Penguins seek own slice of FCS history
FRISCO, Texas (STATS) - Youngstown State's rich football tradition stares down on everybody who steps into the university's indoor training facility.
The biggest reminders are the national championship banners for the 1991, '93, '94 and '97 seasons.
"You see all the championship banners," Youngstown State quarterback Hunter Wells said. "They have a runner-up (banner) in '99 that I didn't even know about. I've never heard about the '99 team for that reason because no one cares if you almost win. You've got to win."
And that's the goal come Saturday.
The Penguins will be content with only one result when they face James Madison in the NCAA Division I FCS Championship Game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (noon ET, ESPNU). Make no mistake, they're not looking to add a banner similar to their 1992 and '99 national runner-up finishes.
With a victory, Youngstown State (12-3) would join fellow Missouri Valley Football Conference program North Dakota State with a fifth FCS title - second only to Georgia Southern's six.
"We're very aware," senior cornerback Kenny Bishop said of the tradition. "They come in all the time, the alumni, they come talk to us. But this is for us, I feel like. We want to do this for us. We're not really too big on the '90s, we were babies back then. So we want a ring of our own."
While Youngstown State's history is a big deal in the Ohio city - the architect of the 1990s dynasty, coach Jim Tressel, is now the university president - second-year coach Bo Pelini, a Youngstown native, keeps the focus on what the Penguins can do today to be better tomorrow.
"It's obvious that they see it every day when they walk in the doors and see the trophies and the pictures and all those other things. I don't talk about that stuff much," Pelini said. "More in recruiting than on a day-to-day basis."
In truth, a simple playoff bid would have sufficed for many at Youngstown State going into the season. The Penguins hadn't earned one since 2006 and they finished a mere 5-6 in Pelini's first season.
While every player may say they want to win the national championship, it basically wasn't realistic for the Penguins until they started playing at a higher level in the postseason. Unseeded, they are the first team to be playing a fifth playoff game since the FCS field expanded beyond 16 teams in 2010.
But they've won on the road, won when they trailed in the fourth quarter, won when they lost players to suspensions. And no triumph, of course, has been bigger than the 40-38 rally past second-seeded Eastern Washington on tight end Kevin Rader's touchdown catch on the back of a defender in the closing seconds.
"I've seen it enough times that I still get nervous when I see it," Wells said. "It's like, if he doesn't make that catch, what would have happened?"
Without it, the Penguins wouldn't have an opportunity to add to the banners above.