2014 CFN Preview - Idaho Vandals
Idaho WR Dezmon Epps
Idaho WR Dezmon Epps
Posted Jun 7, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Idaho finds a home in the Sun Belt, but can stability bring wins?(Getty Images)

Idaho Vandals

Preview 2014

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Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Paul Petrino
2nd year: 1-11
Ten Best Idaho Players
1. DT QuayShawne Buckley, Sr.
2. WR Dezmon Epps, Sr.
3. P/K Austin Rehkow, Soph.
4. DE Maxx Forde, Sr.
5. LB Marc Millan, Jr.
6. C Mike Marboe, Sr.
7. QB Chad Chalich, Soph.
8. CB Delency Parham, Sr.
9. QB Matt Lineham, RFr.

10. SS Bradley Njoku, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Florida
Sep. 6 at ULM
Sep. 13 Western Michigan
Sep. 20 at Ohio
Sep. 27 South Alabama
Oct. 4 at Texas State
Oct. 11 at Georgia Southern
Oct. 18 New Mexico State
Nov. 1 Arkansas State
Nov. 8 at San Diego State
Nov. 15 Troy
Nov. 29 at Appalachian State

They survived the post-WAC apocalypse, and now they have to start trying to be better at playing college football.

It's been a tough go for the Idaho Vandals.

Not only do they have to exist in a state with Boise State growing into a power over the last decade-plus, but they needed to hold their breath while finding a place to land after the WAC ceased to exist as a football conference. Life as an independent wasn't much better than life in the WAC, going 1-11 last season and getting obliterated by double digits in every loss until the 24-16 defeat to New Mexico State to end the misery.

But now there's a new beginning. The Vandals are a part of the Sun Belt, and while it's not as nice as it would be to join the geographic right fit of the Mountain West, at least the program has a home. It's time to make the rebuilding job work.

With just four wins over the last three seasons and just one winning campaign since 1999, it's been hard to generate much interest or noise, and that was reflected in the snub from the Mountain West types.

The 8-5 shocker of a 2009 season seems like it was 100 years ago now, but head man Paul Petrino is a promising coach with more than just the right last name. It's a true process to get the players to fit what he wants to do, and it's going to take a little while longer before there's a big turnaround. Fortunately, Idaho is in the right conference to do it.

Petrino's biggest job is to do what Idaho hasn't been able to do for years – find something that really works.

The defense continued to be among the worst in the nation, not helped by playing Florida State last season, but with so many players thrown into the rotation, there's plenty of experience and lots of different options to play around with to try to find a little bit of production after finishing dead last in the nation in scoring D.

Can the offense keep up the pace? The line will be full of veterans, and the passing game had its moments, but the Vandals still averaged just 18.2 points per outing and sputtered way too often. Petrino knows offense – it'll eventually come around.

Just try to improve. This doesn't have to be a massive turnaround campaign, and the Vandals aren't going to shock the world, but as long as there's something, anything to see as a positive, the year will be a success.  

What to watch for on offense: The offense has to be more efficient and get the chains moving on third downs. Things were better after failing to convert 30% of their third down chances in either or 2011 or 2012, but it was still rough when drive after drive stalled to a dead stop because the offense couldn't get the running game going to make a manageable third down chance. The mediocre quarterbacks couldn't make the basic throws, and the defense came back on the field and got rocked. The quarterback play has to improve by leaps and bounds, but the big help has to come from came up with its best season since 2009, but still stunk.

What to watch for on defense: Pass defense, pass defense, pass defense. The Vandals were ripped apart by any passing game that felt like throwing a forward pass. The pass rush wasn't horrible, but it didn't help a lick for a pass defense that gave up 40 touchdown passes with just ten picks, allowing 300 yards or more in seven games and got lit up for over 400 yards by North Texas and Fresno State and 533 yards by Old Dominion. With an offense that can't keep up the pace and doesn't have the firepower, the Vandal defensive backs have to come up with a few stops here and there.

The team will be far better if … the lines aren't god awful. The defensive line couldn't hold up against any running game – even though most offenses were having too much fun bombing away – and the offensive front couldn't keep the quarterbacks upright. The Vandals allowed a whopping 52 sacks on the season and 106 tackles for loss – the backfield didn't have any time to do anything. It's not like the lines are going to become brick walls overnight, but there's enough experience returning to be better. If the lines are okay, the season will be, too.

The schedule: It's the Sun Belt, so it's not like the Vandals have to deal with Alabama and Auburn, but they do have to face Florida to start the season before kicking off Sun Belt life on the road at ULM. With three road games in the first four weeks, wrapped around the home opener against Western Michigan, it could be a bit of a rough start before hosting South Alabama. And then it's back on the road for two long flights to Texas State and Georgia Southern before the winnable date with New Mexico State. There's no Louisiana-Lafayette to deal with, and Arkansas State has to come to Moscow.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Dezmon Epps. The Vandals need one of the quarterback prospects to step up and become one of the stars, and if that happens, Epps is a lock for all-star honors. He's not huge, but he's quick and reliable, doing a great job of being the No. 1 target in a bad situation. He should get a little bit of help with some decent veteran receivers around to take the heat off, but he'll be the go-to guy.

Best defensive player: Senior DT Quayshawn Buckley. One of the few bright spots on the defensive front, the veteran tackle turned in a nice year as a playmaker in the backfield with seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Quick off the ball and with the size to hold his own, he has a shot to make some noise in a pro camp as a three-technique tackle and part of a rotation. With end Maxx Forde back to push from the outside, Buckley should shine inside.

Key player to a successful season: Senior OT Niklaus Von Rotz and sophomore OT Mason Woods. The 6-5, 292-pound Von Rotz and the 6-9, 333-pound Woods have to make life better for the quarterbacks who spent most of last year getting drilled. Pass protection has been a huge issue for the Vandals for a long, long time, but they have blockers with the size to potentially improve the situation. If they're great, the offense will be far better.

The season will be a success if … the Vandals win four games. Baby steps. Ohio, Arkansas State and San Diego State are the only three teams on the schedule who went to a bowl last season, and while that doesn't mean Idaho will all of a sudden be able to get past Florida, it's a manageable slate. There are enough winnable games to get to four wins, which would be as many as the program generated over the past three seasons.

Key game: Sept. 27 vs. South Alabama. It's a long trip to get up to Idaho, especially from Alabama. It's not like the Jaguars are coming by covered wagon, but the 2,425 miles still makes it a world away. Can the Vandals establish themselves at home in the Sun Belt and make the Kibbie Dome a dangerous place for conference teams. With road games at Texas State and Georgia Southern to follow, Idaho might need this win to avoid a rough patch before hosting New Mexico State.

2014 Fun Stats:
- Scoring: Opponents 561 – Idaho 218
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 80-of-171 (47%) – Idaho 69-of-209 (33%)
- Kickoff Return Average: Opponents 30.7 yards – Idaho 20.6 yards

- 2014 Idaho Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players