The last time Youngstown State was 5-1 and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, they made the playoffs.
It may be a stretch to assume the Penguins are going to do the same this year, especially with the brunt of the MVC schedule to come, but the way they're playing is a good sign.
Illinois State (2-3, 1-1) is in a similar boat as YSU - a program once known as the conference's best is now trying to reclaim its throne.
YSU - Kurt Hess seems to have found his groove at a good time for the Penguins. He hasn't thrown an interception since Week 1, and he has 11 touchdowns in the past five weeks. He became YSU's career leader in passing yards last week, surpassing Tom Zetts' record of 7,643. More importantly, he's playing as well as he has since being named first-team all-conference as a sophomore.
ISU - It's been an interesting year at the quarterback position for the Redbirds. They thought they found a viable replacement for four-year starter Matt Brown in Iowa State transfer Jared Barnett. But he was injured in Week 2, and his five interceptions to two touchdowns resulted in him losing his job to freshman Blake Winkler, who has started the last three games.?Winkler has completed 65 percent of his passes, has one interception and five TDs. He's also a threat to run, something that's given YSU problems in the past.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The emergence of true freshman Martin Ruiz has been a huge reason for YSU's hot start. He leads the team with 491 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He's been steady in every phase of the game.?He runs hard, displays good speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Jody Webb has slowly taken over the back-up role. The Toledo transfer is probably YSU's fastest and most agile runner, so he adds another dimension to the offense.
ISU - Illinois State sophomore Marshaun Coprich set career highs in rushing yards (124) and touchdowns (3) against Western Illinois, who ISU beat, 35-21. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound bruiser has taken the spot from senior Cameron Hunt, who has 76 yards on 22 carries in three games. Collin Keoshian is a monster of a running back (6-3, 260) who is used on short-yardage situations and leads ISU with five touchdowns.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The receivers have shown steady progress after a slow start. Slot man Andre Stubbs leads the group with 16 catches, while Christian Bryan and Andrew Williams have 15 each. The Penguins are still lacking a big-play threat. Sophomore Marcel Caver has the size and speed to make those plays, and his time on the field has increased recently. Williams is another downfield option, while Bryan is excellent as an intermediate receiver.
ISU - ISU lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013. The Redbids' top returner is senior Phil Dudley, who leads the team with 19 catches for 191 yards. Cameron Meredith (6-3, 195) poses matchup problems in the red zone (three touchdowns), and Chick Chatham is a downfield threat (averaging 19 yards per catch). Tight end James O'Shaughnessy is a two-year starter who has good speed for a TE.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - Youngstown State is third in the conference by allowing just six sacks. They're also second in the MVC?with 214.3 yards rushing per game. Both are good indicators that the men up front are doing their job. What makes those stats more impressive is that YSU has been without arguably its best lineman, left tackle Kyle Bryant, for the past two games. Bryant could return tonight.
ISU - The Redbirds returned four of their five starters from last year's line, which allowed 14 sacks (14th best in the FCS). They've allowed 11 so far in 2013. ISU is dead last in the MVC in rushing yardage per game (117.0) and yards per carry (3.0). Still, this is a formidable unit.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The D-line seems to get better each week, which isn't surprising for a group that's young and inexperienced. Senior Kyle Sirl has been a constant force at defensive end (tied with four others for the team lead in sacks with two), and YSU is starting to get increased production from newcomers Vince Coleman, a freshman, and Derek Rivers, a transfer from Orange County College in California. Both are used mainly in pass-rush situations.
ISU - Colton Underwood is one of the best 'D' ends in the FCS. The All-American was a first-team all-conference selection and was a finalist for the 2012 Buck Buchanan Award, which is awarded to the best defensive player in the FCS by The Sports Network.?He led the MVC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (19.5). The 6-4, 260-pound senior only has one sack this year, but he's third on the team in tackles with 28, an extremely high number for a lineman. Tackle Albert Sparks is the only other returning starter up front.
EDGE - ISU
YSU - Indiana State may have been without All-American running back Shakir Bell last week, but it's still impressive that YSU was able to hold them to 81 yards rushing (ISU averaged more than 160 entering the game). Travis and Teven Williams and senior captain Dom Rich are big reasons why. The three all started last year and their experience is obvious as they're rarely caught out of position. Teven leads YSU with 41 tackles, while Travis paces YSU with 4.5 tackles for loss.
ISU - Alex Donnelly highlights an inexperienced group. Donnelly's four starts coming into 2013 are four more than any other LB. He was named to the all-newcomer team with 43 tackles and leads ISU with 30 this year. Middle linebacker Pat Meehan is second with 28.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - The return of Dale Peterman, who came back two weeks ago from a knee injury, has meant a lot to the secondary. Indiana State rarely threw Peterman's way, and the senior knows the tendencies of opposing offenses after starting all of last year. Freshman safety Jameel Smith is quickly becoming a playmaker in the secondary - he returned a pick 95 yards for a TD against Indiana State.
ISU - Corner Mike Banks leads a talented secondary for ISU. He was an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2012 and leads the Redbirds with seven pass breakups. Strong safety Ezra Thompson is another returning starter, and free safety Dontae McKoy leads all the defensive backs with 24 tackles. This is arguably the strength of the ISU defense.
EDGE - YSU
YSU - Punter Nick Liste, a Niles product, is one of the best in the business as he leads the MVC and is ninth in the nation with a 44.5-yard average. He also has 21 touchbacks on kickoffs, by far the best in the league. The Penguins have shown marked improvement with their coverage units, an area they've struggled with during Wolford's tenure.
ISU - C.J. Laros is one of the better punters in the conference with a 42.2-yard average. Nick Aussieker is 3 for 4 on field goals. The Redbirds have just four touchbacks on kickoffs and could be vulnerable in the return game.
EDGE - YSU
Illinois State shocked YSU by coming back from a 28-7 deficit and beating the Penguins, 35-28, last year. They're a different team now, but they've always played YSU tough. The Penguins are playing well on both sides of the ball, and they're looking forward to returning home after two straight road games. I expect a slow start for YSU but a strong finish.