2012 was a year that most of the Vandal Nation wishes they could forget as it had everything a fan could not hope for. It had an opening loss to a FCS team. It had a potential program changing quarterback get suspended then later dismissed all together. It had inconsistency on offense and inability on defense. It had school officials scrambling to find a conference after re-alignment brought down the WAC. Finally, it had a coach firing while all wrapped in an ugly single win season bow. For Idaho, last year’s 1-11 record marked their eleventh losing season since 2000 and the fourth 10+ loss season in six years.
Conference-less for 2013 as they await their return to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014, the Vandals are hoping to change all of their woes behind first-year head coach Paul Petrino. Petrino, Idaho’s sixth head coach in 13 years, has been optimistic all camp long as the cast of new and returning players have been working hard as they prepare to take on one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
Idaho begins their only season as a FBS Independent today against the Mean Green of North Texas.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NORTH TEXAS:
In the passing game, North Texas will rely on third year starter Derek Thompson to move the ball through the air. Thompson, who threw for a career high 2,629 yards last season, was wildly inconsistent in his passing for most of the year. Averaging a so-so 57.5% completion rating, Thompson threw 14 interceptions and failed to make the 50% mark for completions four times last season (one of which was in their win against South Alabama). For someone who only was sacked six times in 2012, it’s surprising how sporadic his stats are. Still, Thompson could be a sizable threat to the Vandal secondary, depending on which version of him shows for the game.
In the running game, 2012’s leading rushers Brandin Bryd and Antoinne Jimmerson, who combined for 1,404 of North Texas’s 2,707 yards on the ground and contributed nine total touchdowns, are both returning. Of the two, Bryd tended to be favored more when it came to carries, getting the ball 43% of the time in running situations. North Texas returns all but one of their starters on the offensive line. This should be a colossal help in establishing and maintaining their running game.
Defensively, North Texas needs their returning starters to step up in a big way. Allowing an average of 27.8 points and 434 yards per game to opponents last season, the Mean Green got burned for 30 or more points in six games. Senior middle linebacker Zach Orr will be an anchor for the team in their front seven, which will be needed as instability on their defensive line could arise with the suspension of senior Richard Abbe, the injury to Quenton Brown’s ACL and the departure of last year’s sack leader K.C. Obi.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR IDAHO:
Throwing the ball was an ugly business for Idaho in 2012. QB Dominique Blackmon showed flair at times, but was never consistent prior to being kicked off the team eight games into the season. Backups Logan Bushnell and Taylor Davis were equally unreliable in the appearances they made in the final four games of 2012. As a team, the Vandals averaged 224 yards passing a game, failing to go over 200 yards four times.
Redshirt freshmen and Idaho native Chad Chalich is currently the clear cut favorite for the starting job to open 2013, shining in fall camp with impressive displays of his ability with his arm and with his legs. Junior college transfer Josh McCain, a speedy scrambling quarterback, will more than likely be the back-up and may see some playing time depending on the situation. Idaho must establish itself early and often passing to avoid falling behind early.
Another pain point for Idaho last year was the running game, in that they didn’t have one. Eight games last season saw the Vandals rush for less than 85 yards. Idaho was so bad at running in 2012 (120th in total rushing yards and average yards per game) that 47 different individual players had more rushing yards then the Vandals did. Idaho comes into 2013 with a completely new look to its rushing attack.
True freshman Richard Montgomery brings an explosiveness that the Vandals haven’t really seen since 2009. Junior college transfers Jerrel Brown and Kris Olugbode will also give Idaho some much needed power, especially in goal-line situations. The Vandals need their running game to be consistent to avoid being as one dimensional as they have in the past.
Defensively, Idaho needs to do all they can to get turnovers and stop the ball. As of right now, the defense looks shaky as DL Jesse Davis was moved to the other side of the line to shore up a hole in the OL. The linebacker core lost a lot of experience and the secondary on paper is suspect. Getting lit up left and right in fall camp doesn’t help settle the nerves. This game should go a long way to show us what we can expect in 2013.
Since 2000, Idaho has been abysmal in season openers, going 2-11 in their last 13 games. The Vandals, who haven’t won a road opener since 2009, are 2-3 all-time in Denton against North Texas dating back to their first game in 1996. To make matters worse, Idaho hasn’t won the first game of a new head coach’s tenure since Keith Gilbertson took over the team for Dennis Erickson in 1986. New coaches are 7-22-2 all-time in their first games at Idaho.
Coach Petrino probably knew that he had a lot to deal with coming into this season. Having masterminded the offensive squad that put Arkansas in the national spotlight, Petrino’s first recruiting class as head coach looks to be ready to make a serious impact on the field. While the team still has a very abundant amount of question marks surrounding it, there is a lot of potential for good things in this game and all season long. North Texas is the perfect opponent to open up with as they are dealing with a lot of the same issues.
Breaking from a sadly long history of underachievement, Idaho should be able to come out on top and win this game in relatively close fashion.
NCAA 14 Prediction: North Texas 41 Idaho 20
My Prediction: Idaho 27 North Texas 21