The Youngstown State Penguins believe they're a Football Championship Subdivision playoff team.
They'll get one more chance to prove it today before turning their fate over to an 11-member committee of university athletic directors. That group, which includes YSU athletic director Ron Strollo, will select the 10 at-large teams for the 20-team playoff field.
Ten teams, including one from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, will earn automatic berths for winning their leagues.
Simply put, the Penguins must beat Missouri State today at Stambaugh Stadium and hope for a little help. The best such assistance seems to be Northern Iowa winning on the road against Illinois State, but a Southern Illinois upset of Indiana State wouldn't hurt, either.
But even if all three of those things happen, YSU's fate will still be decided by a handful of officials in a room. If the Penguins finish 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the MVFC and the voting still doesn't go their way, the reason will be close losses to conference rivals Indiana State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.
The last two were tough. The Penguins took a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter at home against the Jackrabbits, but gave up two touchdowns in the final 12:36 and lost, 35-28. YSU led the Panthers, 17-14, in the fourth quarter in the UNI-Dome, but were unable to run out the clock and gave up a late touchdown in a 21-17 defeat.
Many observers wrote off the Penguins after that loss, but YSU held unbeaten and top-ranked North Dakota State to a field goal in the second half last week at the Fargodome and stunned the Bison, 27-24.
It was the Penguins' first victory over a top-ranked opponent since 1997 and it's an indication YSU is on the verge of re-establishing itself as an FCS power.
"None of it matters if we don't win Saturday," Penguins coach Eric Wolford said.
The second-year coach is right. The Penguins can't afford to take a step back after such a significant victory last week. They did just about everything right against NDSU. They ran and passed effectively, played mistake-free football, controlled the line of scrimmage and time of possession and - perhaps most importantly - saw their young defense play with maturity and determination.
Beating the Bison marked - to this point - the signature victory for Wolford and his staff since they arrived at YSU. It should be the kind of win that serves notice to the other teams in the MVFC, the FCS and the people who will decide the postseason fate of several "bubble" teams on Sunday morning.
But the Penguins can do more to show they belong. They need to beat the Bears - who have won the last three games in the series -?convincingly and make the committee continue to take notice of football resurrection that is happening here.
And then root like hell for UNI and SIU.