MOSCOW, Idaho – It is the nature of college football that anything can happen before the season settles down into predictable rivalries and conference opponents.
So, the Idaho Vandals are not in unfamiliar territory when they swing wildly between Division II Simon Fraser in the opener today in the Kibbie Dome; 17th-ranked Indiana, which played Ohio State to within a touchdown last season, in the second game; Oregon State; followed by Big Sky Conference opponent UC Davis, which took down Tulsa of the Football Bowl Subdivision in its season opener.
But they better get the first part right.
Simon Fraser, of Burnaby, British Columbia. is coming to Moscow with a bare-bones travel party of players, coaches and a handful of support people, due to the ongoing pandemic and the fact it has to cross the border.
SFU finished 1-9 in its last campaign in 2019, and has made wholesale coaching and player changes since then. New coach Mike Rigell said his team has loaded up on tight ends with Logan Buchwitz and Dylan McBratley and plans to run its offense through them.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said all the right things about Simon Fraser being well-coached and anything being possible in a season opener, but make no mistake: If Idaho intends to make a down payment on its goals to be a Big Sky contender and an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff team, it better roll the guys from Canada.
A defense that will be tested by Big 10 speed and wide-open Pac-12 and Big Sky passing offenses in a few weeks must be comfortably up to the task of containing Simon Fraser.
Idaho is led by All-America middle linebacker Tre Walker. Petrino said edge rusher Charles Akanno has regained the burst that made him all but unstoppable before suffering an Achilles tendon tear in 2019.
An experienced secondary led by senior cornerback Jalen Hoover and safety Tyrese Dedmon should upgrade a group that in base defense and five- and six-defensive back packages can complement Idaho’s defensive linemen and linebackers who have been defensive stalwarts for years.
Idaho wouldn’t be Idaho without a rousing competition at quarterback, and Petrino said graduate transfer Mike Beaudry and freshman C.J. Jordan will each get significant playing time before Petrino settles on a starter before the Vandals meet UC Davis in their conference opener.
Zach Borisch, who rushed for 205 yards against Eastern Washington last spring as Idaho’s emergency quarterback, will also have a package of plays targeted to his talents, Petrino said.
Those quarterbacks will be throwing to a receiver corps that could be elite.
All-Big Sky performer Hayden Hatten had a breakout spring season, catching 43 passes for 613 yards and three touchdowns. Since then, the Vandals have added transfers Terez Traynor from Western Kentucky and Mekhi Stevenson from UNLV, who have been standouts in preseason camp. Sophomore Michael Graves has also had his moments.
In Idaho’s offense, tight end and fullback are nearly interchangeable positions, and Logan Kendall, Connor Whitney, Trase LeTexier and Jake Cox give the Vandals a formidable rotation.
Idaho’s backfield includes 235-pound Roshaun Johnson, the elite speed of freshman Elisha Cummings and the versatility of sophomore Nick Romano.
The line is anchored by junior center Logan Floyd and junior guard Matt Faupusa, who will be steadying influences on an offensive line rotation that includes a half-dozen underclassmen.
Although spectators will be expected to wear masks, Idaho is opening the Kibbie Dome to full attendance this fall.
“The crowd is a huge part of football,” Walker said. “Having those people in the stands helps a lot.”