When the final second ticked off on Youngstown State's 2010 football season, coach Eric Wolford must have wondered what hit him.
The Penguins finished with a 3-8 record, losing their final seven games. Each of those final seven losses could have gone the other way if the Penguins had made a few big plays either offensively or defensively.
If a highlight film of the season was produced, an appropriate title would be: "Heartbreak City." YSU was outscored, 244-205, in those seven straight defeats, an average of 5.6 points a game. Three of those games were won by the opponents - North Dakota State, Western Illinois and Illinois State - with one minute or less remaining to play. Northern Iowa scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
How Wolford didn't go Woody Hayes and take out his frustrations on a sideline marker is amazing. If ever a coach had a right to momentarily lose it, it was Wolford.
The good news is that there's always next season. Wolford is considered a strong recruiter of talent. He'll have to be at his best in that capacity in the coming months to bring in the talent needed to put the Penguins back into the FCS national title picture.
At first glance, one of Wolford's first tasks will be to strengthen a secondary that was awful. Opposing quarterbacks had no trouble moving the ball, at times with ease. Breakdowns in the deep secondary were alarming at crucial moments late in games.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference is obviously an offensive-minded affiliation. Coaches often go into games knowing that scoring 30 points might not be enough to get the job done, and in some cases it might take 40 points.
The Penguins took defensive weakness to a whole new level. The pass rush was anemic, the run defense was shaky at times and the aforementioned problems in pass coverage are too long to list here.
The thing that made the Penguins so successful during the Jim Tressel era was the play of the defense. A typical game against a quality team invariably would see YSU steadily wear down the opponent in the second half with a potent ground attack and a suffocating defense.
Getting more physical among the front seven and adding players that can cover well in the secondary will be critical as Wolford continues to put his imprint on the roster.
The task Wolford faces on offense starts at quarterback. Kurt Hess, a redshirt freshman this season, looked like the long-term answer at times, but there were times late in the season when he didn't look like the answer. He finished a respectable 179 of 304 for 2,117 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Wolford emphasized the ground game in recruiting three running backs this year - Adaris Bellamy, Jordan Thompson and Allen Jones. Those three will join junior-to-be Jamaine Cook, who was outstanding in rushing for 1,312 yards.
Wolford might need to bring in a quarterback next year to complement an impressive stable of backs. Hess doesn't have a cannon for a right arm, but he made up for that with accuracy and generally being careful with the football, but when you watched some of the impressive quarterbacks at other MVFC programs, Hess didn't always compare favorably.
The MVFC mirrors other levels of football these days in that at times it's a quarterback's league. Among talented quarterbacks that will return next season are Tirrell Rennie (Northern Iowa), Matt Brown (Illinois State) and Ronnie Fouch (Indiana State). The Penguins need to decide if Hess can match those quarterbacks for last-game heroics.
There's obviously no need to recruit any running backs, but there is a need to strengthen the corps of receivers. Dominique Barnes led the group with 67 receptions, but his college career is finished. Ely Ducatel, who will be a senior, was 40 receptions behind Barnes with 27. Kevin Watts, who will be a sophomore, and Julian Harrell, a junior to be, need to make strides.
The offensive line, which was a bright spot, loses center Justin Rechichar, guard Bobby Coates and guard Eric Rodemoyer. This is an area that will probably receive offseason attention during the recruiting process.
About three months remain until national signing day. You can bet that Wolford is already busy working the phone lines and hitting the highways.