When a player is 18 years old and taking calls from college recruiters, you had better believe the letters that designate a university's division are important to him. For Derek Rivers, the only real offers came from FCS teams, the perceived kids' table of college football.

Youngstown State at South Dakota

3 P.M. SATURDAY, VERMILLION, S.D.

Records:Youngstown State 2-1, 0-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference; South Dakota 2-1, 0-0
Last meeting: Youngstown State won 28-17 last season in Youngstown. Youngstown State leads series 3-0.

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When a player is 18 years old and taking calls from college recruiters, you had better believe the letters that designate a university's division are important to him.

Derek Rivers got nibbles from the University of Miami, Virginia Tech and a few other FBS teams after completing his senior year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. None was willing to put scholarship money on the table.

The only real offers came from FCS teams, the perceived kids' table of college football.

"I was undersized - 200 pounds in high school - but I got a call from Youngstown State," said Rivers, 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior defensive end from Kinston, N.C. "The only thing I knew about Youngstown State was that Coach (Jim) Tressel won four national championships here, and I found that out on my visit. It didn't take me long to realize that football is really good in FCS. It was a big eye-opener."

The Penguins play in the 10-team Missouri Valley Football Conference, or "The Valley," as coaches, players and fans call it.

Rivers, who was first-team all-conference in 2014, calls it something else.

"I do think we're like the SEC of FCS," he said. "It's great competition. Take a look and see how many of our players are in the NFL. We get pretty big transfers from Division I, and they all come here and say, 'Wow!'??"

North Dakota State has dominated The Valley, having won the past four national championships, but the conference does have depth. Six teams are ranked in the FCS STATS top-25 poll this week: North Dakota State (third), Illinois State (fourth), South Dakota State (fifth), Northern Iowa (seventh), Youngstown State (10th) and Indiana State (21st).

The Penguins will fly almost 1,000 miles to play South Dakota in the 10,000-seat DakotaDome.

"It will be loud," Rivers said.

Youngstown State has won the previous three games against the Coyotes by a total of 18 points, including 28-17 last season when the Penguins scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

First-year coach Bo Pelini said the venue should not concern his players.

"It's going to be 11-on-11, and the field will be the same size," he said. "You just have to go out there and play. Our players understand they are walking into league play."


mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar

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OTHER OHIO GAMES

Ohio (3-1) at Akron (2-2)
2 P.M., AKRON

The skinny -- Bobcats coach Frank Solich calls Mid-American Conference openers "energizing for verybody,"
and his team has played that way in having won four straight. Ohio has won seven in a row against the Zips.

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Bowling Green (2-2) at Buffalo (2-2)
3:30 P.M., BUFFALO, N.Y.

The skinny -- Bowling Green ended a brutal non-conference schedule with a last-second victory at Purdue. The Falcons should begin to feast. They have won 12 straight MAC East games and four straight over Buffalo.

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Denison (3-0, 2-0) at Ohio Wesleyan (1-2, 1-1)
1 P.M., DELAWARE

The skinny -- This series is indicative of how coach Jack Hatem has turned around Denison. The Big Red, which is seeking to become 4-0 for the first time since 1985, has won two straight games over the Bishops after having won once between 1997 and 2012.