The basketball season opens today for the Vandals, and the football season moves one step closer to wrapping up. We've got details on both below.
We'll start with basketball. Idaho plays at experienced and talented Long Beach State (tipoff is 2:05 p.m.), and this should give Don Verlin and his staff a good indication of how ready the club is to compete against solid competition. LBSU, coached by Moscow native Dan Monson, is widely favored to win the Big West and returns four starters. (It also happens to have a crazy tough nonconference schedule that includes North Carolina, Louisville, Pitt, Kansas and Xavier).
The 49ers, now with seven seniors on the roster, beat Idaho by 11 two years ago in an ESPNU BracketBuster game in Moscow. Said Verlin, they're "a team that came in two years when they were all sophomores and kicked our tail. That’s going to give us a huge barometer."
After today, the Vandals open at home Monday against Concordia (Ore.) and then are at Montana on Thursday. "I think those two games right off the bat will give us a huge read and then give us a couple weeks to figure out what we’ve got going before we’ve got the Pac-10 swing of WSU and Oregon State," Verlin said. "Not discounting Montana State and Eastern or anything, but I think that first week of our season is going to tell us a lot about our basketball team."
Moving to football, the Vandals are at BYU tonight (6:15 p.m. PST, ESPN2). They're 22-point underdogs; this will be first matchup between these programs since 1955.
We wrote about the game for today's paper, with the focus on Idaho hoping to build off last week's win at San Jose State. We also have a note about Idaho punter Bobby Cowan, who was named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist on Friday. Cowan is second in the NCAA in yards per punt (47.1). He trails UTEP's Ian Campbell, who's average 47.6 yards per boot.
Our preview also touches on Idaho's sudden focus on pounding teams with its running game. A large reason why: Taylor Davis, the Vandals' new -- and inexperienced -- starting QB. "With Taylor Davis being in at quarterback, we’ve tended to go towards the run more," offensive tackle Tyrone Novikoff said. "And with that, we’ve had more of a chance to really push that wall and get the run going."
I asked Novikoff why the team is running the ball better in the last three weeks (the Vandals are still 111th in the nation in rushing, up from 119th earlier this year), and he gave a quick answer. "I think that’s because we’ve been running more," the senior said.
You can follow Idaho hoops and football updates all day on my Twitter account: @SR_JoshWright.