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Idaho might go back to FCS, but the Vandals have a shot at a 2016 bowl run first

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Let's hope Vandals fans get to enjoy a happy season in FBS before whatever happens after 2017.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. "Anger is in my head."

I have a 4-year old daughter. She has mastered the art of hysterics. She would eat mac and cheese for every meal if we let her, wore an Elsa costume for Halloween and is a slave to Pixar's emotional string-pulling.

Whatever characters Pixar creates for her to adore, she adores. And when a new movie comes out, she watches it 400 times. We've dived into The Good Dinosaur, but we went more than a few rounds with Inside Out last year.

Her months-long obsession with that movie means, as she has gotten older and slightly more in touch with her own emotions, she broadcasts them through the Inside Out prism.

"I'm sad." "Why?" "Because sadness is in my head."

"I'm angry." "Why?" "Because anger is in my head!"

Anger has definitely been in the head of Idaho. Their fans: angry. Their coach: angryTheir information department, evidently: angry.

Feistiness is not a flaw in the Idaho system; it's a feature. This has long been a program with a chip on its shoulder the size of the Kibbie Dome. Idaho belonged to the same Pacific Coast Conference as USC, Stanford and much of the current-day Pac-12 until the PCC dissolved in the late-1950s and the Vandals weren't invited into the new conference. After 16 seasons of independence, with only a single winning record to show for it, the school dropped down a level.

In 1996, Idaho returned to what is now FBS, moving back up with in-state rival Boise State. And while the Vandals continued to scrape by, the Broncos thrived more than any upstart mid-major should. Not only did life remain hard in Moscow, the program was constantly reminded of its perfect cousin down the road.

After bouncing from the Big West to the Sun Belt, Idaho found a home in the WAC in 2005. But when it dissolved seven seasons later, Idaho and NMSU were able to live as independents because there was hope in a Sun Belt life raft. That raft is now deflating.

The Sun Belt Conference announced on Tuesday that the agreement with New Mexico State and Idaho as football-only affiliate members will be allowed to run out following the 2017 season, according to league comissioner Karl Benson and Texas State President Denise Trauth.

The decision will reduce the conference’s football members to 10 and should reduce travel costs and increase class time for student-athletes.

I'm a laid back hippie when it comes to FBS membership -- the more the merrier, man -- and on principle I was hoping the Sun Belt would decide to keep both despite geographic dissonance and a lack of recent (or historical) success.

Without the Sun Belt, there's a good chance that life will repeat itself and Idaho will eschew independence for the FCS' Big Sky. And honestly, that's probably where the Vandals belong. Before their second FBS sojourn, they were a steady FCS power, reaching the playoffs eight times in nine years from 1985-93. As shaky as they were in 2015, they would have been in the Big Sky top five, according to the Sagarin rankings.

I like to think FBS wouldn't be the same without its angry cousin. And I kind of want to see what a fiery guy like Paul Petrino* can eventually build. But now it's time to preview what might be one of Idaho's final FBS campaigns.

After bottoming out at 1-11 and No. 118 in S&P+ in 2013 -- Petrino's debut -- the Vandals first improved their ratings (No. 109 in 2014), then improved their record (4-8 in 2015).

Idaho technically wasn't a whole lot better. The Vandals ranked 109th in S&P+ both years, and their overall scoring margin was basically the same (minus-12.3 points per game in 2014, minus-11.8 last fall). The offense was legitimately sound in 2015, but the defense was a horror show.

Still, Idaho actually won some games. That feels good, and it helped to briefly alleviate some of the particularly bad feelings. It's hard to imagine any good feelings remain, however.

* Petrino and the Idaho athletic department are clearly feisty, but they also have an obvious softer side. His handling of Idaho signee and recent cancer victim Jace Malek was pure class in an awful situation.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 114 | Final S&P+ Rk: 109
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep Ohio 69 28-45 L 12% 1% -12.7 -10.0
12-Sep at USC 17 9-59 L 1% 0% -11.2 -7.0
19-Sep Wofford N/A 41-38 W 32% 58% -2.2
26-Sep Georgia Southern 48 20-44 L 18% 1% -9.8 -8.0
3-Oct at Arkansas State 71 35-49 L 17% 3% -0.2 +6.0
17-Oct at Troy 90 19-16 W 48% 57% +6.4 +3.0
24-Oct UL-Monroe 121 27-13 W 54% 88% +11.1 +12.5
31-Oct at New Mexico State 118 48-55 L 24% 35% -10.3 -12.5
7-Nov at South Alabama 102 45-52 L 32% 46% -2.1 +3.0
14-Nov Appalachian State 42 20-47 L 25% 3% -7.5 -9.5
21-Nov at Auburn 33 34-56 L 16% 4% -3.2 +12.0
28-Nov Texas State 116 38-31 W 44% 67% +5.2 +4.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 28.7 69 42.2 127
Points Per Game 30.3 57 42.1 123

2. No friend of September

In 2014, Idaho's average percentile performance was 16 percent in the first four games and 34 percent in the next seven. In 2015, it was almost exactly the same.

  • First 5 games
    Average percentile performance: 16% | Record: 1-4 | Performance vs. S&P+ Projection: -7.2 PPG
  • Last 7 games
    Average percentile performance: 35% | Record: 3-4 | Performance vs. S&P+ Projection: -0.1 PPG

The difference in 2015 was that the Vandals both played in a few more close games and won them. Thanks to a pretty potent offense, they went 3-2 in games decided by one possession -- after winning just three games, period, from 2012-14.

Since the start of 2011, Idaho is 3-19 before Oct. 1 with wins over two FCS opponents and a 2-10 Temple in 2013. They have been routinely rocked by power conference programs in September -- Texas A&M in 2011, LSU and North Carolina in 2012, Washington State in 2013, USC in 2015 (average score: 53-6) -- but they've also struggled against mid-major opposition. Any chance of starting a season with a strong statement has mostly gone out the window.

This coming September, they take on trips to Washington and Washington State, both coming off of strong seasons. If there's any hope for a miracle run to 6-6, it will require a win at UNLV on Sept. 24.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 115 IsoPPP+ 97.7 78
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.1% 21 Succ. Rt. + 107.6 35
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.3 101 Def. FP+ 32.0 109
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 49 Redzone S&P+ 102.8 65
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.4 ACTUAL 23 +4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 44 60 35 78
RUSHING 98 68 25 100
PASSING 27 68 61 68
Standard Downs 71 32 96
Passing Downs 45 46 49
Q1 Rk 70 1st Down Rk 76
Q2 Rk 57 2nd Down Rk 93
Q3 Rk 82 3rd Down Rk 89
Q4 Rk 71

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Matt Linehan 6'3, 214 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 248 391 2992 16 11 63.4% 24 5.8% 6.8
Jake Luton 6'6, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7783 49 78 383 1 4 62.8% 5 6.0% 4.3
Gunnar Amos 6'1, 191 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7533
Mason Petrino 5'11, 168 Fr. NR NR

3. An offense worth watching

Idaho still wasn't very good, but that wasn't the offense's fault. Idaho scored 364 points in 2015, its highest total since scoring 425 during 2009's bowl run. The Vandals were very efficient running, and quarterback Matt Linehan was able to make things happen on passing downs. He was a bit of a risk taker, threw 11 picks and took a few too many sacks, but this was the most promising Idaho offense in years.

Linehan is only now a junior. He's already thrown for nearly 5,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. In wideout Callen Hightower and tight ends Deon Watson and Buck Cowan, he returns three players who caught 147 passes and averaged a strong 8.7 yards per target.

Petrino and coordinator Kris Cinkovich crafted a QB-friendly system with lots of early-down passes and passing downs rushes. Idaho was pretty good at catching back up to the chains when it fell behind. But the Vandals will still probably miss running back Elijhaa Penny, who was far more efficient than counterpart Aaron Duckworth. Penny was in no way a big-play threat, but he was consistently able to gain between four and six yards.

Maybe Linehan is ready to take on more. Or maybe Duckworth, sophomore Isaiah Saunders, redshirt freshman Denzal Brantley or freshman Dylan Thigpen is ready for a star turn. But however it happens, Idaho will need to make sure it is either falling into fewer passing downs or is equally good at getting out of them.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Elijhaa Penny RB 247 1163 10 4.7 3.3 39.3% 2 1
Aaron Duckworth RB 5'8, 201 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006 71 249 3 3.5 4.0 28.2% 2 0
Matt Linehan QB 6'3, 214 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 67 388 5 5.8 3.7 56.7% 5 3
Jake Luton QB 6'6, 220 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7783 22 101 5 4.6 3.3 36.4% 0 0
Isaiah Saunders RB 5'10, 228 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 40 0 3.1 0.8 15.4% 0 0
Denzal Brantley RB 6'0, 213 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7974
Josh Herman FB 6'1, 251 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544
Dylan Thigpen RB 5'11, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Dezmon Epps WR-W 85 61 757 71.8% 19.4% 8.9 76.5% 57.6% 1.44
Callen Hightower WR-Z 5'10, 177 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 83 57 749 68.7% 18.9% 9.0 55.4% 48.2% 1.69
Deon Watson TE 6'4, 222 Sr. NR 0.7700 72 42 551 58.3% 16.4% 7.7 66.7% 51.4% 1.42
Trent 'Buck' Cowan TE 6'3, 224 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7500 67 48 624 71.6% 15.3% 9.3 56.7% 56.7% 1.54
Elijhaa Penny RB 37 27 239 73.0% 8.4% 6.5 54.1% 43.2% 1.43
Reuben Mwehla WR-X 5'10, 187 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 23 19 150 82.6% 5.2% 6.5 78.3% 56.5% 1.02
Jante Boston WR-W 5'10, 165 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 23 15 132 65.2% 5.2% 5.7 60.9% 52.2% 1.03
Jacob Sannon WR-Z 5'11, 191 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 15 11 86 73.3% 3.4% 5.7 66.7% 53.3% 0.90
David Ungerer (2014) WR-W 5'8, 165 So. NR 0.7000 15 8 96 53.3% 3.7% 6.4 53.3% N/A N/A
Jake Manley FB 8 5 34 62.5% 1.8% 4.3 100.0% 50.0% 0.68
Kareem Coles WR-Z
7 3 19 42.9% 1.6% 2.7 28.6% 14.3% 1.56
Aaron Duckworth RB 5'8, 201 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006 5 3 19 60.0% 1.1% 3.8 60.0% 20.0% 1.39
Isaiah Saunders RB 5'10, 228 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 5 2 2 40.0% 1.1% 0.4 40.0% 0.0% 0.00
Calvary Pugh WR-W 5'9, 172 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7711 2 2 12 100.0% 0.5% 6.0 100.0% 100.0% 0.48
Khalin Smith TE 6'5, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611
Michael Garner WR 5'11, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8035
Alfonso Onunwor WR 6'1, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7633
J.J. Wills WR 6'1, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8130

4. A few more big plays wouldn't hurt

Dezmon Epps was suspended, reinstated and then kicked off the team after a series of off-the-field issues in 2015, from accusations of shoplifting merchandise from the campus bookstore to a domestic assault accusation. In his absence, Callen Hightower stepped up. The soon-to-be senior caught 38 passes for 559 yards over the last five games. That's both an average of 14.7 yards per catch and a 1,300-yard pace when projected over a full 12 games.

In theory, with Hightower producing downfield and Watson and Cowan doing damage over the middle, Idaho's got the weapons to cover much of the field. But with so little big-play potential in the run game, finding another vertical threat in the passing game would work wonders. And while wideouts Reuben Mwehla, Jante Boston and Jacob Sannon combined to catch 45 passes last year, they averaged just 8.2 yards per catch.

Perhaps a newcomer -- JUCO transfer Alfonso Onunwor? Redshirt freshman Michael Garner? True freshman J.J. Wills? -- can prove threatening. If not, it might be difficult for Idaho to match last season's output, even if it doesn't regress very far.

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 107.7 3.06 3.76 39.5% 66.0% 15.2% 100.4 5.4% 5.9%
Rank 36 38 20 59 65 6 63 75 36
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Dallas Sandberg LG 12 34
Steven Matlock C 6'2, 270 Sr. NR NR 12 28
Mason Woods RG 6'9, 336 Sr. NR 0.7000 12 27
Jordan Rose RT 6'6, 322 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 12 19
Calvin White LT 6'5, 298 Sr. NR NR 9 9
Jeff Travillion LT
3 3
Kato Fawkes LG 6'4, 303 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 0 0
Patrick Johnson C 6'2, 291 So. NR NR 0 0
Andrew Erbes OL 6'2, 313 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 0 0
Darius Peterson OL 6'6, 302 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 0 0
Noah Johnson OL 6'4, 280 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7844

5. Anger works well up front

You can do worse than go into a game with an angry offensive line. Idaho's combined size, experience and effectiveness should do so again. Four returning starters have combined for 83 career starts and the eight non-freshmen listed above average 6'5, 304. That's more than big enough.

Idaho was quite good at keeping defenders out of the backfield, ranking sixth in stuff rate and 36th in passing downs pass rate. I have to figure this is again a strength.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.34 104 IsoPPP+ 81.8 121
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.8% 118 Succ. Rt. + 83.6 123
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.6 100 Off. FP+ 27.6 106
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.3 124 Redzone S&P+ 82.8 125
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.7 ACTUAL 17.0 +0.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 118 122 123 121
RUSHING 126 126 111 127
PASSING 53 103 122 90
Standard Downs 125 123 125
Passing Downs 99 98 98
Q1 Rk 95 1st Down Rk 126
Q2 Rk 121 2nd Down Rk 127
Q3 Rk 127 3rd Down Rk 126
Q4 Rk 128

6. No hope on D

Idaho was more than capable of keeping up in shootouts in 2015 because of its offense. The Vandals found themselves in quite a few shootouts because of their defense. Five times, they lost despite scoring at least 28 points.

Whatever you want to point to is probably correct.

Lack of talent? Under two different head coaches, the Vandals have averaged a No. 117 ranking over the last four years, so ranking 127th isn't that far from the norm.

Lack of play-makers? Idaho's havoc rate of 12.8 percent was 118th in FBS.

Injuries? Oh dear, yes. The Vandals had nine linemen who averaged at least 0.8 tackles per game -- two played in all 12 games. They had six such defensive backs -- three played in all 12 games and 2014 leader Jayshawn Jordan lasted only three.

So this was a limited defense that got ripped up by injury and attrition in the front and the back. That's a bad combination.

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 90.2 3.23 3.06 43.6% 75.0% 17.9% 66.8 2.9% 5.9%
Rank 106 112 49 120 109 92 116 112 91
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quinton Bradley DE 12 46.0 6.6% 15.0 5.0 0 6 1 0
Tueni Lupeamanu DT 6'1, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7700 11 30.5 4.4% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Ryan Edwards NT 10 24.5 3.5% 3.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kevin Shelton BUCK 6'3, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 10 20.5 2.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Khalin Smith BUCK 6'5, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 9 18.0 2.6% 2.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Kaylyn Ayers DE 11 18.0 2.6% 5.0 1.0 0 0 2 0
Glen Antoine NT 6'4, 325 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 12 13.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin White DE 6'4, 263 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7511 5 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Garren Jackson DE 6'3, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578 5 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zach Cable DT 6'3, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Arie Anderson DT 6'1, 326 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7400
Aikeem Coleman DE 6'3, 284 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400
Wayne Eades II DE 6'0, 256 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8000
Derek Watson DE 6'4, 231 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593








7. Injuries lead to depth

You can always spin injuries into a positive in the future. Granted, of the four players in the front seven who recorded more than three tackles for loss last year, three are gone, including ace end Quinton Bradley. Still, the Vandals return four linemen, three linebackers and seven defensive backs who have seen extensive playing time. Plus, Petrino added a new load of JUCOs to supplement the front seven.

In the stats above, you can sort of see what Idaho wanted to do: attack the run on standard downs and the pass on passing downs. In rare passing downs, they were able to occasionally produce. But they barely forced any passing downs because opponents knew they could run at will.

Be it because of healthy veterans or impact newcomers, the run defense simply has to become less of a sieve for Idaho to be able to institute any sort of general strategy. There are more options this year than there were last year. We'll find out if there's also competence.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kaden Elliss WILL 6'3, 216 So. NR NR 12 70.0 10.0% 7.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Broc Westlake MIKE 12 68.0 9.7% 3.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Chris Edwards SAM 12 55.5 7.9% 8.0 1.0 1 3 1 1
Marc Millan SAM 12 54.5 7.8% 3.0 0.0 2 0 2 0
Ed Hall MIKE 6'0, 209 So. NR NR 12 25.0 3.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 2 0
Tony Lashley
(2014)
MIKE 6'1, 236 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7667 7 17.5 2.7% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Leonard Hazewood LB 6'4, 241 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7594
Jason Sylva LB 6'3, 243 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8089
Charles Akanno LB 6'1, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7974








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jayshawn Jordan
(2014)
CB 5'9, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7500 11 52.0 8.1% 3 0 2 3 1 0
Jordan Grabski FS 6'0, 189 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 8 43.0 6.1% 2 0 0 0 0 0
Kendrick Trotter CB 5'11, 176 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 12 39.0 5.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Russell Siavii SS 6'2, 208 Sr. NR 0.7000 12 39.0 5.6% 1 0 2 2 0 1
Dorian Clark CB 6'0, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7583 11 36.5 5.2% 3 1 1 5 0 0
Armond Hawkins FS 5'10, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933 12 33.0 4.7% 4 1 0 0 1 0
D.J. Hampton CB 5'11, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7544 10 17.5 2.5% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Desmond Banks S 6'3, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 11 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Isaiah Taylor CB
1 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vaughn Daggs CB 6'0, 156 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683








8. Just give the secondary a chance

Idaho returns all of last year's contributors in the secondary and welcomes Jayshawn Jordan back into the fold. Experience in the defensive backfield is vital and Idaho has it. Plus, there appears to be some play-making potential in here. Jordan had three tackles for loss and five passes defensed in 2014. Corner Dorian Clark had three and six, respectively, last year, and safety Armond Hawkins' four tackles for loss were more than that of all but two linemen.

If the front seven can offer ANYTHING against the run, the secondary could thrive. There are some potential stars in here. But until we see that the run defense is sturdier, and until we see that the pass rush won't fall apart without Bradley and fellow departee Kaylyn Ayers, we won't know if the secondary will have the chance to prove itself.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 208 Sr. 50 45.9 3 11 9 40.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 208 Sr. 73 61.9 41 5 56.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Rehkow 6'3, 208 Sr. 39-40 15-17 88.2% 8-10 80.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Aaron Duckworth KR 5'8, 201 Jr. 14 17.9 0
Jayshawn Jordan KR 9 19.0 0
Rueben Mwehla PR 5'10, 187 Jr. 7 2.4 0
Dezmon Epps PR 3 1.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 21
Field Goal Efficiency 32
Punt Return Success Rate 77
Kick Return Success Rate 117
Punt Success Rate 8
Kickoff Success Rate 58

9. Rehkow is a stud

Idaho was better at punts than kickoffs and better at punt returns than kick returns. That's not optimal considering Idaho games tended to feature quite a few kickoffs, but still, between punting and place-kicking (and the kickoffs that reached the end zone), Austin Rehkow got plenty of chances to shine in special teams last year. He made 23 of 27 field goals, booted 56 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks and averaged nearly 46 yards per punt.

Coverage and returns were iffy at best, but Rehkow alone gave Idaho a good special teams unit and should again this fall.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep Montana State NR 11.9 75%
10-Sep at Washington 10 -31.6 3%
17-Sep at Washington State 48 -19.6 13%
24-Sep at UNLV 114 -2.1 45%
TBD Georgia State 105 1.5 53%
TBD New Mexico State 117 5.7 63%
TBD South Alabama 115 5.1 62%
TBD Troy 103 0.8 52%
TBD at Appalachian State 59 -18.3 14%
TBD at Texas State 120 -0.6 49%
TBD at UL-Monroe 125 1.7 54%
TBD at UL-Lafayette 106 -4.2 40%
Projected wins: 5.2
Five-Year F/+ Rk -40.9% (124)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 128 / 128
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -6 / -1.7
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.9
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 79% (82%, 76%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.6 (0.4)

10. We'll always have the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl

After averaging just 2.3 wins per season from 2001-08, Idaho came out of nowhere to go 8-5 in 2009, taking home a thrilling, last-second Humanitarian Bowl win.

Gruff-voiced head coach Robb Akey had a star turn that season, but he couldn't keep it up. Idaho fell to 6-7 in 2010 and has gone just 9-50 since 2011.

If we're approaching the end of Idaho's FBS existence, it would be fun if the Vandals were able to put together one more run at bowl eligibility.

The schedule has plenty of potential wins. If Idaho can conjure some Kibbie Dome magic and play well at home -- all five home games come against teams projected 103rd or worse -- they might need as few as one or two road victories to reach six wins. The trip to UNLV is one good opportunity, and visits to Texas State and both Louisiana schools offer three more.

This is doable, but the defense has to offer something, anything. With a simply bad defense in 2015, the Vandals maybe win six games and have a better case for Sun Belt retention.

If a healthy defense can complement a downright solid offense enough to turn a couple more shootouts, Idaho might be able to find a few more moments of happiness at the FBS level. It's not something you would want to bet on, but I wouldn't mind seeing a few smiles on the face of FBS' angry cousin before he leaves town.