#25 Idaho 2018 FCS Football Preview

Idaho Vandals
Overall Rank: #25
#5 Big Sky
 Idaho Logo
The Idaho Vandals will make their return to FCS competition in 2018 in a move that, over the long haul, should set them up for longer term success. Head Coach Paul Petrino has done a solid job of keeping the program going the best he can despite being stuck in the Sun Belt Conference in recent years. There are some key pieces to replace offensively, but Idaho should be competitive right away at the FCS level.
2017 Record: 4-8, 3-5
2017 Postseason: None
Coach: Paul Petrino (19-41 at Idaho, 19-41 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kris Cinkovich
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Breske
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Isaiah Saunders, RB, 506 yards
Passing: Colton Richardson, QB, 395 yards
Receiving: David Ungerer, WR, 432 yards
Tackles: Kaden Elliss, LB, 80
Sacks: Kaden Elliss, LB, 6.0
Interceptions: Ed Hall, LB, 3
Other Key Returnees: OL Noah Johnson, DB Jalen Hoover, DB Sedrick Thomas
Key Losses: RB Aaron Duckworth, QB Matt Linehan, WR A Onunwor, WR Jacob Sannon, LB Tony Lashley, DL Aikeem Coleman, DB Armond Hawkins, LB Leonard Hazewood
There will be a new quarterback in 2018 for the Vandals as Matt Linehan has graduated after having an excellent career. Colton Richardson is the most experienced retruing quarterback after throwing for 395 yards in 2017 as a freshman. Isaiah Saunders should move into the number one running back role after the graduation of Aaron Duckworth. Saunders rushed for 506 yards and averaged four yards per carry in 2017 and should be able to double his production in 2018 if he stays healthy. David Ungerer is the top wide receiver heading into the season as Idaho will need to replace the lost productivity of Alfonso Onunwor and Jacob Sannon, who combined for 123 receptions, 1,464 yards, and nine touchdowns last season. Noah Johnson will anchor an offensive line that should be able to match up physically against most of the teams in the Big Sky this season. Also, the offensive line should be able to cut down on their sacks allowed as they surrendered 4.17 sacks per game in 2017.
Kaden Elliss is going to be the key to the defense this fall for the Vandals. Elliss is a big-time playmaker at outside linebacker as he had 80 tackles, including 16 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2017. In addition, Elliss should see some time at tight end as he has shown some potential as a quality pass catcher. Ed Hall is another good playmaker at linebacker. Hall had three interceptions last season and he should be able to match that number this fall in the pass happy Big Sky Conference. Jalen Hoover and Sedrick Thomas are going to be critical players in the secondary as opposing teams in the Big Sky are going to try to attack through the air all year long. Cade Coffey will be a huge asset for Idaho in the kicking game. He was a USA Today Freshman All-American who averaged 44.6 yards per punt. Also, Coffey did a nice job of pinning teams back deep in their territory with 23 punts landing inside the 20-yard line in 2017.
The Bottom Line:
The Vandals will start the 2018 season at Fresno State, which will provide a very stiff test on both sides of the ball for Idaho. Western New Mexico will come to Moscow in week two for the home opener. Big Sky Conference play will begin on September 22nd at UC Davis in what will be a swing game for the Vandals in their quest for a winning season. On October 13th a trip to Bozeman to play Montana State will be critical as it will be the second game of a stretch that has Idaho playing three of four on the road. The other tough road game in that stretch will take place on October 27th at Eastern Washington. If the Vandals can stay healthy all season they will be in good shape by the time they play for the Little Brown Stein against Montana. Overall, look for a good first season in FCS play for Idaho as they should win about seven or eight games this fall.
Projected Postseason: None
2017 Team Stats (FBS rankings):
Rushing Offense: 124.6 (109th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 224.9 (71, 7)
Total Offense: 349.5 (104, 8)
Scoring Offense: 20.9 (110, 7)
Rushing Defense: 168.1 (67, 8)
Pass Defense: 222.3 (61, 2)
Total Defense: 390.4 (64, 5)
Scoring Defense: 25.8 (56, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.17 (53, 3)
Sacks: 2.25 (49, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 4.17 (129, 11)