The Youngstown State Penguins will take to the road traveling roughly seven hours from Youngstown to Champaign, Illinois to open their 74th season of football against Big Ten member, Illinois.
The Penguins, who are entering their fifth season under the direction of Eric Wolford. Under Wolford YSU has yet to qualify for the NCAA FCS Playoffs, but have made improvements every season including finishing 8-4 overall last season and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley.
Some feel that Wolford could be on the hot-seat entering this season, but his seat might not be as hot as the man who will be standing across the sideline from him at high-noon on Saturday.
Tim Beckman is entering his third season as head coach for Illinois. After a solid three years at Toledo, the Berea, Ohio native has had some trouble getting the recent misfortunes of the Illini football program to change going 6-18 in two season, including a horrible 1-15 in Big Ten games.
So that brings us to this contest, with two coaches feeling some heat looking to get their seasons off on the right foot and hoping that the momentum of a week one victory can help propel their teams to winning records and postseason births.
Why Illinois will win: Despite being a bottom feeder in the Big Ten the past couple years, there is no arguing that Illinois should win any contest they play against a team from the Missouri Valley not named North Dakota State, especially on their home field.
The Illini defense which will more than likely be towards the bottom of the Big Ten in 2014 would probably fear the Penguins more if Kurt Hess was still under center, but gone is the four-year starter and in is junior Dante Nania who has been a backup for much of his YSU career.
Offensively Illinois will have a new starting quarterback this season, but they have a good one in Wes Lunt, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State. In his lone season for the Cowboys Lunt completed 81 of 131 passes for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns while appearing in six games and starting five.
The Illini however won’t have to put the whole game on Lunt’s shoulders as they return junior running back Josh Ferguson who broke out in 2013 with a team-high 779 yards and seven touchdowns. The Penguins however can not just look for Ferguson bursting through the line with the ball as the Doak Walker Award candidate also caught 50 passes for 532 yards while averaging 112.6 all-purpose yards per game.
Why Youngstown State will win: Not many people gave the Penguins a fighting chance in 2012 when they traveled to Pittsburgh to take on Pitt, a game which saw Youngstown State walk away with a convincing 31-17 season opening victory.
That was two-years ago however and gone are the Penguins two main offensive weapons from the 2012 season.
Though Youngstown State is uncertain about how Nania will fill the big shoes left behind by Hess at quarterback, his job should be easier with sophomore Martin Ruiz in the backfield carrying the load of the carries for the Penguins. Last season saw Ruiz burst onto the scene with 1,094 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
For Youngstown State to win this game, they are going to need to play some flawless football on both sides of the ball…………It’s a longshot, but anything is possible. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
-This is the 125th year of Illinois football, so this will the quasquicentennial for Illini football.
– Illinois is 13-0 all-time against FCS teams, with an average margin of victory of over 28 points.
– The last time Illinois took on a team from the Missouri Valley was in 2013 when they defeated Southern Illinois by a score of 42-34.
– The Penguins are 0-6 against Big Ten teams, losing twice to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State.