Lone year of independence
The Vandals no longer are in the Western Athletic Conference, and they have one year before joining their future (and former) home for football, the Sun Belt Conference.
That means they’ll spend 2013 as one of six FBS independents.
Idaho won’t compete for a conference championship or place any players on an all-conference team this season, but it still could find itself in a bowl game if it can win at least six games.
The Vandals play Washington State at Martin Stadium for the first time since 2007 and they have intriguing home games with Northern Illinois, Temple and old WAC nemesis Fresno State.
They also take on two major-conference opponents, at Ole Miss in October and at Florida State in late November. The week before going to Ole Miss, they play at Arkansas State, one of teams they’ll compete against in the Sun Belt.
The Vandals had football-only membership in the Sun Belt from 2001 to 2004. That’s the same arrangement they’ll have starting in 2014, when UI’s other sports join the Big Sky.
Newbies at QB
The only quarterback on Idaho’s roster with FBS experience is senior Taylor Davis. And barring an injury, he seems unlikely to play this fall. Chad Chalich, the probable starter, is a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a collegiate snap. Josh McCain, likely to be the second QB on the depth chart, comes from the junior-college ranks.
But both Chalich and McCain fit Paul Petrino’s diverse option-based offense well. Chalich thrived running the option at Coeur d’Alene High and has picked up Petrino’s system quickly, while McCain is a slender but fleet QB who likes to move outside the pocket.
Recruiting South (and NW)
Paul Petrino knows the South well. He’s coached at Southern Mississippi, Louisville and Arkansas – and he has deep recruiting connections in the Southeast, evidenced by his first class at Idaho.
This fall, Petrino and the Vandals will tour several Southern campuses – from Ole Miss to Florida State – as they work through their independent schedule.
Athletic director Rob Spear said the fact UI will have four games a year in the South when it joins the Sun Belt should be a big draw to recruits from the Southeast. At the same time, though, recruiting the Northwest will remain a focus.
“The Pac-12 only has so many scholarships to offer,” Spear said. “If you want to play at the highest level of football north of Boise, it’s Idaho. I think we’re going to market that and build a great roster of Northwest kids.”
Recruiting class making waves
At least a few of the Vandals’ true freshmen, from tailback Richard Montgomery to receiver Reuben Mwehla, could play significant roles in 2013. And even the ones that don’t have already impressed Paul Petrino.
“Our young class is exciting,” he said. “There’s a bunch of speed – fast playmakers. And what’s the most exciting is just a bunch of guys who like football, (who) enjoy coming out to practice and have a great attitude. And that’s what we need the whole team to be.”
Petrino has also raved about true freshman QB Matt Linehan, son of former UI quarterback Scott Linehan, who will redshirt. Petrino and Scott Linehan were on the Vandals’ offensive staff together in 1992-93.