With all the COVID-19 drama going on, the start of football all together is bleak at the moment. However, if there is a season for Youngstown State, this may well be a reboot again. A new coach, new turf, and a new class coming in. With that being said, let’s look at three teams the Penguins should look out for in 2020.
Three teams the Penguins should look out for in 2020
One of Youngstown States’ most important games of the season comes during week one against their former rivals, the Akron Zips. Going back, the battle for the Steel Tire was one of the most important rivalry trophies. The first meeting between these two was in 1940 when Youngstown State (back then Youngstown College) beat the Zips 13-0.
This was during the time as well when most of the players did not have the shoulder pads they do now today and the forward pass. The last meeting between these two was in 1995 with the Penguins winning 24-10.
The Penguins are starting from scratch again and look to face off against their old rivals while trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Akron, meanwhile, is coming off of an 0-12 campaign and is hungry for their first win since 2018 when they beat Central Michigan 17-10.
For the Penguins, their defense is going to be the biggest part of this game. The offense is important, but the Penguins’ defense was known for forcing turnovers early on in the season. Guys like Zaire Jones, Ray Anderson, and Antoine Cook are one of the biggest players to look out for and if they play a big impact in the game.
Do not be surprised if this game comes down to the wire. Youngstown State looks to get Doug Phillips his first win while the Zips look to end a winless streak. This might be one of the biggest openers in the FCS season.
2. Eastern Kentucky
The next team on this list is another non-conference matchup. And this team, just like Akron, has had a few matchups in the past with the Penguins.
Both of these teams were once conference rivals, trying to win the Ohio-Valley football conference from 1981 to 1988. In the postseason, the penguins have won two games against the Colonels. In the first round of the 1989 Division 1-AA playoffs, Youngstown State would go on to win the game 28-24, which was their first-ever 1-AA playoff victory.
That win was the first win against the Colonels since 1968 when the Penguins won 26-12. The Penguins would go on to win four more times, with both teams having their last game against each other on December 3rd, 1994, where Youngstown State just squeezed by winning 18-15. The Penguins would go on to the National Championship that same season, beating Boise State 28-14.
Both teams that were once solid football programs have now struggled since the 90s. Since 2010, Eastern Kentucky has made it to the playoffs twice, losing in the first round both times to James Madison and Indiana State.
The Penguins, meanwhile, did make it to the playoffs in 2006 and the National Championship in 2016 but lost in both of them. Since then, they have struggled finishing games, and now they have to reboot again with Phillips taking the top spot.
Both teams are going to be hungry for a win, and with their old history, look for this game to be another non-conference Classic here in 2020.
1.North Dakota State
When people talk about North Dakota State, the first thing that pops to their mind is the “Alabama of the FCS.” It makes sense, because every season, this is the Penguins’ toughest opponent.
Youngstown State has had their chances of beating their Missouri Valley Football conference rivals, but on most occasions, they would just come up short with the exception of the blowout loss a year ago. In last year’s game, the Bison jumped out early and often with the decisive victory.
Youngstown State will have to watch out for the powerful quarterback play led by Trey Lance who had 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Lance is on the brink of becoming a talented future first-round pick, which is why it’s really important for the Penguins to beat them this year.
On a positive note, two quarterbacks in Joe Craycraft and Mark Waid have experience playing against the Bison last season once Nathan Mays went down with a season-ending injury. Craycraft was five for 10 with 44 yards and a touchdown pass to Miles Joiner.
Waid, meanwhile, was five for 10 with 51 yards passing which didn’t look good on paper, but then had eight carries for 79 yards and a touchdown in the 56-17 loss.
The biggest hope, for now, is if we have a new football season in 2020. Right now, it seems very skeptical that we might not get a season due to more players testing positive from different teams. No players have yet to test positive for the Penguins, so let’s keep it that way and get ready for the season.