Idaho receiver Dezmon Epps returns to help lead the Vandals' offense. (Spruce Derden / USA Today Sports / October 26, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 108: Idaho Vandals
Coach: Paul Petrino (1-11, entering 2nd season; 1-11 overall)
2013 record: 1-11 (Independent)
Look back: Idaho endured a bumpy patch of uncertainty following dramatic conference realignment that the altered college football landscape.
The power-five conferences, including the SEC, expanded and consolidated power. They raided mid-size conferences such as the Big East, Mountain West and Conference USA. Those leagues turned to the Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conference to refill their lineups. The Sun Belt plucked enough teams transitioning to the Football Bowl Subdivision level to continue operations, but the Idaho's home conference — the WAC — couldn't keep up and stopped supporting football.
Although Idaho ultimately joined fellow WAC refugee New Mexico State with a late invitation to the Sun Belt, the Vandals had to spend the past season operating as an independent squad.
During its year of transition, Paul Petrino took over as the program's head coach. Petrino, the brother of veteran coach Bobby Petrino, led the squad to a 1-11 record. The Vandals' sole win was a 26-24 victory over Temple on homecoming. The team closed the season on an seven-game losing streak.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: RB James Baker, QB Taylor Davis, DT QuayShawne Buckley, TE Mike LaGrone, WR Najee Lovett, DT Vince Keener, CB Roman Runner, S Trey Williams
Top returnees: LB Marc Millan, DE Maxx Forde, C Mike Marboe, WR Dezmon Epps, P Austin Rehkow, WR/QB Josh McCain
Strengths: Idaho fielded the fourth youngest team in the nation, but that hard-earned experience should help the program this season. Petrino also has had a chance to load up with more recruits and has greater competition for starting jobs.
“What's exciting is we have more guys who show up and work every day and compete every day,” Petrino said in the team's spring football preview. “If they don't, they won't see the field. That's how you become great.”
The team returns LB Marc Millan, who led the team with 90 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks and four passes broken up last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, C Mike Marboe has 36 consecutive starts and anchors the front line.
Weaknesses: Idaho is ranked No. 121 in the nation out of 123 NCAA-recognized teams, giving up 529.4 yards per game. The team wasn't much better on offense, ranking No. 115 in scoring with 18.2 points per game.
Outlook: Idaho is in much better shape than the start of last season with a coach entering his second season and a program joining the Sun Belt Conference. However, the Vandals still have challenges to clear before they can earn bowl eligibility.