The programs clashing Saturday in San Marcos were headed in remarkably different directions.
One is receding back into the depths of the FCS, giving up the life of major college football’s arms race to reinvigorate regional rivalries and gain sustainability.
The other isn’t. The other is all in on FBS, whether or not it can afford it. The other is wanted by the Sun Belt Conference and thought of as a proud long-term partner.
The latter program was also systematically fucking dominated by the Big Sky-bound Vandals, is arguably the worst college football program in the country and was the team which made Idaho the lucky recipient of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
Texas State took a 14-7 lead in the game before Idaho curb-stomped the Bobcats with 40 consecutive points for the Vandals’ second conference win of 30+ and third conference win by double digits.
This isn’t luck, guys. Of the 11 teams in the conference, Idaho is unarguably one of its four best programs.
Texas State is not. Louisiana Lafayette is not. Louisiana Monroe is not. None of those long-term member schools beat Idaho. None of those programs currently have the on-field trajectory Idaho seems to be carrying out.
Some of us sat with our faces buried in our hands and tried not to cry in a room full of adults on Saturday. And by some of us, I mean me.
This season is both incredible and tragic.
Incredible because this isn’t just a good football team – It’s a good football program.
This isn’t 2009, where Robb Akey lucked into a roster full of talent Nick Holt and Dennis Erickson recruited, added a quarterback to it and lucked into an eight-win season because running behind Mike Iupati was a guaranteed first down every time.
This is Paul Petrino inheriting a dysfunctional program which at the time had no legitimate recruiting philosophy. The athletic director and last head coach were hardly on speaking terms.
Petrino built everything from the ground up, taking his ass kickings while developing both the young players he inherited from Akey and the players he worked hard to bring to a program that didn’t have shit going for it.
Now, nine wins are legitimately on the table.
Nine. Fucking. Wins.
Idaho literally won nine games from 2011-2015. Now we’re going to do it in ONE. SEASON?????
But there is no future here. Enjoy your bowls while you can. What could have been a beautiful, healthy and beneficial relationship was nixed eight months ago when Karl Benson sat Idaho down and said … “It’s not you … We just want something different.”
Despite Chuck Staben and Rob Spear’s incredibly sad boombox-outside-your-window efforts to get the Sun Belt back, the conference started to pull away.
We all handled this differently.
Staben ran into the arms of the first conference to show him affection. Spear probably barricaded himself in his office and ate cheerios with Black Velvet.
You? You made passive aggressive posts on Facebook about how some FBS conferences just don’t like nice universities.
Then there’s Kaden Elliss, Paul Petrino and the Idaho football team.
If you need advice on how to deal with your next break-up, ask Elliss.
Just get pissed and control what you can control.
“By the time that year comes a lot is going to be different,” Elliss said after the Sun Belt’s vote to eject from the conference after the 2017 season. “We have to focus one day at a time, one game at a time, one season at a time.”
Translation: Shit happens.
“But it is extra motivation to know that they didn’t want us,” Elliss said. “They didn’t think we were good enough to earn them money overall. We want to get them back for it.”
Translation: Your fuckin’ loss.
“Honestly, we want to make them regret it.”
Kaden Elliss is pissed. Kaden Elliss is doing something about it.
Elliss is tied for the team lead in interceptions and is the best player on a defense which has made incredible strides from last season, clearly the reason Idaho has been able to make the jump from a 4-8 team to a possible 8-4 team.
Idaho’s defense ranks 59th in the country in IsoPPP (points per play), after ranking 104th in the country last season in the metric which measures a team’s ability to limit explosive plays.
Idaho is using that defense, and its quarterback who should be at least a second-team all conference selection, to knock the Sun Belt’s permanent members out of bowl eligibility and could possibly make sure the conference doesn’t fill its five bowl allotments for a second consecutive season.
Monroe and Lafayette both sit at four wins, and both would have five had they beaten Idaho. This would be ideal for the Sun Belt, since Idaho would be sitting at four wins with still a distinct possibility of making it to 6-6.
Now there’s South Alabama, also a permanent member, who will be coming in needing to beat both Idaho and New Mexico State for bowl eligibility. Oh how poetic it will be if one, or both, of these scorned conference lovers knocked South Alabama out of the bowl picture.
If Idaho wins out it will finish 5-2 against full conference members, its sixth conference win a romping over New Mexico State, who will become an FBS independent in 2018.
Of course, the Sun Belt will carry the banners of Arkansas State, Appalachian State and potentially ranked Troy.
This break-up is ugly. It’s ugly from a fan relations standpoint, an administration relationships standpoint and quite frankly, from a loyalty standpoint.
It’s inspiring how the people directly affected, the coaches and players, didn’t sit and cry about it. They did something about what they could control. They bettered themselves. They committed themselves to proving the ones who didn’t want them wrong.
The Sun Belt’s presidents can’t ignore us now.
Photo courtesy of Spencer Farrin.