The big 2014 Idaho football preview: Risk vs. reward

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Petrino signed 16 junior college transfers for his 2014 Idaho recruiting class in the hopes of making quick progress in a tough rebuilding project. Will the risk pay off, or will that just speed up the arrival of the NEXT Idaho rebuilding job?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. There's no time like the present

I guess it fits the stereotype that a Petrino doesn't have a lot of patience.

Despite being separated by nearly 1,500 miles, Idaho and New Mexico State will long be linked together, both as conference mates and as kindred spirits that nearly lost their places in the Football Bowl Subdivision. When the WAC dissolved in 2012, other conference mates found landing spots in the Mountain West (Utah State, San Jose State), Conference USA (Louisiana Tech, UTSA), and the Sun Belt (Texas State).

But nobody took Idaho and NMSU. Both programs spent 2013 as independents, where scheduling nightmares indicated the programs weren't too terribly long for the FBS universe.

The Sun Belt, however, eventually threw out a pair of life preservers. Idaho and NMSU were each original members of the SBC when it began football play in 2001, and, geographical issues aside (Idaho is now conference mates with schools from Boone, NC, and Statesboro, GA), it welcomes the two schools back in 2014.

Idaho and NMSU have also shared something else in recent years: pretty bad football. This was obviously one of the leading causes of their initial conference censure. NMSU has gone 23-88 since 2005 and 12-50 since 2009. Idaho had a two-year burst of relative success under Robb Akey -- the Vandals went 14-12 in 2009-10 -- but omitting those two years, they've gone just 22-108 since 2001 and 4-32 since 2011. They ranked 109th and 113th in the F/+ rankings in 2011, 120th and 123rd in 2012, and 116th and 122nd in 2013.

Recent history has been anything but kind to these schools, but that's basically where the similarities end. Both hired new coaches before the 2013 season. One (NMSU's Doug Martin) is taking the long road to success and attempting to build mostly through high school recruits, redshirting, and development. The other (Idaho's Paul Petrino) is taking a path that is almost 180 degrees different. Of the 25 players NMSU signed in its 2014 recruiting class, 23 were high schoolers. Meanwhile, of the 24 non-grayshirts Idaho signed, eight were high schoolers. Petrino brought in 16 junior college transfers, seven of whom signed in December and are already enrolled, in an attempt to immediately change the Vandals' faded fortunes.

Neither approach is correct or incorrect, mind you, but there's no question that Petrino's approach is risky. If JUCO transfers don't create immediate improvement, then they're just going to result in another quick-fix JUCO recruiting class two years later. And the approach itself is in no way guaranteed to work; Charlie Weis brought in 15 JUCO transfers at Kansas last year, and his Jayhawks improved all the way from 104th and 1-11 to 101st and 3-9. Ron Prince brought 20 JUCOs to Kansas State in 2008, and his Wildcats went from 59th and 5-7 to ... 83rd and 5-7.

It could pay off, though. Petrino's new-old blood will mix with a roster full of experience in the trenches and at least one intriguing skill position player. Not every JUCO has to be a hit for Idaho to improve, but we'll see if the reward matches the risk.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 116
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug at North Texas 51 6-40 L 30.9 - 41.7 L
7-Sep at Wyoming 102 10-42 L 15.5 - 37.8 L
14-Sep Northern Illinois 60 35-45 L 27.9 - 25.0 W
21-Sep at Washington State 53 0-42 L 6.8 - 46.8 L
28-Sep Temple 98 26-24 W 25.9 - 26.7 L -14.2
5-Oct Fresno State 49 14-61 L 15.0 - 37.8 L -16.6
12-Oct at Arkansas State 90 24-48 L 19.6 - 40.7 L -16.4
26-Oct at Ole Miss 28 14-59 L 16.4 - 41.9 L -22.1
2-Nov Texas State 107 21-37 L 24.8 - 34.6 L -16.0
9-Nov Old Dominion N/A 38-59 L 17.2 - 42.1 L -20.8
23-Nov at Florida State 1 14-80 L 29.1 - 30.1 L -16.5
30-Nov at New Mexico State 122 16-24 L 15.8 - 28.8 L -14.8
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -17.4% 117 -10.7% 103 -2.8% 109
Points Per Game 18.2 117 46.8 125
Adj. Points Per Game 20.4 117 36.2 116

2. If you squint, you can see improvement

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Opponent 37.3, Idaho 19.8 (minus-17.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 33.9, Idaho 21.7 (minus-12.2)

Over the last four games, Idaho's adjusted scoring averages improved by about five points per game overall. Of course, the fact that this improvement includes an 80-14 loss at Florida State, a 21-point home loss to Old Dominion, and a loss, period, to New Mexico State probably tells you more about Idaho's first eight games than its last four.

Still, while the offense was still terribly below average, defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee's aggressive defense was more successfully aggressive late in the year, and while a star defensive tackle is gone, the unit could potentially build off of that.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.13 70 IsoPPP+ 95.6 89
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.6% 108 Succ. Rt. + 81.6 115
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 34.2 123 Def. FP+ 90.6 125
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.5 113 Redzone S&P+ 70.3 123
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.6 ACTUAL 27 +2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 91 120 116 106
RUSHING 97 100 89 97
PASSING 67 121 123 99
Standard Downs 123 119 118
Passing Downs 93 108 23
Q1 Rk 105 1st Down Rk 120
Q2 Rk 112 2nd Down Rk 110
Q3 Rk 120 3rd Down Rk 104
Q4 Rk 116

3. Bailout options

Despite woeful inefficiency in doing so, Idaho really wanted to pass the ball in 2013. Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich began the year as a starter and proved adept at three things: completing short passes, running for six-to-eight yards, and taking a ton of sacks. He was lost with a shoulder injury midway through the season, and the less mobile (and more frequently upright) Taylor Davis took over most of the quarterbacking duties after that.

No matter who was behind center, Idaho's passing game didn't really take it anywhere. The output remained about the same when Taylor Davis was in charge of the offense, but his more explosive passing tendencies were tamped down by his inability to complete more than 46 percent of his passes.

The Vandals had a couple of bailout options, however. First, Chalich really was solid at picking his spots and getting upfield. Petrino had to rely on Chalich more than he wanted to from a playmaking perspective (he took a lot of hits because of it), but when Davis took over at quarterback, then-junior Dezmon Epps began to emerge in the receiving corps. He caught five passes for 89 yards against Ole Miss, nine for 175 against Old Dominion, and even seven for 126 against Florida State. For the season, he averaged a solid 8.1 yards per target despite being mainly a passing downs weapon.

If one or both JUCO signees at the receiver position can bring some reliability to the table, and if perhaps another youngster (perhaps sophomore Rueben Mwehla?) is able to step up a bit, Epps could be the leader of a downright strong receiving corps. Regardless, he should continue to be a decent second- or third-and-long option.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Taylor Davis 98 212 1324 8 7 46.2% 17 7.4% 5.3
Chad Chalich 6'0, 205 So. N/A 113 184 1238 5 3 61.4% 30 14.0% 4.9
Joshua McCain 6'2, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 26 204 2 3 46.2% 6 18.8% 4.9
Gunnar Amos 6'1, 196 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)








Jake Luton 6'6, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)








4. If the arm catches up to the legs...

Chalich certainly showed hints of high-caliber quarterbacking last fall. He dominated in August scrimmages and passed Davis atop the depth chart, and he completed 40 of 68 passes for 546 yards, three scores, and no picks against NIU and Temple. He also rushed for 114 yards against Temple and, even in bad games, tended to pick his spots well in the running game. If he had played the entire season, he'd have easily been Idaho's leading rusher.

If Chalich is able to hold off senior Joshua McCain and some youngsters and remain Idaho's starter, the key for his success will be in slowly figuring out how to avoid disaster. In games not against NIU and Temple, he still completed 60 percent of his passes, but with three interceptions and only 9.9 yards per pass. He was torn between the desire to force passes into tighter windows and the need to flee the pocket to buy extra time, and like a lot of mobile quarterbacks, he struggled with sacks. Well, "struggled" is an understatement. He took 30 sacks in 214 pass attempts; by means of comparison, NIU's Jordan Lynch took 10 in 414 attempts.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp. Rate
James Baker RB 145 600 6 4.1 3.8 33.1%
Chad Chalich QB 6'0, 205 So. N/A 63 400 0 6.3 4.3 55.6%
Richard Montgomery RB 5'8, 180 So. 2 stars (5.2) 59 196 2 3.3 2.6 37.3%
Jerrel Brown RB 6'0, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 55 216 0 3.9 4.1 34.5%
Joshua McCain QB 6'2, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 47 259 1 5.5 5.2 46.8%
Taylor Davis QB 36 186 3 5.2 3.4 47.2%
Kristoffer Olugbode RB 5'9, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 28 96 0 3.4 1.3 32.1%
Dezmon Epps WR 5'10, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 8 15 0 1.9 7.5 25.0%
Isaiah Saunders RB 5'10, 216 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)





Elijhaa Penny RB 6'2, 245 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target Rate %SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Dezmon Epps WR-W 5'10, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 120 77 971 64.2% 31.5% 45.1% 8.1 37 6.7 90.1
Najee Lovett WR-Z 69 35 428 50.7% 18.1% 65.4% 6.2 -53 6.0 39.7
Deon Watson WR-X 6'4, 213 So. N/A 44 24 279 54.5% 11.5% 50.0% 6.3 -38 8.4 25.9
Michael LaGrone TE 42 18 257 42.9% 11.0% 78.6% 6.1 -16 9.2 23.8
Richard Montgomery RB 5'8, 180 So. 2 stars (5.2) 24 17 176 70.8% 6.3% 53.3% 7.3 -20 10.2 16.3
Roman Runner WR 15 12 106 80.0% 3.9% 50.0% 7.1 -25 7.7 9.8
Justin Podrabsky TE 6'6, 256 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 7 104 58.3% 3.1% 75.0% 8.7 15 8.3 9.6
James Baker RB 10 8 177 80.0% 2.6% 50.0% 17.7 90 20.6 16.4
Clayton Homme TE 9 3 46 33.3% 2.4% 100.0% 5.1 -7 0.1 4.3
Jacob Sannon WR-X 5'11, 177 So. 2 stars (5.2) 9 5 84 55.6% 2.4% 33.3% 9.3 19 6.1 7.8
Kristoffer Olugbode RB 5'9, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 6 4 55 66.7% 1.6% 0.0% 9.2 7 5.3 5.1
Jake Manley FB 6'0, 237 Jr. N/A 5 3 11 60.0% 1.3% 100.0% 2.2 -27 1.1 1.0
Jerrel Brown RB 6'0, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 5 4 32 80.0% 1.3% 0.0% 6.4 -12 0.0 3.0
Buck Cowan WR-W 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 4 2 20 50.0% 1.0% 100.0% 5.0 -8 3.3 1.9
Jared Klingenberg TE 6'4, 246 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Rueben Mwehla WR-Z 5'10, 198 So. 2 stars (5.3)









Jermaine Johnson WR 6'4, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)









Kenny Torrence WR 5'9, 165 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)









Michael Garner WR 5'10, 167 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)









Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 91.4 2.95 2.95 39.1% 60.0% 21.0% 50.0 11.0% 8.1%
Rank 100 66 95 69 102 87 123 124 83
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Mike Marboe C 6'2, 296 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 35
Cody Elenz LT 6'4, 287 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 20
Dallas Sandberg RG 6'5, 311 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 15
Nick Von Rotz RT 6'5, 292 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 11
Spencer Beale LG


10
Steven Matlock RG 6'2, 276 So. N/A 8
Jesse Davis RT 6'6, 286 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 5
Mason Woods LT 6'9, 333 So. N/A 4
Sione Maile LG 6'1, 293 Sr. N/A 2
Calvin White LT 6'5, 258 So. N/A 0
Larry Dugan RG 0
Brett Thompson RT 6'5, 318 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Jerett Olson OL 6'4, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)

Jeff Travillion OL 6'3, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)

Kato Fawkes OL 6'4, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)

5. The line should be a strength

We don't know what the skill position roster will have to offer in 2014; Epps is exciting, there are JUCO transfers at both running back and receiver, and at the very least, Richard Montgomery and Jerrel Brown won't provide much of a drop-off (if any) in the absence of starting running back James Baker. There are options and no guarantees there.

Up front, however, is the closest thing to a guarantee on the offense. Idaho's offensive line wasn't amazing, and it benefited occasionally from timely runs by Chalich and McCain, but it did a pretty decent job of both keeping defenders out of the backfield (against the run) and creating some downfield running opportunities. As importantly, it returns four starters and 100 career starts and adds three JUCO transfers to the mix.

Three-year starting center Mike Marboe leads the way, and there's a pretty good chance that this is the best unit on the offense, and not totally in an it's-the-least-bad kind of way.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 113 IsoPPP+ 89.7 114
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.3% 112 Succ. Rt. + 93.4 87
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.2 110 Off. FP+ 95.5 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 119 Redzone S&P+ 97.7 67
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.8 ACTUAL 19.0 +2.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 122 97 87 105
RUSHING 103 78 72 110
PASSING 124 109 88 95
Standard Downs 97 86 108
Passing Downs 95 78 117
Q1 Rk 105 1st Down Rk 112
Q2 Rk 73 2nd Down Rk 63
Q3 Rk 112 3rd Down Rk 108
Q4 Rk 117

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 102.3 3.11 3.72 46.7% 67.4% 15.3% 120.2 5.8% 6.1%
Rank 51 88 103 118 67 109 28 33 80
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Maxx Forde DE 6'3, 261 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 49.5 6.5% 10.0 4.5 0 3 1 0
QuayShawne Buckley NT 12 38.5 5.1% 15.0 6.5 0 0 1 0
Marius Burgsmueller DE 6'5, 273 Sr. N/A 9 16.0 2.1% 2.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Vince Keener DT 11 15.0 2.0% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Quinton Bradley DE 6'3, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 7 13.5 1.8% 2.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Ryan Edwards NT 6'3, 291 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 11 13.0 1.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Anthony Rice DE 6'2, 251 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 7 7.0 0.9% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Tueni Luepamanu DL 6'1, 263 So. 2 stars (5.2) 3 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alfonso Hampton DT 6'5, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Max Martial DT 6'5, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Kaylyn Ayers DE 6'4, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Glen Antoine DT 6'4, 325 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)







6. Miss you, QuayShawne

I'm not going to try to convince you that Idaho's defense was good. The Vandals ranked 103rd in Def. F/+ and allowed 7.0 yards per play in eight of 12 games. Nothing about that is good. But its struggles were based in part on facing some pretty good offenses, and the unit as a whole really did improve down the stretch.

The question for 2014 is how much of that improvement was due to tackles QuayShawne Buckley and Vince Keener. Idaho's line stats were downright solid -- 51st in Adj. Line Yards, 28th in Adj. Sack Rate -- and while Buckley was not alone in his productivity, he was the leading playmaker, with 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Idaho returns six of eight linemen, but the top two tackles are gone, and we'll see how much of an impact that has on a couple of solid attackers: end Maxx Forde and linebacker Marc Millan. (Yes, Maxx with two x's. He's your new favorite player.)

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marc Millan SLB 6'1, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 76.0 10.0% 11.0 4.0 0 4 0 0
Matthew Willis WLB 10 46.5 6.1% 3.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Eric Tuipulotu WLB 5'11, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 11 43.5 5.7% 1.0 0.0 1 0 1 0
Juan Martinez MLB 6'3, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 11 37.0 4.9% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Broc Westlake LB 6'3, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 9 21.0 2.8% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Wells LB 6'0, 257 Sr. N/A 1 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Peterson LB 6'0, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Irving Steele LB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)







Ronald Perry LB 6'1, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)

7. The front seven will still attack

You can see coordinator Ronnie Lee's intentions in the stats above. Idaho wanted desperately to attack and pulled off decent efficiency ratings (87th in Success Rate+) and drive-finishing ratings (67th in Redzone S&P+) because of these aggressive tendencies. The problem was that there wasn't enough talent on the defense as a whole to make the aggression pay off. For every successfully aggressive play, there was a devastating breakdown.

With Forde and Millan leading the way, the odds are good that the aggression isn't going to go anywhere. The question might simply be whether the massive influx of junior college transfers here -- four on the line (including three enormous tackles vying to replace Buckley), three at linebacker, four in the secondary -- can upgrade the overall talent and athleticism to the point where the risks pay off. If they do, Idaho could see a boost in three-and-outs, turnovers, etc., and put its offense in much more favorable situations.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Bradley Njoku FS 6'1, 202 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 73.5 9.7% 2.5 0 1 2 0 0
Jayshawn Jordan CB 5'9, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 70.0 9.2% 3 0 1 9 0 0
Trey Williams SS 10 51.0 6.7% 2 0 3 1 0 0
Solomon Dixon CB


5 29.5 3.9% 3 1 1 3 0 0
Roman Runner CB 11 29.0 3.8% 3.5 1 1 1 0 0
Christian Whitehead CB 7 24.5 3.2% 0 0 1 0 1 0
Jordan Grabski SS 6'0, 171 So. 2 stars (5.2) 8 21.5 2.8% 3 0 0 1 0 0
Delency Parham CB 5'11, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 9 17.0 2.2% 2 0 0 2 0 0
D'Mario Carter FS 4 10.5 1.4% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Tom Hennessey SS 5'11, 193 Sr. N/A 5 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Desmond Banks CB 6'3, 192 So. 2 stars (5.2) 3 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Armond Hawkins CB 5'10, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Chris Edwards DB 6'2, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Marquis Hatcher DB 5'11, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Doyin Sule DB 6'2, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)







Dennis Rufas DB 6'1, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Dorian Clark DB 5'10, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)

8. The secondary will still be shaky

You get used to reading stat lines after a while. Or I should say, you get used to understanding what they mean. A defensive lineman with a lot of tackles for loss is probably a good thing. A linebacker with a ton of tackles and minimal havoc-related stats might be good or bad thing or nothing at all. A defensive back with quite a few passes defensed might be a good thing, unless he has too many tackles to go with it.

That corner Jayshawn Jordan defensed 10 passes (one pick, nine break-ups) could be good, but the fact that he also had 70.0 tackles, third on the team, either means he was great in run support (he did have three tackels for loss) ... or the guy he was covering was catching a lot of passes. Add it to the total defensed passes, and you get the impression that defenses might not have been afraid of Jordan too much.

Regardless, Jordan and Bradley Njoku are the leaders of a secondary that, for better or worse, gets a facelift. Four of the top (well, "top") six are gone, and if JUCOs are going to have an immediate positive impact somewhere, the secondary might not be a bad place for it. When your pass rush ranks 28th in Adj. Sack Rate and your defense still ranks 109th in Passing S&P+, your secondary probably needed a facelift.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 202 So. 75 47.8 7 15 24 52.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 202 So. 46 61.2 16 3 34.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 202 So. 26-27 8-11 72.7% 2-6 33.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Najee Lovett KR 15 22.0 0
Richard Montgomery KR 5'8, 180 So. 15 21.8 0
Dezmon Epps PR 5'10, 170 Sr. 21 5.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 109
Field Goal Efficiency 101
Punt Return Efficiency 71
Kick Return Efficiency 82
Punt Efficiency 25
Kickoff Efficiency 120
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 69

9. 47.8

That is one mighty good punting average. That Idaho still got dominated in the field position battle is almost a crime against Austin Rehkow.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Florida 21
13-Sep Western Michigan 113
20-Sep at Ohio 108
8-Nov at San Diego State 83
TBD Arkansas State 84
TBD New Mexico State 124
TBD South Alabama 92
TBD Troy 111
TBD at Appalachian State N/A
TBD at Georgia Southern N/A
TBD at Texas State 114
TBD at UL-Monroe 112
Five-Year F/+ Rk -21.2% (117)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 0
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -8 / -7.8
TO Luck/Game -0.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (6, 6)

10. The Hawaii of the Sun Belt

Adj. Points Per Game (Home): Opponent 33.2, Idaho 22.2 (minus-11.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (Away): Opponent 38.3, Idaho 19.2 (minus-19.1)

America's Sun Belt either stretches through the Southeast or South, depending on your definition. Moscow, Idaho, is neither South nor East, with far-away Las Cruces representing its closest in-conference stop. A few years ago, Idaho was a conference rival with Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, and Utah State. Now, it is the Hawaii of the Sun Belt, the strange, far-away stop that other conferences have to make every couple of years. The Vandals will travel to Georgia Southern for a conference road game this year, also hosting South Alabama and Troy.

That's nuts. But for an iffy team, long travel and a unique home field advantage might not be a bad thing.

If the JUCOs take hold to any degree, there are enough other interesting pieces here -- Chad Chalich, Dezmon Epps, a decent offensive line, Maxx Forde, Marc Millan -- to turn the Vandals into perhaps a team in the No. 95-110 range. And if they get to that level, they are looking at winnable home games against WMU, NMSU, Troy, and perhaps either South Alabama or Arkansas State. And despite the distance, none of four conference road games are out of reach.

Petrino took a hard swing at immediate improvement with his 2014 recruiting class, and there's a possibility that he could manufacture a four- or five-win season with it, with the promise for more in 2015. But if they aren't able to make much of an immediate impact, then we're looking at basically the same team and a perpetuated rebuilding job.

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