The Vandals wrap up the regular season this afternoon at 2 against Utah State, and there's plenty riding on the result for Idaho. Click below for my preview.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – Three months ago, Idaho’s regular season football finale figured to be a clunker. A home date during Thanksgiving weekend – when most students had long fled campus – with perennial cellar-dweller Utah State didn’t exactly get the juices flowing.
But, oh, how things have changed.
Idaho (7-4) has manufactured five more wins than last year and stands on the edge of its first postseason bid in 11 years. But to take the suspense out of a selection – and stop the bleeding from a two-game losing streak – the Vandals probably need to secure an eighth win today versus the improving Aggies.
Kickoff is 2 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome.
“I feel very good about our (bowl) chances,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said. “Obviously we need to go 8-4 to solidify it.”
If Idaho gets a bowl invitation, the most logical destination is Boise’s Humanitarian Bowl. But nothing is set in stone considering fellow Western Athletic Conference member Boise State is the hunt for a coveted Bowl Championship Series spot.
The WAC has three official bowl tie-ins – the Humanitarian, New Mexico and Hawaii bowls – and backup agreements with the Poinsettia and GMAC bowls. It appears likely that the conference will fill four bowl spots.
Although UI has been postseason eligible for more than a month, the luster of a 6-1 start has faded with three losses in the last four games. Idaho’s opponents have piled up 198 points during that stretch, an unsightly amount that coach Robb Akey chalks up to stiffer competition and finishing up a string of 11 straight games before last week’s bye.
Now rested, the Vandals should get a boost with the expected return of quarterback Nate Enderle (shoulder) and safety Jeromy Jones (collarbone). Both missed all or the bulk of the Fresno State and Boise State games.
“It’s tough when you can see the guys out there working, just battling and they (are) not having success and losing those two games,” Enderle said. “I was trying to be as supportive as possible.”
Utah State, meanwhile, is just 3-8 in Gary Andersen’s first season as head coach. Yet with an offense piloted by fleet-footed quarterback Diondre Borel, the Aggies have knocked off Louisiana Tech and lost by a combined seven points to Nevada and Fresno State.
USU should face an extremely focused Idaho squad, even with Akey’s name being floated for job openings like UNLV’s. The third-year coach made every effort this week to sidestep any distractions – while stressing the need for improvements such as higher assistant salaries.
“I’ve always believed, and my career backs this up too, I’ve not jumped around a lot,” Akey said. “I’ve been able to climb up in the places that I’ve been, and that’s always the desire – to me, that’s the best way to go about it. I would certainly like to think they are happy with what’s going on here and they will want to make things better for us.”