YOUNGSTOWN - Don't think for a second that every player involved in the Youngstown State-Ohio State game on Saturday hasn't thought about what happened last year with Appalachian State and Michigan.
The Mountaineers monumental upset of Michigan sent shockwaves through all of college football, and it gave hope to every Football Championship Subdivision team (formerly known as Division I-AA) that plays a Bowl Championship Series team.
Youngstown State is one of those teams, and the Penguins are entering the game with the mentality that an upset is on the mend.
"Oh yeah," Youngstown State senior defensive back Jarvis Richards said of whether the Penguins have talked about Appalachian State's 34-32 upset. "That's in the back of everybody's mind. I'm pretty sure in Ohio State, it's in the back of their mind, too."
The Mountaineers became the first FCS team to beat a ranked BCS team. Youngstown State is hoping for a similar upset when the Penguins take on No.2-ranked Ohio State at noon on Saturday. The Buckeyes insist they aren't looking past Youngstown State, and Appalachian State serves as a reminder to never underestimate the opponent.
"That's one of the reasons we're not taking Youngstown State lightly," senior Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "In college football, any team can beat anybody on any given day."
While the Mountaineers were finishing off the Wolverines last year, YSU was licking its wounds after a 38-6 loss to the Buckeyes, so a lot of change must occur for any type of upset to happen.
The Penguins played well at times year, containing Chris "Beanie" Wells to just 46 yards on 16 carries and holding Ohio State's offense to three points in the third quarter. But the vaunted Buckeye defense allowed just 91 yards of total offense and two field goals.
This year's version of the YSU offense will be entirely different. Todd Rowan takes over at quarterback after four-year starter Tom Zetts graduated. The offensive system changed to a spread-out look with multiple receivers to accommodate the strong arm of Rowan, a LaBrae High School graduate. The different look coupled with the fact that there aren't scrimmages in college football has made preparation a difficult task for coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes.
"Offensively, we gather that they've gone to a new spread offense, so it's a little bit of a guessing game for us," said Tressel, who coached the Penguins to four national titles and a 135-57-2 record from 1986 to 2000. "We really don't know what they're going to be doing because there's a whole bunch of different kinds of spread. There's spreads where the pass is primary. There are spreads where the run is primary and there are spreads where you do it all. So we're preparing as if they can do it all."
So if YSU has any advantage, it's the element of surprise and uncertainty. But it will be a challenge for the Penguins to execute any phase of the spread well against what is arguably the toughest defense in the nation. Jenkins and All-American senior linebacker James Laurinaitis both opted to return for their senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. Jenkins said he's confident in the defense but added that it will be hard to know what's coming against the Penguins.
"We can't use the film from last year," said Jenkins, referring to the fact that YSU's offense has changed. "It's kind of hard to know what to prepare for because we haven't seen what they bring to the table so we're going to learn on the run."
The Ohio State offense is almost identical to last year. Both starting receivers, the starting running back and the starting quarterback all return. While Wells had one of his worst games of the year, quarterback Todd Boeckman threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns. His main target was senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie, who caught nine passes for 153 yards. Richards will match up against Robiskie, a challenge he's looking forward to.
"I relish it," Richards said. "I've been talking about it all summer. Ever since last year's game, I've been looking forward to it. I'm ready to go and see where I'm at."
Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock said he never enters a game expecting to lose, and he's made sure his team knows the expectations.
"The idea when you play a game is to win and that's what we're trying to do," Heacock said. "So we're going to do everything we can in our power to do that."
By the way, Appalachian State went on to win its third straight FCS title in '07, while Michigan regrouped and beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl.