The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 125 Idaho.
Previewing Idaho’s Offense for 2014:
The No. 1 question for coach Paul Petrino is at quarterback. Sophomore Chad Chalich, who started seven games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury, is being pushed by redshirt freshman Matt Linehan. Chalich completed 61.4 percent of his passes but only threw five touchdown passes (and three INTs) in 184 attempts.
The winner of the job — right now, Linehan is penciled in as the starter — will operate behind an offensive line that returns nine players who have started at some point during their careers. The challenge for Petrino and his staff will be piecing the unit together. The best of the bunch is senior center Mike Marboe, who has played since his freshman season.
As far as the skill positions, receiver Dezmon Epps was slated to be Idaho’s top threat. He caught at least four passes in every game last season and scored four touchdowns. However, he was dismissed from the team in July. Physically gifted wideout Deon Watson and converted quarterback Josh McCain also give Idaho’s passing game a boost.
The Vandals likely will use a committee at running back, with Jerrel Brown, Richard Montgomery and Kristoffer Olugbode providing different skill sets that need to produce better than the 3.3 yards per carry Idaho averaged a year ago. If Idaho can be somewhat balanced, the Vandals should be able to score some points this season.
Previewing Idaho’s Defense for 2014:
Things got so bad last season in the secondary for Idaho that coaches had to put wide receivers in on defense to try and slow down opposing passing attacks. The lack of speed was glaring and a huge reason why opponents scored 40 or more points nine times last season, including an 80-point performance by eventual national champion Florida State. For the Vandals to be a factor in the Sun Belt, the defense has to improve.
The top four tacklers from last season return, and there is talent on the defensive front that could generate a pass rush to help out the secondary. Quayshawne Buckley recorded 7.5 sacks last season and joins a front that has size and experience. Marc Millan led Idaho with 90 tackles from the linebacker position, which was strengthened with the addition of junior college transfer Irving Steele.
The secondary remains the biggest concern, though. Even though safety Bradley Njoku (89 tackles) and corner Jayshawn Jordan (77) return, Idaho needs to get better play from the secondary to have any chance of a winning season.
Previewing Idaho’s Specialists for 2014:
Austin Rehkow handled the kicking and punting duties as a freshman. His punting was proficient, but his inconsistency in kicking field goals will need to change if Idaho is going to capitalize on scoring chances. He made only 10-of-17 attempts last season with a long of just 41 yards. The Vandals did not return a punt or a kickoff for a score in 2013, but Montgomery averaged more than 20 yards per kickoff return.
Things can’t get any worse for Idaho, right? The Vandals are coming off a 1–11 season in which they weren’t very competitive as an independent. The Sun Belt Conference once again is home, which will lower the degree of difficulty on the schedule (Florida is the only major-conference opponent). But the conference affiliation brings additional travel — the Vandals will play half of their games in the Eastern and Central time zones.
If Petrino can overcome the travel and find some consistency in all phases, Idaho has a chance at making some noise in the overhauled conference. But even if the Vandals do surprise and find a way to get to six wins, they will not be spending the holidays at a bowl game. It was announced in late April that low APR scores had made the program ineligible for a postseason game in 2014.