#101 Idaho Football 2017 Preview

Idaho Vandals
Overall Rank: #101
#4 Sun Belt
Idaho has one last farewell before heading to the FCS. The Vandals were caught in FBS limbo and basically had to choose the tough life as an FBS independent or in a strong FCS Big Sky conference. But before that happens, Coach Paul Petrino wants to build off a very good 2016 campaign that ended with a 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
2016 Record: 9-4, 6-2
2016 Bowl: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Colorado State (W 61-50)
Coach: Paul Petrino (15-33 at Idaho, 15-33 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kris Cinkovich
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Breske
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Isaiah Saunders, RB, 731 yards
Passing: Matt Linehan, QB, 3,184 yards
Receiving: Alfonso Onunwor, WR, 403 yards
Tackles: Tony Lashley, LB, 107
Sacks: Aikeem Coleman, DE, 8.0
Interceptions: Kaden Elliss, LB, 5
Other Key Returnees: RB Aaron Duckworth, OL Jordan Rose, LB Ed Hall
Key Losses: WR Doen Watson, TE Trent Cowan, WR Jordan Frysinger, CB Jayshawn Jordan, DL Tueni Lupeamanu, S Russell Siavii, P/K Austin Rehkow
Idaho returns much of the second most potent offense in the Sun Belt. Quarterback Matt Linehan threw for 3,184 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior and knows how to run this offense. Many of the top receivers are gone, but Alfonso Onunwor is an experienced receiver who caught 39 passes for 403 yards. If the spring game is any indication, there are plenty of playmakers ready to step up, most notably senior Jacob Sannon. If the air attack does slow down a little bit, the run game should be able to pick up the slack. Isaiah Saunders and Aaron Duckworth combined for 1,403 yards and 14 touchdowns. Their yards per carry was not all that impressive, but it should get better this year.
In 2016 Idaho did not have to win shootouts, except for in the bowl game. Other than that the defense did their part. However, this year the offense will likely have to shoulder more of the burden. Gone are tackle Tueni Lupeamanu and four starters from the secondary. The front seven has some playmakers with end Aikeem Coleman, who tallied 8.0 sacks last season, and linebackers Tony Lashley and Kaden Elliss. Lashley led the team with 107 tackles and Elliss picked off five passes. The big concern is going to be in the secondary, where Idaho struggled as it was last season, and now will have to rely on inexperienced players to make big plays. If Idaho’s defense is not creating turnovers, the Vandals are going to struggle to win games.
The Bottom Line:
Idaho may not win nine games again this year, but this is a team that should go back to a bowl game before they turn into a major contender in the FCS in 2018 and beyond. The schedule is manageable, but it does get easier towards the end when the Vandals host Coastal Carolina and travel to New Mexico State and Georgia State to finish out the regular season. Idaho will pick up quite a few losses before that stretch of games, but they need to stay confident and healthy to pull off wins down the stretch against the presumed easier teams on the slate.
Projected Bowl: Cure Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 147.8 (98th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 249.2 (51, 2)
Total Offense: 397.0 (74, 4)
Scoring Offense: 30.8 (54, 2)
Rushing Defense: 144.8 (40, 5)
Pass Defense: 283.5 (121, 11)
Total Defense: 428.3 (78, 8)
Scoring Defense: 31.3 (86, 8)
Turnover Margin: 0.85 (10, 1)
Sacks: 1.85 (84, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (52, 6)