Thankfully for Bo Pelini, a four-loss season at the FCS level isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The fiery Penguins head coach was maligned at Nebraska despite winning at least nine games every season. The administration believed that the school could do better and let go of the man who sometimes ruffled a lot of feathers.
Nebraska’s decision has quickly paid dividends for Youngstown State. The Penguins had been down on their luck, making the playoffs just once in the previous 15 seasons. In only his second year, though, Pelini led Youngstown State all the way to the FCS Championship Game in 2016, falling just short in the team’s title quest.
It was a magical season and signaled that the once-mighty Penguins might finally be back.
2016 Youngstown State Football Season In Review
The Penguins switched quarterbacks at the midway point of the season and saw their decision rewarded.
Ricky Davis and Trent Hosick were the two starters for the first half of year, but the team’s offense sputtered with these two at the helm. Davis and Hosick combined to complete just 67 of 127 passes for 1,036 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. Opponents didn’t respect the passing game, which kept Youngstown State’s running game from reaching its full potential.
Pelini said enough was enough in late October and gave the keys to the offense to Hunter Wells. While he didn’t ‘wow’ anyone with his numbers, Wells proved to be just what the Penguins needed.
In the postseason, he was simply sublime. Wells kept defenses honest by throwing just enough to make them respect the vertical threat. He was 77 of 123 through the air for 1,120 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, and he was a big reason why the Penguins went on a miracle playoff run.
Throughout the season, the running game was fantastic. Youngstown State finished the season with 4,228 rushing yards and had two backs finish with over 1,000 yards on the ground. The Penguins rode their stable of runners hard, wearing opponents down over the course of the game.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Penguins outscored their opponents 161 to 76 last fall. The defense didn’t allow too many big gains and kept the team close enough so it could win the game late.
That strategy led to the Penguins knocking off the second- and third-ranked teams in the country on their way to the FCS Championship Game.
2017 Youngstown State Football Season Preview
Wells will begin the season as the starter and will look to continue to improve his overall game. He will be asked to do more this season with some of the losses in the running game.
Both of last season’s leading rushers are gone, and that puts the pressure on Tevin McCaster to succeed. McCaster was the team’s third-leading rusher in 2016 and will figure to get even more carries this year.
Pelini’s teams have always been noted for their defenses. This unit was solid during the Penguins’ magical run last season, especially the secondary. But 2016 will be a test.
The Penguins must replace their entire secondary and their two fantastic defensive ends. Avery Moss and Derek Rivers combined for 37 tackles for loss and 26 sacks last season and will certainly be missed. This team also deflected 78 passes last year, so losing all that talent among the defensive backs will hurt.
2017 Youngstown State Football Schedule
September 2: Youngstown State at Pittsburgh
September 9: Youngstown State vs. Robert Morris
September 16: Youngstown State vs. Central Connecticut State
September 30: Youngstown State vs. South Dakota State
October 7: Youngstown State at South Dakota
October 14: Youngstown State vs. North Dakota State
October 21: Youngstown State at Northern Iowa
October 28: Youngstown State vs. Illinois State
November 4: Youngstown State at Indiana State
November 11: Youngstown State at Southern Illinois
November 18: Youngstown State vs. Missouri State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The Penguins shouldn’t get tested in their two non-conference FCS games. Both Robert Morris and Central Connecticut State went 2-9 last season and won’t provide much of a fight.
In conference play, though, the Penguins will face a tough task right out of the gate. This young team will battle a veteran South Dakota State squad in its MVC opener and will likely be an underdog. Although Youngstown State will be at home, the Penguins are going to need some time to gel, so go against them in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests this week.