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Analysis: Dissecting UI's 2024 football schedule

Apr. 19—The Idaho football team snapped a seven-game losing streak to its longest-tenured rival and bested a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in the last two regular seasons under headman Jason Eck.

That makes analyzing the Vandals' schedule difficult, as they always seem to exceed expectations.

Idaho is about four months away from its season opener against Oregon on Aug. 31 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

A lot can happen in the next 134 days for the Vandals. But how does their schedule stack up compared to the last two years?

A weight class above

Idaho will face FBS opponents in back-to-back weeks for the third consecutive year. It'll be the second time the Vandals punched above their weight class in the season's first two games.

The Vandals open the 2024 campaign against Oregon and travel to play Wyoming the following week.

The Ducks are the best team the Vandals have scheduled in three seasons.

Oregon is a mainstay in the AP Top 25 poll and has a 22-5 record in two seasons under coach Dan Lanning.

The Cowboys are nothing to scoff at, either.

Wyoming notched a 16-15 victory over Toledo in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 30. It was a program-record third straight bowl appearance for the Cowboys.

Wyoming's 9-4 record was its best mark since 1996.

Both of Idaho's FBS opponents had a winning record the year before — a first in the Eck era.

How much traveling?

Idaho has notoriously not had a sixth home game in the last two years.

The Vandals have instead built a schedule that'll benefit their road to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

So Idaho is used to living out of a suitcase.

The Vandals traveled 6,631 miles last regular season, a 953-mile increase from 2022 (with one more game).

Travel will be easier for Idaho this season, totaling 5,272 miles in 2024.

The conference slate

It's a bummer that the Little Brown Stein rivalry game between Idaho and Montana isn't protected by the Big Sky Conference.

The absence of the iconic large mug will be felt by the fans. But it does relieve a bit of pressure from Idaho's conference slate.

The Vandals open Big Sky play with a road game against UC Davis on Sept. 28.

The Aggies just missed the postseason last year with a 7-4 record.

UC Davis returns its leading passer, rusher and receiver in 2024. But it will have a new man in charge, Tim Plough.

The Vandals will next play Northern Arizona for their homecoming game on Oct. 5.

The Lumberjacks finished 5-6 overall last year. But NAU won two of its final three games, including two ranked victories over Weber State and UC Davis.

After Northern Arizona, the Vandals play Montana State on Oct. 12.

The Vandals downed the Bobcats 24-21 in a barnburner last season.

After the Bobcats, Idaho will have a stretch of games against Cal Poly (Oct. 19), Eastern Washington (Oct. 26) and Portland State (Nov. 9). All teams the Vandals have had success against the last two seasons.

Idaho closes the year against Weber State (Nov. 16) and Idaho State (Nov. 23).

The Vandals play three teams from the top half of last year's conference standings, the lowest total of the Eck era.

FCS nonconference tests

The Vandals will play Albany, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season, on Sept. 14.

The Great Danes lost quite a few players, most notably starting quarterback Reese Poffenbarger, who departed for Miami via the transfer portal.

Idaho will play Abilene Christan of the United Athletic Conference the following week.

The Wildcats finished sixth in the UAC with a 5-9 overall record.

The team returns its sack leader, tackler and receiver.

What is the line?

If there was a line for wins for the Vandals in 2024, it'd probably be seven or eight.

The Vandals' conference schedule is the easiest it's been in the last two years, at least on paper.

Idaho's two FBS opponents are not going to be a walk in the park, and its nonconference FCS matchups seem to favor the Vandals.

There seems to be a clear road for Idaho to reach the postseason for the third year in a row.

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, tpixley@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @TreebTalks