Idaho hits the practice field for the first time this fall on Wednesday, kicking off Paul Petrino's third season on campus. The Vandals went 1-11 in Petrino's first two seasons, setting up a critical and intriguing season for the Vandals.
So, what are the storylines to watch this fall as the Vandals begin camp and prepare for its Sep. 3 opener against Ohio?
Let's get this one out of the way right now. Third-year sophomore Matt Linehan takes the reigns as the incumbent starter at quarterback following a good showing in spring football. Behind him is redshirt freshman Jake Luton, who with his rocket right arm came on later in spring to set up what could be an intriguing quarterback competition.
Linehan likely spent some time over the summer with his father, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo reviewing film and getting more advice, as he did over the winter.
The quarterback who started 10 games for Idaho last season has a hold on the job if his play in the fall backs that up. But don't take your eye off Luton. This was a crucial summer for him and as long as he continues the progress he was making in the spring it's not likely he'll be very far behind Linehan. While it's my guess that Linehan will take the snaps against Ohio (barring injury), Luton will be given every opportunity to usurp his sophomore teammate.
Considering Linehan's struggles at times last season as well as the offensive line's struggles keeping quarterbacks upright, Luton will need to be prepared to play regardless if he wins the job.
The newcomer to watch here is Kareem Coles, who joins the team from Madison high school in San Diego. He barely stands at 6-feet and weighed in at 160 pounds as a high school prospect. The dual-threat quarterback won't factor in to the starting conversation, but he will be given a chance to beat out Gunnar Amos as the third-string quarterback and may be given packages designed to get him on the field this year to take advance of his play-making ability.
McGhee may have been the coup of Idaho's recruiting class in 2015. The 6-foot tall safety was linked to teams such as Louisville before finding his way to Moscow. And he comes to Idaho to compete as a position in desperate need of depth. The Vandals' pass defense ranked last in the nation last year in yards per pass attempt. Idaho returns Jordan Grabski, who lost time to injury last season, and Russell Siavii. Nothing is set back there and Petrino isn't afraid to play freshman who have the play-making ability. We'll see if McGhee lives up to the hype.
As for the rest of the secondary, Kendrick Trotter excelled at corner as spring went on with sophomore Dorian Clark nabbing the spot next to him. Corner competition should continue with Isaiah Taylor and Jayshawn Jordan being given opportunities to work with the first team. Armond Hawkins spent time in the spring working at linebacker, meaning cornerback could use some more depth. I'll be interested in seeing if safeties move positions or if Hawkins moves back.
There are a lot of question marks with this unit. Starting with, what role will Dezmon Epps have, if any? The senior wide receiver recently found himself in trouble again. That's problematic for Petrino and Idaho, who allowed Epps back onto the team in the spring after a shoplifting incident at Winco.
Behind Epps is a lot of youth and not a lot of experience. Senior Jermaine Johnson, a JUCO transfer, is a name coaches want to see production out of. But in the spring we saw a lot of drops. His height and ability to get down the field is intriguing, however.
Pullman product David Ungerer saw a lot of time on the outside in the fall to allow Epps to take advantage of matchups in the slot. He struggled at times with press coverage and dealing with physical coverage. Coaches call Ungerer one of the hardest workers in the weight room, which he'll need to be if a 5-foot-8 receiver is to succeed on the outside.
Junior Jacob Sannon is primed for a breakout season after a 27-catch season in 2014 and consistently good spring practices.
Names to watch include sophomore Rueben Mwehla, who could take the role of the departed Richard Montgomery, and JUCO transfer Callen Hightower, who showed good things in spring.
Converted wide receivers Trent Cowan and Deon Watson are primed to feature at tight end. Their conversions are an effort to get more speed and pass-catching ability at tight end.
Who are the five best offensive linemen?
This is a confusing unit all around for fans and media alike, and one Idaho coaches spend a considerable amount of time breaking down. The Vandals don't stick linemen into certain positions on the line and make them develop there. Instead, Idaho picks the five best linemen and then fits them across the line accordingly. The same goes for the sixth and seventh best linemen. For example, Patrick Johnson played guard with the second-team in the spring. But moved to center with the first-team when an injury forced starter Steven Matlock to sit out. Following the spring I analyzed Mason Woods, Dallas Sandberg, Steven Matlock, Jordan Rose and Calvin White to best Idaho's five best, with Patrick Johnson the sixth. Expect all spots to be open for one of the nation's worst pass-blocking units, however. Steven Matlock and Jordan Rose both played as true freshmen, meaning Couer d'Alene's (Lake City) Zion Dixon has an opportunity to fight for a spot. Kato Fawkes and Jeff Travillion entering the fall healthy help their chances to fight for spots as well.