Every day, when Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford goes to work, he passes four NCAA national championship trophies on the way to his office. It serves as a reminder of where the program used to be, and where Wolford wants it to go.
Wolford grew up playing at nearby Ursuline High School in Youngstown, which plays its home games at the university’s Stambugh Stadium. He graduated in 1989, and went on to a successful college career as an offensive lineman at Kansas State.
Meanwhile, Jim Tressel was turning Youngstown into a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) dynasty. Under Tressel, the Penguins won NCAA titles in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997, and appeared in national championship games in 1992 and 1999.
|Eric Wolford||2010-present||12-13 *|
|* Through Sept. 15, 2012|
“Coach Tressel had this place rolling,” Wolford said. “They won four national championships and had a dynasty going. He set a very high standard.”
But, when Tressel left to become Ohio State’s head coach after the 2000 season, YSU’s football dominance came to a halt, earning just one NCAA playoff since 2001. It came in 2006 when they went 11-3 and lost in the semifinals to eventual national champion Appalachian State.
The 2006 playoff run was followed by three mediocre seasons, and after 2009, YSU began a search for a new head coach. Wolford had built a solid resume as an assistant coach that included stops at FBS schools like South Carolina, Illinois and Arizona, and was hired to bring the Penguins back to prominence.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Wolford stripped down the program, got rid of the dead wood and began to slowly rebuild.
YSU was competitive, but won only three games in 2010, and then markedly improved last year, going 6-5, which included an upset of eventual NCAA champion North Dakota State in Fargo.
This season, the Penguins are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2005. The 21 freshmen who played in 2011 are more mature and experienced. And, the team is pretty confident after opening the season with a 31-17 victory at FBS opponent Pittsburgh, who then beat No. 13 Virginia Tech two weeks later, making YSU’s win against the Panthers even more satisfying.
Two weeks ago, the Penguins posted a 59-0 shutout against Valparaiso, and last Saturday, YSU fended off Albany 31-24.
That brings us to Saturday, when fourth-ranked Youngstown State plays host to No. 8 Northern Iowa to open play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference — arguably the toughest FCS league in the nation.
The MVFC has five teams ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll — No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 3 Youngstown, No. 8 Northern Iowa, No. 15 Illinois State and No. 25 Indiana State — so the competition is stiff every weekend.
“This conference from top to bottom has teams that can beat you every week, just like when I was at South Carolina in the SEC,” Wolford said. “There’s that constant pressure. It doesn’t matter who you play and you better have your football team ready to play at high level.”
Saturday’s game will mark the first time that both teams have been ranked in the Top 25 at game time since 2007 when then No. 1-ranked UNI beat No. 20 Youngstown State 14-13 in Cedar Falls.
UNI enters the game 1-2, but don’t be fooled; those two losses are to FBS opponents Wisconsin and Iowa. Plus, the Panthers have history on their side. UNI has defeated Youngstown in 11 consecutive meetings, including five in a row at Stambaugh Stadium.
A win by the Penguins in Saturday’s contest would not only mean ending that lengthy losing streak to UNI and getting a leg up in the MVFC standings. It would signify another step in Wolford’s quest to turn YSU around, and put the Penguins back onto the winning path — a path that leads back to the days of national prominence.
• After coming out on top in a mid-week matchup against No. 1 UCLA on Wednesday, the second-ranked USC women’s volleyball team is back in action on Friday as it plays host to No. 8 Oregon. Both squads enter the match with perfect records. USC improved to 13-0 after beating the Bruins, while the Ducks downed rival Oregon State on Wednesday to improve to 10-0.
Oregon head coach Jim Moore is closing in on his 500th career victory as he boasts a 498-237 record during 24 seasons. However, the Trojans will not make that milestone easy to reach; USC has not lost a home match to Oregon in 21 consecutive meetings.
• The fourth annual Coal Bowl is the marquis matchup in Division II football this week as No. 6 California (Pa.) plays host to No. 14 Indiana (Pa.) on Saturday.
Look for this one to be a struggle between one of the most productive and one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Cal is putting up 34 points and 487.33 yards per game, while IUP has posted two consecutive shutouts and is outscoring foes by an average of 43-2 through the first three games.
On the flip side, the Vulcans are giving up just 77 yards rushing per game, while the Crimson Hawks are pounding the ground game for 325.33 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation.
The annual game was dubbed the Coal Bowl in 2009 when California alumnus Bob Lippencott (1966) and his brother Barry, a 1967 graduate of IUP, established football scholarships at their respective universities. The families, who have a long history of working in the coal industry, also donated a “Coal Pail” trophy presented to the winner of the rivalry game each year.
• While the No. 8 Virginia Tech (9-0-0) women’s soccer team has had the best start in program history, the Hokies certainly will be tested when they travel to No. 18 North Carolina on Thursday and play host to No. 4 Boston College on Sunday.
The Hokies set a school-record six consecutive shutouts with a 3-0 win against NC State to open Atlantic Coast Conference last Sunday. An integral reason for the Hokies’ stinginess has been the return of goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts, who missed the first five games of the season while she was playing with the Canadian U-20 National Team at the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Colpitts, a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, has started each of Tech’s last four games, playing every minute, and not allowing a goal during the span.
The Virginia Tech-UNC contest will be broadcast live on ESPN3 (7 p.m. ET Thursday).
• Big East Conference men’s soccer gears up on Saturday, and the meeting between No. 13 St. John’s and No. 2 Connecticut is sure to delight. The game, which will be held in Storrs, is already sold out, and the Huskies are looking to extend their 30-game home unbeaten streak. Both teams are unbeaten entering Saturday’s game — UConn improved to 6-0-1 with a 2-0 win against Boston College on Wednesday, while the Red Storm boasts a 5-0-3 mark.
However, soccer fans don’t look for any big numbers on the scoreboard as UConn’s Andre Blake and St. John’s Rafael Diaz showcase their goalkeeping talents.
Blake leads the conference with a 0.32 goals against average, while Diaz follows at 0.46. In save percentage, Diaz tops the league at .886, while Blake follows at .875. Diaz has collected four shutouts on the season, and Blake has three. Can anyone say scoreless tie?
• No. 18 Widener enters the fourth week of the season as the national scoring leader in Division III football with 57.0 points per game. The Pride, who also were ranked No. 1 in scoring offense last season (47.09 ppg), will host Wilkes in a Middle Atlantic Conference game on Saturday.
Widener looks to avenge last year’s loss to Wilkes behind the leadership of senior quarterback Chris Haupt, who was one of 10 finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding Division III football player as a junior. Following a 432-yard, five-touchdown performance at Misericordia last week, Haupt ranks 20th in the nation with 311.7 passing yards per game.
• The Sonoma State women’s soccer squad moved up to No. 2 in the latest NSCAA Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll after posting a pair of shutouts in California Collegiate Athletic Association play last week, and will host a duo of league teams as the Seawolves try to remain perfect this weekend.
Junior transfer Cara Curtin is a huge reason for the Seawolves’ success as she leads the CCAA with 18 points on seven goals and four assists. Curtin has enjoyed her share of success. She was the NSCAA Women’s Junior College Division III National Player of the Year from the 2011 state champion Santa Rosa JC squad.
The Seawolves look to improve on their second best start in school history against Chico State on Friday and No. 21 Cal State Stanislaus on Sunday.
• The Young Harris men’s soccer team cracked the Top 10 in the NSCAA Division II Top 25 Coaches’ Poll for the first time in the program’s history after the Mountain Lions picked up their first victory as a member of the Peach Belt Conference and moved to 5-0-0 on the year. No. 6 Young Harris is in candidacy year two of the NCAA Division II membership process, and will be eligible for both conference regular season and tournament titles in 2012.
“The national recognition is fantastic for our program,” head coach Mark McKeever said. “It shows the leaps and bounds we have made in the past couple of years. I’m really happy for our seniors who have stuck by the program and represented to the fullest of their ability. Now they can leave knowing they represented a team who was recognized nationally and as a top team in the region.”
The Mountain Lions are gearing up with game against fellow PBC member No. 14 Flagler on Saturday.
Young Harris has three matches — PBC foes South Carolina-Aiken and No. 14 Flagler as well as non-conference opponent Georgia Gwinnett — on the schedule this week, all coming at the friendly confines of the Frances Wood Wilson Soccer Field. The USC-Aiken match was played Wednesday, with the Flagler match scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Young Harris will face Georgia Gwinnett at 2 p.m. Sunday.
• No. 2 Calvin and No. 4 Hope will clash in Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Division III women’s volleyball contest on Friday as both teams look to remain unbeaten in league action.
Last year, Calvin won both regular season match-ups and downed the Flying Dutch in the MIAA Tournament. In 2010, Hope swept the regular season against Calvin.
• In Division I field hockey, two of the nation’s best will collide in a non-conference meeting on Sunday as No. 3 Princeton plays host to No. 2 Syracuse. The Tigers are led by senior Kathleen Sharkey, who currently tops the nation in points (31) and goals per game (2.17), while Syracuse’s balanced attack has seen almost every Orange play score a goal in their first seven games. Princeton owns the series advantage, 11-4, but lost 5-0 to the Orange in Syracuse last year.
• No. 7 Wesley will face its third consecutive top-25 opponent as the Wolverines travel to No. 25 Louisiana College on Saturday. The string of games versus ranked foes began at then-No. 6 Salisbury, which Wesley defeated 17-7. The Wolverines then played host to then-No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor last week, losing 35-25, and look to rebound against the Wildcats this week.
|East Texas Baptist||Marshall, Texas||1,338|
|Louisiana College||Pineville, La.||1,266|
|Total Miles: 6,551 | Avg. Mileage: 1,310.2|
It is the first time in program history the Wolverines will face three ranked opponents back-to-back-to-back. And, they could face a fourth consecutive ranked foe if No. 13 Birmingham Southern stays in the Top 25 when the two teams play on Oct. 6.
“When we made our schedule, we knew that it was going to be tough, but we had no idea it was going to include ranked teams every weekend,” head coach Mike Drass said.
In addition to the tough slate, the travel the Wolverines are enduring this season is also daunting. In its second year as an Independent, Wesley needs to go where the games are and travel is part of the deal. The Wolverines will rack up more than 6,500 miles on the road this season.
“Scheduling as an independent has been challenging,” Drass said. “When we scheduled Menlo [in California] a couple of years ago, we had no idea we would be picking up Louisiana College and East Texas Baptist as away trips the same year. Our goal is to play a schedule of teams all within 4 hours of Wesley, but we have had little success attaining that goal.”
In his 20th season at the helm of the program, Drass is not put off by the extra challenge of being on the road.
“As a team we have always traveled,” Drass said. “We honestly don’t get phased by it. Over the years, we have played all over the country, and this Saturday, when we play in Louisiana College, it will be the 19th State we have played in since I became head coach.”
• Florida Tech may not an official football program yet, but the Panthers are already sporting some new duds. The school, which will join the Division II’s Gulf South Conference as a football-only member in 2013, unveiled its new uniforms last Friday.
The next day, the Panthers entertained a crowd of 1,700 fans in Palm Bay, Fla., with the program’s first intrasquad scrimmage at Pirate Stadium. Head coach Steve Englehart has organized this fall as if the team is preparing to play opponents, and is following a strict schedule of practices, scrimmages, meetings, work outs and study halls.
“[The fan support] was great,” Englehart said. “The crowd was loud. It was a nice crowd that almost filled up the home side. It was good to see our students, faculty, staff and the community come out.”
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy