June 17, 2009
A cursory examination of D-I's lesser-known elements. Today: The Idaho Vandals.
You may remember them from: Last September's outcry over the cheerleading uniforms, or more precisely, the relative lack thereof. (We have always been fond of this story thanks to the following quote: "To be fair, there were a number of fans who liked them." That probably goes without saying.) It is our studied opinion that the good people of Idaho have to bundle up for far too much of the year as is, and should be allowed to show as much skin as legally permissible in the cozy confines of a domed stadium, but we're liberal like that.
Previously on: As Gem State native Ezra Pound might put it, yeeeeesh. The Vandals cowered in the familiar confines of the WAC cellar for the second year in a row in '08, finishing 1-7 in conference and 2-10 overall with the nation's 116th-ranked defense. The debit side of that ledger was executed in typical WAC-y fashion: In their ten losses, the Vandals managed to hold their opponents under 40 points only once, in a 30-24 close call with San Jose State. They opened, admirably, against Arizona, to whom they lost, less admirably, 70-0. The lone ranked team they faced, No. 9 Boise State, knocked them off 45-10 in mid-November. The 2008 season was a grim one, is our point, unless you count the two wins as a 100 percent improvement over 2007, when the beleagured Vandals managed to scrape out a lone victory against Cal Poly in September and went winless the rest of the year.
Possible Encounters: You might bump into Idaho as the answer to one of two possible AFLAC trivia questions: "How many Division I-A teams play in domes?" or "What is the smallest stadium in Division I-A?" For both, remember Moscow's Kibbie Dome, probably best described as a "domelet" at a capacity of 18,000. (Hey, at least it's not the Minidome.) Officially (and improbably), the Vandals drew 15,000 to every home game last year, 17,000 when Boise State came to town, and actually played in front of two smaller crowds on the road, according to the NCAA's tally: 10,154 at Utah State and 12,400 at Louisiana Tech.
Stock characters: Nationally televised games are highly unlikely, but those of you on the left coast could theoretically have the pleasure of watching defensive end Aaron Lavarias, a recent transplant from tackle, knocking a few heads. Third-year starting quarterback Nate Enderle has close to 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in the books, and showed steady improvement from 2007 to 2008, but he'll need some help to vault this team up in the pinball-scoring WAC. With freshmen at kicker and punter, special teams will either be building a steady foundation or rapidly devolving into a schadenfreude-ridden clown show. On the bright side, Idaho did crack the top-20 in one category last season -- punt yardage!
Prognosis: Iffy -- even "an opposing WAC coach" in Athlon says, "They don't have as much talent as everyone else." With a 3-21 record thus far, third-year head coach Robb Akey has nowhere to go but up, however slightly. This year's out-of-conference slate is marginally more manageable, featuring a trip to Seattle to face the Husky dregs of the Pac-10, a slightly scarier venture to Northern Illinois, and a home stand against Colorado State. The rest is all WAC, whose members are largely content to hang absurd statistics on each other year-in and year-out and leave the rest of America alone, with the recent exception of Boise State. It's on the optimistic side, but even if four wins isn't a lot, it'd be another 100 percent improvement on last year. In the absence of gratuitously exposed midriffs, Vandal fans should take satisfaction where they can find it.