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You can read the entire Idaho preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Paul Petrino, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kris Cinkovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ronnie Lee
New coach Paul Petrino will be asked to resurrect an offense that has been brutal the past two seasons. Idaho managed only 18 offensive touchdowns in 12 games last season and scored one or fewer touchdowns in seven games.
Petrino’s most important decision will be selecting a starting quarterback. Senior Taylor Davis has been inconsistent in his two years of action, so redshirt freshmen Chad Chalich and Austin DeCoud will be given a chance to win the job, as will transfer Anthony Neyer. Two quarterbacks join the program in the fall, too.
Whoever does win the job will have some proven targets. Najee Lovett (50 catches, six touchdowns) is back at wide receiver, while tight end Mike LaGrone also is back.
James Baker, who rushed for 395 yards in 2012, is the top running back returning, but he could be pushed aside by junior college transfers Kris Olugbode and Jerrel Brown. Olugbode rushed for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns last season at City College of San Francisco. Brown is a bigger back (6'0", 220) who should be effective in short-yardage situations.
An experienced offensive line gives Petrino hope, although tackle Jordan Johnson’s legal troubles forced coaches to move starting defensive tackle Jesse Davis to the offensive line. Center Mike Marboe enters his third season as a starter, and he’ll have Dallas Sandberg next to him at one guard spot. The line needs to solidify its right side and develop depth.
New coordinator Ronnie Lee, who was the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Indiana State in 2012, has plenty of holes to plug on a unit that surrendered 42.4 points per game and recorded only 14 sacks in 12 games. Idaho graduated its top six tacklers. Davis was the only returnee who started every game last season, and he’s on offense now. Still, there is hope, as the Vandals do have experience on the front line and in the secondary.
Up front, end Maxx Forde, a 6'5", 261-pound junior, tied for the team lead with four sacks. Ends Quinton Bradley and Marius Burgsmueller and tackle Ryan Edwards all are seasoned. Safeties D’Mario Carter and Trey Williams and cornerbacks Solomon Dixon and Bradley Njoku bring experience to the secondary.
Idaho must rebuild its linebacking corps. Junior college transfers Eric Tuipulotu, Juan Martinez and Matt Millan could provide immediate solutions.
The Vandals must replace their steadiest performers in recent years — four-year starting kicker Trey Farquhar and school-record-holding punter Bobby Cowan. Redshirt freshman Jace Johnson and true freshman Austin Rehkow will battle for the kicking job. Idaho will be looking for new kickoff and punt returners. Junior college transfer Dezmon Epps might be the answer at those spots.
This is a true transition year for the Idaho program. It will play as an FBS Independent before moving to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The good news for Petrino is that he’ll have a number of young players who’ll get experience and exposure to his system, which should help the Vandals when they make the move back to the conference they called home from 2001-04.
Without a conference championship to play for or an automatic bowl tie-in, Idaho must find motivation from within to make this season meaningful. The schedule features four games against teams from AQ conferences as well as three games against a trio of non-AQ schools (Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Arkansas State) that combined to win 31 games last season. The Vandals could struggle to win more than a game or two.