Published September 22, 2012http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
1. Earlier this week, I got an email from a reader who thought Youngstown State was lucky to beat Albany last week. I wrote back that I wasn't sure what to make of the Albany game.
I'm still not.
Honestly, I feel like tonight's game against Northern Iowa could end five different ways and all of them would look obvious in hindsight.
2. That said, it's hard to pick against the Penguins, so I won't. I think YSU wins 31-27.
3. Here's the case against Northern Iowa. The Panthers have played two emotional games in three weeks, losing both (to Wisconsin in the opener and Iowa last week). Both were physical teams. Now the Panthers are expected to play their third road game of the season against a fresher team with more motivation (thanks to an 11-game losing streak in the series)? Oh, and with North Dakota State looming next week?
I don't see it.
4. High school coaches often tell me that playing bigger teams isn't a problem on game day. It's the next week that's the problem because they're not as fresh. That's something to watch for.
5. YSU coach Eric Wolford has talked about how the schedule didn't do his team any favors this year. He was referring to having to play at North Dakota State two straight years, and having to open the conference slate with UNI, NDSU and Illinois State. (Not to mention the fact that the only conference team YSU doesn't play, Missouri State, is terrible. Although given the Penguins' record against MSU the past few years, maybe that's a good thing.)
Wolford has a point, but the schedule isn't as bad as it looks. The Pitt opener was followed by a de facto bye week against Valparaiso. And even though Albany tested YSU, there's no comparison between the Great Danes and Iowa.
Oh, and one more thing: Unlike UNI, YSU gets an open date before playing North Dakota State.
6. UNI, meanwhile, got absolutely no favors from the schedule-makers, and Panthers coach Mark Farley didn't try to hide his displeasure this week when I asked him about it.
"It's been difficult, no question," he said. "We just approach it as, week in and week out, we've got to get lined up and ready to play.
"But hey, we'll play when they ask us to play."
There's a decent chance the Panthers could be 1-4 after next week's game and still be one of the 10 best teams in the country. If so, they would need to win their final six games to make the playoffs and that's a tough task for anybody.
7. Much has been made of the fan excitement surrounding tonight's game and it's up to the Penguins to take advantage of it.
My story in the Vindicator today talked about how there's no excuse for YSU not to win. (You can read it here: http://www.vindy.com/news/2012/sep/22/penguins-face-uni-with-no-excuses/?newswatch.)
If the Penguins lose, they'll have missed a big opportunity to prove YSU football is back. It won't be as devastating as, say, last year's Missouri State loss. But there are still a few fans who believe Wolford talks bigger than he delivers.
A win tonight would change that.
8. I felt YSU's game plan -- offensively and defensively -- was really bland against Albany. I expect offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery (whose play-calling against Pitt was tremendous) to be a lot more creative. Same with defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, who stuck with YSU's base defense and rarely brought pressure against the Great Danes.
9. One more thing -- as good as RB Jamaine Cook is, it's time for YSU to put the game in Kurt Hess's hands. If Hess is the conference's best quarterback, let him show it.