Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Yarbnalls Vandals.

Why they might look familiar: Fans of uniform malfunctions will recall a series of mishaps involving both the football team and scandalously-clad cheerleading squad in 2008. Mustache aficionados and Muppeteers will sigh fondly at the sight of head coach Robb Akey's take-no-prisoners facial hair and voice that immediately and indelibly recalls Dr. Teeth.

But for those of us manning Mid-Major Mondays, Idaho will forever be known as the "Yarbnalls." Hastily dismissed in this space as "yarn balls" and the likely victim of the "most inevitably gruesome blowout" of the week in advance of their meeting with Northern Illinois last September, the Vandals pulled the upset on the road, 34-31, en route to a 6-1 start. We were utterly transfixed, and remained on crow-eating duty straight through their blockbuster win (yes, blockbuster) in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Previously on: Just setting foot in a bowl game was quite an achievement for a program coming out of the lowest ebb of a decade-long losing streak, with just three wins in two years from 2007-08. Last year's 8-5 rebound was the Vandals' first winning season since 1999. Guard Mike Iupati left to become the school's first first-round draft pick since 1967.

A stunning 6-1 start was tarnished when the Vandals lost four of their last five to close the regular season. Not to be cowed, they made the most of the rare national stage by delivering the most harrowing ten minutes of the entire bowl season:

For those of you who weren't watching (so, everyone), that's a game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion with four seconds on the clock. Robb Akey has innards made entirely of titanium, and the horses to match.

It's difficult in a conference so thoroughly dominated by rival Boise State to be a statistical standout, but valiant efforts were made: In typical WAC-ky fashion, the Vandals fielded the nation's 9th-ranked offense opposite the 107th-ranked defense. Quarterback Nathan Enderle was second in the conference only to Boise State's Kellen Moore in pass efficiency, and to Utah State's Diondre Borel in total offense; but the only opponent the Vandals held under 20 points was New Mexico State, the worst offense in the country, in a 21-6 win to open the season.

Encounters in the wild: September takes the Vandals to Nebraska, after a bracing opener against I-AA North Dakota. They get Boise State at home on Nov. 12, a Friday-night primetime affair on ESPN2 that should be worth for the rare foray into the claustrophobic Kibbie Dome, the smallest I-A stadium in the country at 16,000 seats. The remaining road schedule is a relatively arduous one: at Colorado State, at Western Michigan, at Louisiana Tech, at Hawaii and at Fresno State, where the Vandals haven't won since both teams were in the "Small College" division in 1967.

Stock characters: Enderle returns for his senior season, to the delight of over-under bettors everywhere. Despite missing two games last season, he still threw for over 2,900 yards and saw his TD:INT ratio drop from from 20:17 in 2008 to 22:9. He'll have his pick of fine targets: Tight end Daniel Hardy, last year's second-leading receiver, awaits along with Maurice Shaw and Preston Davis at wideout. Princeton McCarty, last year's second-leading rusher and already possessor of a fine nom de plume, returns along with Deonté Jackson, who ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman in 2007 and led the team again with 696 yards on the ground in 2008.

The defense returns the entire front seven, but that might not necessarily bode well: Idaho was 77th nationally against the run last time around (fun fact: That was still good for third in the WAC!). What they do have is a wealth of experience in the secondary, led by senior safety Shiloh Keo, who led the Vandals  with three interceptions in '09 and tied for second in the conference in tackles.

Prognosis: That is one bleak hell of a road schedule, even for a WAC team, and there are worries enough with four new offensive line starters to put all Akey's fine playmaking weapons at risk. Nevertheless, after last year we remain relentlessly high on the Vandals and will not be dissuaded by little things like "run and pass protection." Seven wins and a return to minor-bowl glory, say we, for Dr. Teeth and his band of Yarbnalls.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Akron ... Arkansas ... Arkansas State ... Army ... Ball State ... Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... East Carolina ... Florida Atlantic ... Florida State ... Fresno State ... Georgia ... Hawaii ... Houston ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... Louisiana Tech ... LSU ... Marshall ... MemphisMiddle Tennessee State ... MissouriNevada ... North Texas ... Oregon State ... PittsburghSan Diego State ... Stanford ... Toledo ... Tulane ... UAB ... UCLA ... UTEP.

Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.

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