. The path to the FCS playoffs still exists even if the Penguins reach the dreaded 0-2. The Michigan team that lost to Appalachian State started 0-2 before beating four top 25 teams in the Associated Press poll to finish 9-4 with a win over No. 9 Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Basically, the Wolverines showed there’s life after a historic loss — but not a win against Ohio State.

There’s time for YSU to show some life this season. Right now, it’s just hard to say that with a lot of confidence.

Brian Dzenis covers YSU Athletics for The Vindicator. Email him at bdzenis@vindy.com