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CFN Preview 2013 - Idaho Vandals
The Idaho program might be taking another step back this year, but the hope is for a giant leap forward to follow. Or maybe just a few wins.
The last few years have been a complete and utter disaster coming off a bowl-winning shocker of a 2009 campaign and a not-that-bad 6-7 2010 run. Everyone tried hard under then-head coach Robb Akey, but going 3-21 was too much to get past, even for a football program that had a hard time with coaching stability over the years. Throw in the dissolution of WAC football, and Idaho didnt have a home and didnt have any direction.
While programs were being swallowed up left and right by conferences desperate to fill voids, Idaho was left twisting in the wind for a while as an independent before the Sun Belt finally chose to come up with the invite for next year. At least theres a direction for the school, and then it came up with a nice coaching hire in Paul Petrino, who might be a rental and destined to bolt the second he has just a smidge of success, but a good prospect nonetheless.
So at least the slide into the abyss has halted, but now its time to actually come up with a few wins.
Thats going to take some doing and a whole bunch of duct tape and patchwork for a team that finished dead last in the nation in scoring and punt returns and near the bottom in almost every other major statistical category.
Theres a little bit of hope for an offense with a nice receiving corps and a good group of offensive linemen to build around. Theres enough talent in the backfield to play around with the options, while hoping a star quarterback and running back emerge from the fray, and if nothing else, the production cant be any worse.
The defense is going to require a little more TLC with most of the back seven gone and two starters done on the defensive front. The D allowed over 42 points per game last season and did almost nothing to change games around, giving up 34 points or more in nine of the final ten games, while the special teams loses both excellent kickers and has to come up with answers for one of the worst return games in college football.
Idaho is a fixer-upper for Petrino and his staff, but the expectations are going to be low for a while and he can make the program his own. As long as the Vandals win more than one game this year, the turnaround will already be underway.
What to watch for on offense: Can Petrino make the passing game more explosive. The Petrino brothers know how to get offenses going, and while Idaho might not have much to build on, it has a passing game that should put up big numbers right out of the box. One of the few bright spots was an attack that averaged 226 yards per game mostly in bomb-away mode to keep up the porous defensive production and it should be more of the same with receivers Najee Lovett and Jahrie Level leading a good group. The quarterback situation will work itself out, and the line should turn out to be a plus, so as long as the Vandals can get into shootouts, after averaging just 16 points per game, things should be more fun.
What to watch for on defense: JUCO, JUCO, JUCO. The Vandals had to come up with wholesale changes across the board for a defense that was a massive disappointment last season. The entire linebacking corps needed an overhaul, and Petrino and his staff wasted no time going after several key players in Juan Martinez, Eric Tuipulotu, Broc Westlake and Marc Millan to fill in the gaping holes. Delency Parham could come in and become the No. 1 cornerback right away, while Anthony Rice will provide a boost to the defensive front. The coaching staff needs the newcomers to be fantastic right off the bus.
The team will be far better if theres a running game. No offensive consistency has led to getting down early which has led to a total abandonment for the ground attack. Last year the Vandals ran for more than 100 yards just four times and cranked out over 200 yards once in a loss to Wyoming. Worse than coming up with just 1,071 rushing yards on the season were the three count them three rushing scores. The O has to do a better job of protecting the ball after giving it up 39 times, and the defense has to come up with a stop now and then, but if the ground game is working, everything else should be under control.
The schedule: For almost anyone else it wouldnt be that bad. The Vandals have to deal with Orange Bowl combatants Northern Illinois and Florida State, and forget about dates at Ole Miss, Washington State and Arkansas State, but getting Temple, Texas State and Old Dominion at home could mean a few wins, and going to New Mexico State to close things out could end the campaign with a win. However, if Idaho cant get by North Texas or Wyoming on the road, it might be an 0-8 start before hosing Texas State.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Najee Lovett. Theres a chance for JUCO transfer running backs Kris Olugbode and Jerrel Brown to shine right away and be the new stars, and center Mike Marboe might actually be the teams best offensive player, but after leading the team with six touchdowns and catching a steady 50 grabs for 548 yards, Lovett is the one player the offense can work around. Hes too explosive to average just 10.9 yards per catch, and the new coaching staff will be sure to get him the ball deep.
Best defensive player: Junior DE Maxx Forde. Beyond just the fantastic name, the 6-5, 261-pound pass rusher has the upside to do a little of everything for a decent-looking line. He has the size to hold up against the run, and did a consistently decent job of making the routing play, but his real worth is as a pass rusher with four sacks and decent pressure throughout. Tough to throw over, hes excellent at batting down passes and altering throwing angles.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Taylor Davis. As the season goes on, it might not be his ship to fly with JUCO transfer Anthony Neyer and redshirt freshman Chad Chalich neck-and-neck-and-neck for the starting job. But it would be a huge lift if Davis could rise above the fray and make the offense his. He struggled when he got his chances late last season, but hes a big quarterback with a nice arm. The right call would be to go with someone younger to develop, but Davis would be the safe choice for right now.
The season will be a success if the Vandals win four games. Its a push, and itll take a few upsets, but if Petrino can jumpstart the offense, and if the defense can find just one thing that works, theres a chance to come up with wins over Texas State, Old Dominion and New Mexico State, Being competitive against the better teams would be nice, but getting a few wins over the dregs would be even more important.
Key game: Aug. 31 at North Texas. If nothing else, it would be a symbolic victory. Not only would a win on the road in the opener of the Petrino era be terrific, but it would also make the Sun Belt types very, very happy to see its upcoming member beat the recently-moved Mean Green of Conference USA. To match last years win total before September begins would make it a successful season before it got off the ground.
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