One body bag game down, one to go! Idaho heads to Corvallis, Oregon for a face-off with the Oregon State Beavers.
Last Game: The Vandals went down to Bloomington, Indiana for their first ever game against the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana went up 35-0 on their way to a 56-14 victory.
Oregon State hosted Hawaii and led from start to finish, winning 45-27.
Last Meeting: Oregon State shut out Idaho 38-0 in 2006 and have won 16 of the last 17 matchups in the series, with Idaho’s last win coming in 1984.
Quarterbacks: For Idaho, it was the Mike Beaudry show as the senior took almost every snap behind center while posting a stat line of 23 for 36 (63.9%), 196 yards, and two TDs. CJ Jordan threw three passes and had one rush for five yards between two drives. Zach Borisch (#LetBorischThrow) ran twice with the read option and lost one yard. Idaho’s plan was to use the first three games as a quarterback competition – with two games down, has Beaudry taken the lead? Or, will CJ Jordan receive the bulk of the snaps against the Beavers as the contest winds down? Will we ever see Borisch throw? [editor’s note: If you ask the Tubs team, we all believe CJ will get the vast majority of the snaps this week.]
Oregon State has taken a long and windy road to current starter Chance Nolan. Incumbent starter Tristan Gebbia injured a hamstring against Oregon last season and has yet to fully recover. 2020 All-Pac-12 second team QB Sam Noyer transferred in from Colorado over the summer and started in the Beavers’ season-opening loss to Purdue, but went just 10 for 21 with 94 yards and an interception before being replaced in the third quarter by Nolan. Nolan, who started three games last season after Gebbia’s injury, received the start last week against Hawaii and went 21 for 29 with 302 yards and two TDs.
Idaho’s Key Players/Statistics: The Vandals managed just 261 yards of offense against the Hoosiers. Hayden Hatten was yet again the focal point of the Idaho offense, with ten receptions for 94 yards and two TDs. Terez Traynor had a pair of snags for 36 yards, while Cutrell Haywood made his first appearance of the season with two catches for 16 yards. Elisha Cummings led the running backs with seven carries, while Nick Romano led the team in rushing with 20 yards.
Idaho’s defense was led by Tre Walker’s 16 total tackles, followed closely by Fa’Avae Fa’Avae’s 11. Noah Elliss continued to break out, leading the defensive linemen with six tackles. Charles Akanno threw it back to 2019 with a sack and three tackles for loss, and Nate DeGraw also added a sack.
Special teams struggled against Indiana, with two blocked punts (one returned for a touchdown) and plenty of head shakes from Tubs at the Club’s special teams coordinator Alex Boatman. Outside of the blocks, Caleb Lightbourn (former Oregon State Beaver) averaged over 50 yards per punt with two punts pinned inside the 20.
Oregon State’s Key Players/Statistics: Yes, this section is for players and statistics, but this article can’t be written without mention of Beaver head coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. Smith was the Idaho quarterbacks coach from 2004-2009 under Nick Holt, Dennis Erickson, and Robb Akey, before departing after the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl victory. Lindgren was the Vandal starting quarterback from 2001-2003 and co-owns Idaho’s record for touchdown passes in a game with six. [editor’s note: Lindgren is frequently mentioned on the Tubs at the Club wishlist for next Idaho head coach after Paul Petrino.]
The Beaver offense currently leads the Pac-12 with 460 yards per game, bolstered by the top passing attack in the conference. 2020 All-Pac-12 first teamer Nathan Eldridge and 2020 All-Pac-12 second teamer Joshua Gray block up front for Nolan, while eight different receivers/tight ends have registered multiple receptions so far, led by Trevon Bradford’s 11 catches for 154 yards, and Anthony Gould’s eight catches for 127 yards. B.J. Baylor heads the rushing game, with 27 carries for 197 yards and five TDs on the season.
Defensively, Oregon State is led by All-Pac-12 linebacker Avery Roberts with 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Andrezj Hughes-Murray leads the Beavers with two sacks. Defensive backs Alex Austin, Jaydon Grant, and linebacker Riley Sharp all have an interception on the season.
Key to the Game: Come out firing, score on the first few possessions, and avoid the special teams gaffes.
Game Predictions: Producer Dallas: I don’t think anyone is expecting a win or even a close game, but I wouldn’t expect Oregon State to jump out to a 35-0 lead like Indiana did. If the Vandals can score a few times early, they might be able to hang for a bit. Ultimately though, the depth of a Pac-12 school will be too much to overcome, and Oregon State wins 48-17. Boatman: OSU by 3.5 scores Brian: OSU 45-24 Chris: OSU 45-20
Fresh off starting the season with a 68-0 beatdown of Simon Fraser, Idaho hits the road to Big Ten country for a showdown with the Indiana Hoosiers. This will be the first time in history that Idaho and Indiana match up.
Last Game: Idaho shredded Simon Fraser as six different players each registered more than 20 rushing yards on the way to 316 total yards on the ground.
The preseason #17 Hoosiers got drubbed on the road by a different black and gold team as Iowa went wire-to-wire in a 34-6 victory.
Quarterbacks: Zach Borisch got the start for the Vandals against Simon Fraser, but never threw the ball [editor’s note: #LetBorischThrow] as Idaho alternated between CJ Jordan and Mike Beaudry as the primary quarterback for each quarter, with Borisch relegated to spot duty running the read option. Jordan, playing the first and third quarters, went 7 for 12 with 161 yards and two TDs, adding another 61 yards and a TD on the ground. Beaudry went 10 for 15 with 116 yards, plus 47 yards rushing. Borisch had 8 rushes for 34 yards, one of which was a botched snap over his head that he recovered for negative 14 yards (if you remove this bad snap broken play, he went 7 rushes for 48 yards.) Idaho is expected to play all three quarterbacks this week against the Hoosiers.
Indiana returns redshirt junior Michael Penix Jr. [editor’s note: our nonexistent lawyers have informed us that we must stress the pronunciation is pen-icks.] While turning in an all-conference stat line in 2020, at one point leading the Big Ten in passing yards, yards per game, touchdowns, completions, and attempts; Penix suffered an ACL injury to end his season early. Despite the injury, Penix was given Big Ten preseason honors for 2021, and is on the watchlist for the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp, Manning, and Unitas awards. Against Iowa last week, his first game since the injury, he went 14 for 31, 156 yards, and three INTs.
Idaho’s Key Players/Statistics: The Vandal offense distributed the ball all over the field last week, as 13 players registered a rush or reception. Roshaun Johnson paced the backs with 10 rushes for 87 yards, and one catch for 17 yards. Hayden Hatten led the receivers with 106 yards and a TD off of two catches, while Michael Noil had four receptions for 68 yards. Newcomers Elisha Cummings (six carries for 56 yards), Terez Traynor (three catches for 25 yards), and Mekhi Stevenson (two catches for 22 yards, plus four punt returns for 61 yards) passed the eye test with limited offensive stats and look to be key contributors moving forward.
Defensively, Idaho held Simon Fraser to just 90 yards, and had 27 players register a defensive statistic, led by Noah Elliss’s eight tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. Hogan Hatten, Malakai Williams, Rahsaan Crawford, Coleman Johnson, and tight end turned linebacker Logan Kendall all registered a sack. Sean McCormick had the Vandals’ only turnover, with a 32 yard interception return.
Indiana’s Key Players/Statistics: Indiana finished 12th in the AP poll last season, their highest finish in over 50 years, and came into 2021 with their first preseason ranking since 1969. Head coach Tom Allen was named the AFCA Coach of the Year last season.
Offensively, Penix carries the bulk of the accolades for the Hoosier offense, but receiver Ty Fryfogle was an All-American last season, and is on the watchlist for the Maxwell and Biletnikoff Awards this year. Tight end Peyton Hendershot is on the watchlist for the John Mackey Award, offensive lineman Matthew Bedford is on the Outland Trophy watchlist, and running back Stephen Carr is on the Doak Walker Award watchlist. Carr received the bulk of the work on the ground last week against Iowa, with 19 carries for 57 yards. Fryfogle and Hendershot had over half of the receiving output, with eight catches and 110 yards between them. Lou Groza Award watchlist kicker Charles Campbell scored all six points for the Indiana offense last week.
Linebacker Micah McFadden and cornerback Tiawan Mullen also received All-American honors last season, and both players are on the watchlist for the Bednarik and Nagurski Trophies. McFadden is also on the Butkus Award watchlist, while Mullen is on the Jim Thorpe Award watchlist.
Key to the Game: Avoid injury. Get more clarity on the QB competition. Get out alive.
Game Predictions: Producer Dallas: Well, last week I was not prepared for Simon Fraser to be as bad as they were. Hand up, I got last week’s prediction wrong. This week, I’m more confident. Indiana is too big, too deep, and too talented for Idaho to pull off the Big Sky over FBS upset that was in vogue last week and I don’t see Idaho containing the Hoosier offense like Iowa did. Indiana wins 45-13. Boatman: Indiana 52-21 (with the back door cover by Idaho at the end) Brian: Indiana 45-17 Chris: Indiana 35-18
Less than five months since we last saw the Vandal football team, we’re back with a full fall season! Unlike the spring season which saw Idaho ranked at times, the Vandals come into the fall with considerably lower expectations, not receiving a single vote in any national poll. Idaho was picked to finish eighth in the conference by both the Big Sky Coaches and Media polls. The Vandals kick off their season with a tune-up home game against the hated rivals from Canada, Simon Fraser University.
Previous Matchup: Idaho has hosted Simon Fraser twice, in 1980 and 1981, the final two seasons of Jerry Davitch’s time as the Vandal head coach. Idaho won 56-16 and 52-7 respectively.
Quarterbacks: Idaho expects to showcase three different quarterbacks this game, with the plan of naming a starter when Big Sky Conference play begins. Expect Mike Beaudry, CJ Jordan, and Zach Borisch to all see reps this weekend, as all three quarterbacks are listed with an “OR” designation on the two (or three) deep. Listed first on the depth chart is Beaudry, who played in four games during the spring season and went 73 for 123 (59%) with three TDs and three INTs. Jordan is listed next, who went 16 for 27 (59%) in his single appearance. Borisch was a bit of a revelation last spring, starting the year off listed as a special teams running back before starting at quarterback in the second to last game of the season. Borisch went just 6 for 12 with one TD and two INTs, but led the Vandals in rushing yards with 283 in just two appearances.
Simon Fraser has two quarterbacks from the state of Washington competing for the starting job, in sophomores Justin Seiber and Brandon Niksich. Seiber went 105 for 185 (57%) with 1116 yards, 7 TDs and 7 INTs in 2018; but was injured in the first game of the 2019 season. Niksich took over from there and went 150 for 281 (53%) with 1926 yards, 10 TDs and 10 INTs.
Idaho’s Key Players: The Vandals return the bulk of the squad from the spring season, including Tre Walker and his countless preseason accolades (including, but not limited to, Big Sky Defensive MVP, Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List, and numerous All-American teams.)
Offensively, the three quarterbacks will have Hayden Hatten and Cutrell Haywood back as the primary pass catchers, as well as new transfers Terez Traynor and Mekhi Stevenson. Traynor is listed as a starter opposite Hatten, with Stevenson listed behind Traynor. Freshman Elisha Cummings breaks into the two-deep at running back behind returning starter Roshaun Johnson, while 2019’s leading Vandal rusher Aundre Carter returns to the team.
On the other side of the ball, Walker leads a loaded front seven filled with studs and depth, even with the departure of Christian Elliss for his NFL dreams. Sophomore Sully Shannon will get the first crack at replacing Elliss. Charles Akanno and Rahsaan Crawford will start in the front seven as the final remaining Vandals from the 2016 bowl-winning team.
Friend of the pod Cade Coffey has finished his career as an all-time great Vandal special-teamer, and will be replaced as punter by Caleb Lightbourn, while Logan Prescott returns as the kicker after handling kickoffs and occasional spot duty in relief of Coffey last season. Nick Romano will once again be receiving kickoffs, while Stevenson is designated as the punt returner.
Key to the Game: The Vandals must come out firing on all cylinders and build a large lead very quickly. This will be Simon Fraser’s first game since a 51-14 loss to Central Washington on November 16th, 2019. SFU has only won two games since 2015. Idaho must put them away early and get the opportunity to play the vast majority of the roster before looking ahead to the “body bag” games on the road at Indiana and Oregon State.
Game Predictions: Producer Dallas: Idaho does not blow away an inferior opponent as the offense looks rusty and disjointed, while never finding a rhythm in the midst of playing three quarterbacks. The Vandals win is never in any danger, and a lot of young guys get reps, but fans are left to wonder how this game wasn’t a blowout. Idaho wins 31-17. Boatman: 48-14 Brian: 45-14 Chris: 80-10
The State of Idaho has been steadily growing as a High School Football recruiting ground for College Football. Idaho has produced some phenomenal FBS talents in recent times like Taysom Hill, Leighton Vander Esch, Shea McClellin, Taylor Kelly and Tanner Mangum. We also just had a guy like Jonah Elliss out of Moscow High be highly recruited and looks to possibly be the next NFL guy from the state of Idaho.
But for everyone of those guys, there are so many talented individuals coming from Idaho. I worked with Justin Jackson, the founder of Rare Academy ID, to identify some guys that have FCS potential. Even a few I was cautious to post about. According to Justin, there are some SERIOUS sleepers in this years class.
Big Sky schools are starting to notice the talent in the state as well. There are 72 players from the state currently on a Big Sky roster for the 21-22 season. Maybe the more important stat, the blue bloods of the conference have taken notice.
Big Sky Schools
# of Idaho Players
Weber State has won the Big Sky 4 years in a row now and in 2019 made the FCS semi-finals. They have 11 players from the State of Idaho. This includes 2x All-Conference and current Preseason All-Conference Junior George Taralas from Borah High in Boise.
Montana State also has dipped their toe in the Idaho waters when head coach Jeff Choate was at the helm. The St. Maries kid and former BSU assistant knew the gems in the gem state. Tucker Rovig of Mountain View led them under center to the semi-finals of the 2019 FCS Playoffs.
Another former Bronco, UC Davis head ball coach Dan Hawkins has been recruiting the Treasure Valley pretty heavy since taking the helm for the Aggies. He may not have won many of the recruiting battles, but he offers a healthy amount of Idaho kids.
Over the course of a couple phone calls and a few of the RARE Academy Idaho camps we has compiled a list of guys in the state that are FCS Prospects.
RARE Academy Idaho is an all-year training academy for kids throughout the whole state. This is not only physical training, but they do alot to help with the mental side of being an athlete and making the move to the college environment. Like many of you, Justin and his team see the potential growing in this State and just want to help these kids get the offers they are capable of. Then have the tools to succeed physically and mentally once on campus.
If you have never checked them out, you should. Its more of a have to see it to believe it. What they do for recruits in this State is amazing and one of a kind. They are only going to continue to grow and help your sons, nephews, neighbors be recognized and preforming at their peak.
The have a staff of former FBS players including Idahos own Brady Strodtbeck who cleared holes for Vandal running backs during the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Some are borderline FBS guys, others could be PWO/D2 type guys. But this is the crop of dudes to keep your eye on and go see if their team is in your area this season.
There is loads of talent on this list. But there are a couple guys I want to highlight. Particularly in terms of Idaho going after them. I’m going to spotlight a few in no particular order.
Adam Ball 6’0 200lbs RB #17 St. Regis
I know this could be looked at as cheating since St.Regis the town is technically in Montana. But it is a border town and Adam is attending the RARE Academy Idaho showcases. He is not just attending, he is preforming. When Justin talks about this kid, you hear it in his voice. He is something special. He is the reason something like RARE exists.
If there is one name to take away from this piece. It is Adam Ball. Justin speaks so highly of this guy I am planning on attending a St. Regis game in person this season. (Scroll down for a list of MUST catch games this fall). Ball has been a standout at every event and is still under the radar. Almost, so much so, I just wanted to leave him off the list and just text our coaches about offering this kid. I just couldn’t not mention him, he deserves the recognition and WILL BE the steal of this class.
Davis Thacker 6’3 205lbs WR # 6 Meridian
Davis is the brother of Damen Thacker who just started 23 games for the Vandal hoops team. We know Paul Petrino is always talking about “family”. He loves recruiting sons, brothers, nephews of coaches, former players etc. Damen Thacker did transfer out and was apart of a different athletics program, but this is a move I would not be surprised to see our athletic department make.
Davis currently does not have any offers.
Taylor Marcum 6’0 185lbs RB #21 Timberline
If you follow prep football, this one is obvious. Taylor Marcum is one of the highly recruited guys in the state. In fact on July 18th he committed to Montana State. But, we have seen recently verbals change before NSD. He has an offer from the Vandals and Idaho is building a bit of a pedigree of giving in-state RBs playing time. Lets not forget the first play of the 2019 season against Penn State, Paul put in true freshman Nick Romano RB from Rocky Mountain and threw the ball to him. He is not afraid to say RBs from the state of Idaho are big time.
Garret Lavin 6’1 180lbs WR #19 Timberline
Yes, back to back Timberline guys. But, me myself, I am a Timberline guy. “The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Garrett is another legacy type guy. He comes from a Vandal family and just a guy I would love to see be given a shot. Even if our receiver room is getting crowded.
He does not currently have any offers.
Gage Jones6’1 185lbs DB Eagle
Likely the best defensive back in the State, Gage is poised to have one heck of a season. With a few seasons now of poor secondary play. Getting this local stud would go along way to sure up the backend.
Jaxson Washington 6’1 260lbsDL #78 Couer D Alene
The kid is just one of those grinders. He has got a gym in the garage at home and from looks of it has spent some time with his second cousin Washington States star RB Max Borghi. He also is a very good wrestler, which is a extra bonus in a lineman. He also won the RARE Showcases events top 6 lineman honors.
The Vikes have put out loads of division one talent in the past decade. It is a program you trust. Our defensive line isn’t getting any younger. We should be looking to add 2 to 3 guys on the line in this class.
He currently has 3 offers from a few NAIA and such schools, some sort of offer from the Bengals in Pocatello. But looks to be getting looks from and Montana. His father is a former walk-on and they are a big Griz Family. They have been exposed to the Vandals and we could get him, but if Montana offers (especially before us) it would be hard to win this recruiting battle.
Malakai Martinez 6’0 180lbs QB #3 Meridian
Maybe a bit under the radar until recently. He is starting to show-up everywhere. He was one of if not the first QB Justin gave me. Then on August 8th he was announced the 6th best QB in The Northwest 9 the QB camp former guest of the podcast Taylor Barton runs.
This one is a me pick. I watched Hayden in 3A state semis and final last season. He was hard not to notice. I turned to my friend I was in attendance with and said “this is the type of kid Idaho needs to offer.” I later learn he comes from a deep vandal family.
Feedback I got throught the grapevine is his speed is a concern. Well, if you can’t tackle him it doesn’t really matter does it?!
Games To Catch FCS Talent
For some of you football nuts out there, you want to catch these guys before they may suit up for or against the silver and gold in the coming years. I compiled a list of games to catch to watch some of this FCS talent under friday night lights around this beautiful state.
Mountain View vs Meridian – Meridian,ID (Mountain View, HS)
9 possible FCS guys
Capital vs Nampa – Boise, ID (Donnar Larson Park)
1 Possible FCS guy
Eagle vs Bishop Kelly – Boise, ID (Bishop Kelly HS)
3 possible FCS guys
Buhl vs Weiser – Buhl, ID
1 Possible FCS guy
Twin Falls vs Vallivue – Twin Falls, ID
1 Possible FCS guy
Lakeside vs St. Regis – Plummer, ID
1 Possible FCS STUD
Rocky Mountain vs Mountain View – Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountain HS)
13 Possible FCS guys
Nampa vs Skyview – Nampa, ID (Skyview HS)
3 Possible FCS guys
Rigby vs Post Falls – Rigby, ID
5 Possible FCS guys
Koontenai vs St.Regis – Harrison, ID
1 possible FCS STUD
Rocky Mountain vs Meridian – Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountai HS)
11 Possible FCS guys
Clark Fork vs St. Regis – Clark Fork, ID
1 Possible FCS STUD
Post Falls vs Mount Si (WA) – Post Falls, ID
2 Possible FCS guys
Thunder Ridge vs Rigby – Twin Falls (Thunder Ridge HS)
4 Possible FCS guys
Skyview vs Rocky Mountain – Nampa, ID
10 Possible FCS guys
Melba vs Cole Valley – Melba, ID
2 Possible FCS guys
Eagle vs Timberline – Eagle, ID
5 Possible FCS guys
Meridian v Skyview – Meridian, ID
5 Possible FCS Guys
Timberline vs Rocky Mountain – Boise, ID (Donna Larson Park)
11 Possible FCS guys
Skyview vs Eagle – Nampa, ID (Skyview HS)
4 Possible FCS guys
Canyon Ridge vs Mountain Home – Twin Falls (Canyon Ridge HS)
1 Possible FCS guy
Homedale vs Weiser – Homedale, ID
2 Possible FCS guys
Vallivue vs Bishop Kelly – Caldwell, ID (Vallivue HS)
2 Possible FCS guys
Timberline vs Skyview – Boise, ID (Donna Larson Park)
5 Possible FCS guys
Coeur d’Alene v Post Falls – Coeur d’Alene, ID
4 Possible FCS guys
Sugar-Salem vs South Fremont – Sugar City, ID
Rocky Mountain vs Meridian – Meridian, ID (Rocky Mountain HS)
11 Possible FCS guys
*** As always I”m not an journalist so, take your gramatical error comments, & put them in a beg some-Where. Hope you enjoyed the content regarless if you maid it too dis disclaimer
Weber State at 1 – The Wildcats return possibly the best Secondary in the FCS. Three members of the secondary made our All-Tubs Team. Bronson Barron (technically a true freshman still) had barely been on campus and had to compete for starting job last season. That is not the case this fall, he will be receiving all the reps. Pair that with former Jerry Rice Award winner Josh Davis and an emerging stable of backs returning. The Achilles heel of this program, the offense, has to take a step forward. Even if the offense doesn’t improve, they have still won four straight Big Sky titles. Why would I bet against them?
Montana at 3 – Look even with some “?” still at QB. This team returns a lot of talent. How bad could it be when you get to throw to Maybe the best WR in the FCS, Sammy Akem. If the QB works out, they could easily win the conference. But right now with Weber returning Bronson & Eastern returning EB3, I gave them the SMALL nod over the Griz. Its going to be a close race this year.
Sacramento State at 10 – I understand I’m sticking my neck out with this one. I just think the 2019 season was a flash in the pan. I expect this team to be closer to their 42-28 home playoff loss to start the playoffs, more then the 49-22 win vs the Griz. The Hornets in my opinion benefited greatly from being a sleeper until about half way through the 2019 season, an out of nowhere QB (who has since transferred out) and no one having tape on first time head ball coach Troy Taylor. I expect them to struggle early and maybe make a charge late. Are they the 10th best team in conference probably not, probably a bit better. But weeks 1 thru 6 I expect them to play below where most people have them. Most throw out the easy schedule this year as a reason to have them high. I think the easy schedule will catch them sleep walking with rust early. Though lighting can strike the same spot twice…
Weber State at 3 – Defending Big Sky champion Weber State (finally) looks vulnerable. The Wildcats won a single spring game by a margin greater than a touchdown–with all of those nail biters coming against teams that will be picked in the bottom half of this fall’s season–but Weber’s schedule, and Jay Hill’s tendency to just never lose games he shouldn’t, makes a 6-2 (in conference) floor all but locked in.
Idaho at 7 – This vote was a strict judgement of talent–which should put Idaho not in the top tier of the conference, but close enough to talk yourself into yet another but maybe this year discussion.
Which is lunacy.
We all know the Idaho blueprint from the previous three years: stay competitive at home, but faceplant on the road. Hang with, or knock off a playoff-level team, then stumble in comical fashion against the Northern Colorados, or Northern Arizonas occupying league’s bottom tier. Never mind that Idaho has its toughest league schedule since rejoining the Big Sky.
So yes: in my written-in-blood preseason poll, Idaho sits at number seven. And yes: the moment my poll was officially sent, I could not believe their slot was higher than ten.
Northern Colorado at 9 – Consider Northern Colorado a composite character of Idaho, Idaho State, Southern Utah, and Northern Arizona: it’s an absolute crap shoot rating any of those teams above each other. Before the Bears land higher than ninth, we’ll need to see the fruits of Coach McCaffrey produce. The talent influx following McCaffrey alone will make Northern Colorado at least good enough to spoil someone else’s playoff hopes, but with the promising spring efforts from other projected lower-tier teams, there’s too crowded a field of candidates to repeat the out-of-nowhere rises of UC Davis and Sacramento State to rate Northern Colorado much higher.
Eastern Washington at 2 – Eric Barriere is one of the best players in the entire FCS, and when you have a quarterback like him running the show, you’re going to have at least a puncher’s chance in every game. Yes, their questionable defense allowed 35 straight points in the first round of the spring playoffs to a weakened North Dakota State. Yes, the receivers drop more passes than they should. Yes, they have an extremely tough conference schedule this year. But, their three toughest games (Montana, Montana State, Weber State) are all in Cheney this year and I’d expect they win two of the three to keep themselves just behind Weber in the conference standings. Even in their last true down year (2015, when Vernon Adams transferred to play his final year at Oregon), they tied for fourth in conference, going 5-3 with two losses to ranked teams.
UC Davis at 6 – UC Davis has a deep cast of receivers, a solid defense (as Vandal fans likely remember), and one of the best running backs in the conference. QB Hunter Rodrigues had 21 FCS passes to his name coming into 2021 and may have benefited more from the spring season than any other athlete. So why do I have them sixth? Weber State, Eastern Washington, and the Montana schools certainly look better on paper and should all slot in as top five finishers, even if they trade losses around. I don’t see the Aggies beating Weber State (and yes, I know they had a double digit lead on the Wildcats last season) or Eastern Washington. Even if they beat Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to finish the year, I don’t think a game in hand on the Hornets helps, courtesy of the absolute gift of a schedule Sacramento State got this year. Nothing against UC Davis, but a top five finish doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Idaho at 9 – Every year it seems I talk myself into Idaho finally becoming a bully in the Big Sky. Take one look at the schedule and you’ll realize why I’m not doing that this year. The Vandals could be favored in three of their four home conference games, but even if they won out at home with an upset of Montana, they will not be favored in a single road game this season. I don’t think they win a single game outside of Moscow this year, even without Paul Petrino’s track record of failure away from the Kibbie Dome. There’s plenty of talent on this team, just like there was in the spring, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it magically clicks this season. 4-4 in conference is the ceiling for this team if things go well, and 2-6 is certainly on the table. We’re looking at another long year.