Despite Ohio State’s big loss in the Fiesta Bowl national semi-final game, there’s still an Ohio college football team playing for a national title this weekend. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks about how the Youngstown State Penguins overcame the odds to make it to the Football Championship Game Saturday in Texas.
Terry Pluto says it's the first time in a decade that YSU has made the playoffs. They were picked to finish fifth in their Missouri Valley Conference at the beginning of the season. They had five come-from-behind wins to make it to the FCS title game this Saturday against James Madison in Frisco, Texas.
The Penguins had their glory years under now-YSU President Jim Tressel. When he was football coach in the 1990's, Youngstown State won four national titles.
Enter Bo Pelini
Bo Pelini, a Youngstown native, is in his second year as head coach. Last year, he led the team to a 5-6 record. A Cardinal Mooney High School and Ohio State grad, he was an assistant coach in the NFL and coordinator at LSU. He coached at Nebraska from 2008 until he was fired in 2014.
Pelini is known for his explosive personality.
"He says most people see him as someone who’s screaming at officials and waving his hands on the sidelines and acting crazy," Pluto says.
"There were two things that happened at Nebraska," Pluto says. "No. 1, he didn’t get along with the boosters. He’s kind of an old-school coach.
"No. 2, they’re in the Big 10 and they were good. He never had a losing season. He would break the Top 25, but couldn’t get in the top 10 and couldn’t get to the national title and couldn’t beat Ohio State. It created a level of frustration in Nebraska, where football is life."
Pluto says Pelini was fired at Nebraska with a couple years left on his contract worth a couple million dollars each year. He was debating what to do next. Then a friend told him the Youngstown State job was coming open.
"Bo Pelini in Youngstown is a very big deal," Pluto says. “Native son goes on and coaches in the Big 10. They’re not sitting there going, 'Well he couldn’t beat Ohio State!' They’re saying, 'Look what our native son did!'"
Sending the Limo
Pluto says YSU President Tressel jumped at the chance to hire Pelini.
"He's thinking the fact that Bo has some explosions on the sidelines with officials...this guy does a good job academically. He wins games and we need to start winning some games here. He's thinking, 'Bo, I’ll send a limo!' Or a Ford in Youngstown style," Pluto says.
"Basically they open the door and in he comes. It doesn’t happen except he’s from Youngstown. He comes in and takes over a program that’s kind of floundering along and goes 5-6 last year, and they’re thinking, it might take this guy three or four years.
"They were 6-3 at one point in the season and went through a couple quarterbacks and all of a sudden, Pelini is suspending some players with discipline problems and the middle of the season they get hot."
Will he stay?
"Pelini already has been offered some mid-level Division I jobs the last couple years and has turned them down. He likes the fact that he can do it his way. It will be interesting to see what he does with his career. Does he want to become the next Jim Tressel of Youngstown? Or does he long to get one more shot at Division I football?"
Until then, Pluto says, “Check it out and see if this Ohio school plays a little bit better in the national championship game than the poor Buckeyes did!”