Published: Monday, October 9, 2006
Warning: Hard road ahead
YOUNGSTOWN Is it possible to win a game 55-17 and still feel like you were in a real battle?
"I know that I feel that way," said Youngstown State head coach Jon Heacock following Saturday's Gateway Conference win over Indiana State. "That team might be winless, but we spent more hours preparing for them than we did against any other team we've played this year."
The Sycamores give teams several different looks, which forced the Penguins to be prepared for anything.
"That's because they force you to do it," he added. "You have to prepare for all of them, even if they don't use them against you."
Heacock said he thought the team was well-prepared.
"We had that one letup in the third quarter and we didn't win the turnover margin," he said.
The Penguins had one turnover in the game while the Sycamores didn't have any. Still, the Penguins are 5-1 on the year and 2-0 in the Gateway.
They now have to face the five toughest opponents the conference has to offer. Three of those games will be on the road.
YSU plays at Western Illinois on Saturday in a 2:05 p.m. kickoff in McComb, Ill.
The Leathernecks are 3-3 on the season and 0-2 in the Gateway following a hard-fought loss to Southern Illinois 31-24 on Saturday in Carbondale, Ill.
"Any time you go on the road in this conference you're down 7-0 already," Heacock said. "I told our guys after the game that it takes four quarters of hard play against every Gateway team and we got away with just three this week."
The Penguins scored 55 points against a team that had been giving up 51 points a game. They had 493 yards against a team that is allowing more than 500 yards a game.
YSU has probably played and beat the two worst teams in the conference and that means they have the five best teams ahead of them.
After they play the Leathernecks on Saturday, the Penguins come back home to meet Northern Iowa, a team that Heacock has never beaten in five previous tries. Northern Iowa holds a 7-2 mark against the Penguins since it joined the Gateway in 1997.
After the Panthers (who were the NCAA I-AA national runners-up a year ago), the Penguins must go back on the road to meet Illinois State, which just might be the best team in the conference.
YSU will come back home and play Southern Illinois, the only unbeaten team in the Gateway and finish the regular season against Western Kentucky on the road in what might be the Hilltoppers' final game as a member of the conference.
Western Kentucky has indicated that it wants to go up to Division I-A status in football and is waiting for conformation from the school's administration.
They are putting millions of dollars into a stadium renovation plan, which would be for no reason if they were to remain I-AA.
Since the Penguins blistered the Hilltoppers 42-10 a year ago in Youngstown, they will be all the more fired up to get revenge.
All indications are for the Hilltoppers to become members of the Sun Belt Conference by 2009. They are already members of that conference is all sports but football.
That leads us to the next question as to what the Gateway will do if Western Kentucky bolts. The Hilltoppers have only been members since the 2001 season.
Rumors have it that North Dakota State is seriously interested in joining the Gateway and South Dakota State would probably follow if that should happen.
It wouldn't exactly make it all that convenient for YSU to add all that extra traveling expenses to the Dakotas every other year, but it could happen. There aren't a lot of teams available or looking for a new conference these days.
Then there is always the fact that Indiana State, which has lost 23 straight games and hasn't won since the 2004 season, could decide to drop football at any time.
The Sycamores talked about it several years ago and have downsized their stadium. A second straight winless season could start that conversation all over again.
But, first let's just worry about Western Illinois and next Saturday's big contest in McComb.