YOUNGSTOWN - Some cynics might balk at the use of Youngstown State University and playoffs in the same sentence.
However, despite a winless October and an under-.500 record in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Penguins are still mathematically alive to get an at-large bid in the FCS Playoffs.
"I know that we need to take care of business this week, and that's our only focus," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "I know if we do what we are capable of, then we can be in control of our own destiny."
However, unless the Penguins can win out their last two games (which would give the Penguins a 7-4 record) and get a little help from other opponents, the season will be over in November. While all of that can be debated - all the Penguins know is they control their fate.
"Last year we had a chance, if we would have gone 7-4, we could have made the playoffs, we are kind of holding our hats on that," Penguins defensive lineman Aronde Stanton said. "We just have to take it week by week and focus on Western Illinois this week."
And Western Illinois, on paper, should be a game the Penguins win easily.
YSU has had its fair share of good fortune against the Leathernecks. The Penguins have won won seven of its last eight against Western Illinois and last season scored a conference-high 56 points against the team.
This season, the Penguins (5-4) are the favorite, as the Leathernecks are struggling with a 3-6 record and are on their own four-game losing streak.
For the Penguins to start a new winning streak, they will probably turn to the likes of running back Jamaine Cook. The senior, who was named MVFC Offensive Player of the Week, rushed for 203 yards in last week's victory over South Dakota. Western Illinois is allowing 184.8 yards rushing per game - which makes the offensive line very happy. However, left guard Lamar Mady said that with the type of game the Penguins had last week, it might allow them to open up to many more things this week against WIU.
"We don't concentrate solely on the run," Mady said. "Last week we ran the ball a lot. I've never ran the ball that much, but I liked it. But, I think we are going to open our playbook back up and just try to get some things back, and the confidence back to run what we used to run and get the whole offense working together."
However, even though the game swings in favor of the Penguins, they know that the season rests on this game.
"It shouldn't be hard getting up for this game because we all know what's at stake for us, not just for them," Stanton said. "It's their senior day, so I'd imagine they would come out playing hard, trying to get a win for those seniors. What's at stake for us is if we don't get up to play and we end up losing this game, our season is over next week. It's important for us to just focus on this game and come out and play hard."
The first game of the rest of their season kicks off on Saturday when YSU travels to Western Illinois for the 2 p.m. game.