Fixing Idahos Future Schedule

The Big Sky Conference did fans and schools a huge favor last year by releasing the future conference schedules through 2023. Benefiting the schools, by now knowing exactly what dates they have open to schedule out of conference opponents.

For Idaho fans, this is a bit of a downer. You will notice there are not many out of conference games that catch the eye. Even less will be beneficial towards a playoff appearance. I will grade each current schedule, then provide my realistic fixes to each season.

2020 Schedule

Schedule-2020Since the 2020 season kickoff, is in only 7 months, the schedule is set in stone. week 1 Idaho opens the season against a division 2 side in Western Oregon. The week 2 Temple game is a return trip from the 2013 independent season when Idaho hosted the owls and went on to win the game 26-24. The Vandals wrap up in Week 3 with the Battle for the Palouse. This game is a replacement game for the canceled 4 game series made with San Jose State. Who pulled out because of Idaho’s move to the FCS.

Current Grade: C+

Idaho did the best with what they had on short notice. Getting Washington State to pay $550,000 to drive eight miles is an A+. However not getting out of a temple game from 2013 is a C-. Then the Western Oregon game is a D. The conference schedule paired with the Washington State game, the Vandals will leave the Palouse once in eight weeks. During the season Idaho only travels to Philadelphia, Davis California, Pullman Washington, Cheney Washington, Bozeman Montana, Pocatello Idaho. That’s likely only 2 flights. Far removed from the Sun Belt days.

How To Fix it:

Too little too late. But the division 2 game against Western Oregon is a drag to see. At least it only costs Idaho $80,000. Meaning the out of conference schedule will net Idaho $470,000. That helps the budget.

2021 Schedule

In 2021 Idaho opens at home vs Canadian side Simon Fraser. Back-to-back years with week 1 division 2 or lower team to start the season.Then pack their bags for week 2 body bag game against Big Ten program Indiana (will see them again). Closing out the non-conference schedule with another power five game in Corvallis against Oregon State.

Current Grade: C

Any division 2 or lower game from this year forward is to be met with a grade of an F. Idaho needs division 1 wins to qualify for the playoffs. In a conference as tough as the Big Sky. Indiana is an interesting power five game. It isn’t local, but it isn’t bad. Indiana isn’t exactly a world beater, this could be winnable power five program for Idaho. The Hoosers did go 9-0 against the FCS last decade. Indiana is paying Idaho 1.2 Million to go to Bloomington with a outside chance to win. That’s an A- grade for scheduling. To close out the out of conference schedule, Idaho gets to play the Beavers. Arguably, the worst Pac 12 program in the previous decade. A winnable, local power five game, that will pat the coffers with an additional $675,0000. This will get an A+.

Unlike 2020, the Big Sky did Idaho no favors in conference. Idaho will have a bye week in week 4. The Vandals will then have four weeks before they are back in the friendly confines of the Kibbie Dome. Followed by more road games. When week 9 rolls around it will only be the third home game of the year and only second vs division 1 competition.

The budget will be helped by netting 1.875 million before paying Simon Fraser $80,000.

How To Fix It:

Schedule-2021Nothing needs to be done with Oregon State & Indiana. The payouts and winablility of these games are perfect. Even if the Indiana game is an odd match-up. The real trick here is copying what the Vandals pulled off in 2019, with scheduling Eastern Washington out of conference. Due to the Big Sky having protected rivals every three years Idaho will not play Idaho State in the “Battle Of The Domes”. Tubs at The Club has been very vocal on this Issue that Idaho & Idaho State needs to become a rivalry game.

Putting this game week 1 would be a good move. Idaho can do better. The FCS has a weekend all to itself called “Week 0”. The highlight that weekend is the Guardian FCS Kickoff game. Instead of Austin Peay vs Central Arkansas (2020) or Samford v Youngstown State (2019). What if the game featured two In-state rivals? In 2020 the game is to be played in Pocatello & in 2022 it is to be played in Moscow. Creating a conundrum for a 2021 match-up.

Two solutions

First is the winner of the overall battle of the domes in 2020 gets to host the game and repeat this every three years when game is off the schedule. Split the revenue 50/50 after reimbursing travel to road team and operating cost of the host team.

The other options is a bit more controversial. Play it in Boise. Its 235 Miles from Pocatello & 295 Miles from Moscow. Boise is both schools largest alumni base. There is bound to be the “No way we are stepping on that blue field to give Boise State the satisfaction” agruement. I have previously mentioned this will be almost an insult to them if both Schools can sell out Bronco Stadium. Something they have seldom done recently. A nuetral stadium is on the way if the City of Boise can ever get out of their own way in building a beautiful new stadium. This is only going to be an issue every three years.

Get this game on ESPN for Week 0 and showcase The State, The Conference & The FCS level of football.

2022 Schedule

Kicking the Season off with a rivalry game in Pullman. For more money than they paid us in 2020. Then the Vandals return to Bloomington Indiana for the second time in as many years. This time collecting 1.3 Million Dollars. Then Idaho plays its first lower tier FCS program in the newly released schedules, Drake. In 2022 Idaho will play all Division 1 opponents for the first time since 2017.

It is a well spaced out schedule for home games, road games and a mid-season bye week.

Current Grade: B+

Schedule-20222022 currently is the year Idaho gets paid more, to do the same. A+

Anytime Idaho can get Washington State on the schedule every couple of years it is a positive. This is the type of Power five game Idaho should be scheduling. Ideally in a decade Idaho will play Washington State 3-4 times. The Likes of a Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado, Utah each once. Then a bigger game like Texas A&M, Penn State, LSU or Florida State once just to have the experience.

Indiana is paying Idaho $100,000 more to come play them again in 2022 then they did in 2021. Most would assume this game to be favorable in 2022. More so with a previous appearance in Bloomington just 12 months prior. Grade this game an A.

The Big Skys whacky scheduling means no Montana State this season. That earns a D. Not the Athletic Departments fault, but it is what it is.

How To Fix It:

Drake is what drags this schedule down to a B+. Idaho should be scheduling low tier FCS teams to help with playoff qualification. Problem with the Drake game, Idaho is paying Drake $250,000 to come play in the Kibbie Dome. Taking a large bite out of the Washington State & Indiana earnings. Idaho should try and schedule these types of games as home & homes. Keeping the profit made from bodybag games.

The other change. Find a way to make the games marketable. The fanbase will be as fired up for the Drake game as they were for Western New Mexico State in 2018. Joining the Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge would be fun for the fanbase. Might even help with some of the steadfast FBSers. What better school to participate against in Idahos first go at the challenge than the Bobby Petrino led Missouri State Bears? Idaho is in need of a home game to complete the schedule. Putting the first meeting in the Kibbie Dome. The place where Bobby Petrino spent three seasons as QB coach and Offensive Coordinator from 89-91. Before Paul Petrino came to coach WR,QB & RBs from 92-94. Later taking the role as Head Ball Coach in 2013. They have never coached against each other and this would put people in the seats & eyes on the TV.

If Missouri State is not open to the idea. Montana State has week 3 open.

2023 Schedule

Schedule-2023The first year where the Vandals have a true opening where they can pick anyone. As the schedule stands now, the Vandals have no opponents for week 1 or week 3.  Expect a team to be named shortly. Then the Vandals play in Reno Nevada against a former Big Sky and WAC foe in University of Nevada-Reno. Then in week 8 Idaho will face Dixie State in St.George Utah. Who will be a full fledge FCS member, counting as a division 1 game.

Current Grade: A-

Overall a great schedule. Play a former conference rival for the 30th time in the Nevada Wolfpack. In a very fun place for fans to travel to. A+.

You play what should be a lower tier local FCS squad in Dixie State in Moscow. The start of a 3 games series with the Trailblazers. The Big Sky helps out by giving equal spacing between home and away games. It all comes down to Idaho not messing it up by scheduling a bad opponent in week 3 causing a week 1 bye week.

How To Fix It:

Change nothing in the actual schedule except attempt to schedule Dixie State week 3 opening up a later season bye week. Then per my 2022 schedule suggestions return the favor on the home & home with Missouri State in week 1 (currently open)

Bobby Petrino left Western Kentucky after 1 year and the Atlanta Falcons after just 13 games in the middle of the season. The odds he is still coaching at Missouri State in three seasons are slim.

Even Paul Petrino is up in the air at the moment to be at Idaho in 2022. His contract is through 2023. However, is on the hot seat. The 2022 season is the first real strong possibile season he could be fired. If he doesn’t start winning. 2022 is when the amount he would be owed would be reasonable.

Leaving the chance that neither Petrino is at their current job for even the 2022 game. Let alone the 2023 game. Even without one or both of the Petrinos. Missouri State is the type of team Idaho needs to start scheduling if they want to return to being a top flight Big Sky team and perennial playoff contender.

2024, 2025 & Beyond

The Big Sky hasn’t released conference schedules for these years yet. The Vandals do know in 2024 they travel to Dixie State and Oregon. Then host Dixie State and then “Travel” To the Battle of the Palouse. Everything this far out is subject to change.

In Review

Understand the unique position Idaho is in. The Vandals schedule problems are caused by the 2013 independent season. Then compounded upon with move from FBS to FCS.

The suggestions made were realistic changes. Not fantasy changes impossible for Terry Gawlik (Idaho Athletic Director) to deliver. The current scheduling issues are not her decisions. These games were scheduled before she had taken office. The only two scheduling announcements while Gawlik has be the Athletic Director (2022 Drake 2023 Nevada & Dixie State Series). Both announcements were ideal additions to the schedule. The ultimate goal for 2023 is a balanced athletics budget. Allowing future scheduling to be more open, minimize travel, but maximize payouts. The Ideal realistic schedule 2024 and on is Pac 12 School, winnable Mountain West school & home and home with a lower tier FCS program.

The Big Sky Podcast Network Power Rankings: Week Zero

By Brian Marceau

Our power rankings are made up of voters from all of the independent Big Sky Podcast Network contributors. The rankings are democratic, the write-ups are authoritarian and our page space is devoted to the teams that interest us and our listeners the most.

Enjoy.

The Contenders

  1. Eastern Washington (75 percent of first place votes)

On paper, our consensus top team has a lot to prove after the second-most successful season in program history. The Eagles lost thirteen starters from last year’s national runner-up finish, though the number is deceiving for those who followed EWU throughout the playoffs. Yes, Jay-Tee Tiuli (Defensive Player of the Year), all first-teamers Nsimba Webster, Keenan Williams, Roldan Alcobendas, and 10 other All-Big Sky selections graduated, but many of their replacements saw extended play during the FCS playoffs and did not disappoint.  A particularly impressive 2018 injury replacement was quarterback Eric Barriere, who accounted for 32 touchdowns in his 10 starts, six of which came against playoff teams. With a full season under his belt and a significantly easier slate for his next ten games, expect the junior to look even better in 2019.

Teaming up with Barriere to give EWU an elite threat on the ground will be Antoine Custer Jr., a former preseason All-Big Sky running back who missed much of last season to injury.

With the array of offensive firepower at EWU’s disposal, it’s easy to forget this team allowed only a point-and-a-half more per game in 2018 than noted defensive juggernaut Weber State. Until someone proves otherwise, the Eagles and their soft-on-paper 2019 conference schedule puts them easily a top our rankings.

  1. UC Davis (25 percent of first place votes)

After doubling their 2017 win total from five to 10 in 2018, the next step for the Aggies is another deep run in the FCS playoffs. Head coach Dan Hawkins returns one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS in senior Jake Maier, along with All-Big Sky pass catchers Jared Harrell (WR), Wes Preece (TE) and dual-threat running back Ulonzo Gilliam. With so many elite players across the offense, expect UC Davis to score around 40 points per game just like they did in 2018. A limiting factor for the Aggies, in terms of playoff seeding, could be their schedule which offers as many 2018 FCS playoff teams, four, as games versus teams with sub-.500 2018 marks.

(Likely) Playoff Bound

  1. Weber State

It’s incredible that Weber State could graduate nine All-Big Sky performers and still be a consensus top-10 team in just about every preseason poll, but that’s where the Wildcats find themselves. Even with the listed attrition, head coach Jay Hill’s squad still returns eight All-Big Sky selections, including FCS STATS Freshman of the Year Josh Davis and the conference’s most electric special teams talent, junior Rashid Shaheed (34.3 yards per kick return). Whether Hill has managed to (again) reload should be answered within the first four weeks when Weber State plays two FBS teams, Northern Iowa, and Cal-Poly (non-conference).

The main knock against Weber State, compared to UC Davis and EWU, is the Wildcats’ offense. Weber State has proven it doesn’t need to score a ton of points to regularly win games, but it’s hard to ignore the scoring gap between the Wildcats, who only scored 44 touchdowns last season compared to Eastern Washington’s 86 touchdowns, and UC Davis hitting paydirt 67 times. Expect Weber State to make a fourth consecutive trip to the FCS playoffs, but we’ll need to see the Wildcats prove they’ve reloaded or show a little more on the offensive end before we consider them on par with EWU or UC Davis.

  1. Montana State

There’s significantly more optimism about the Bobcats 2019 outlook than for their rivals in Missoula. Based off the success of 2018, a lot of that enthusiasm is warranted. Head coach Jeff Choate won nearly as many games last season (eight) as he did in his first two seasons in Bozeman combined (nine). This includes a first-round playoff win over Incarnate Word. The Bobcats return 17 starters from last year, including five preseason All-Big Sky selections, and with only one conference match-up against a 2018 Big Sky playoff team their 2019 schedule is favorable on paper.

A closer look at 2018 does indicate that last year’s Bobcats absolutely hit their ceiling. Montana State finished 4-1 in games decided by one score or less, which will hard to repeat a second consecutive year. It’s not shocking that a team whose identity is found on the defensive and special teams side of the ball will find itself in more close games than teams like Eastern, but for a team ranked around the top 15 in most national polls whether the Bobcats can score enough to live up to their quite high expectations is a serious question. Last season, Montana State finished sixth in the Big Sky in scoring (28.6 points per game), though that was only roughly only five more points per game than last-ranked Northern Colorado. Fourth-ranked Montana scored nearly 34 points per game.

It’s possible that starting a true pocket passer at quarterback will give Montana State enough of an offensive bump to not need to pull out so many close wins. Starting redshirt freshman Casey Bauman under center will also allow junior Troy Andersen to move back to linebacker, his natural position, where he’ll join seniors Bryce Sterk (LB) and Brayden Konkol (S) and maybe improve on Montana State’s already stout defense which allowed the fourth fewest points per game in the Big Sky in 2018. Without question the Bobcats have talent, and are a team most fans are reasonably penciling the Bobcats into the FCS playoffs in 2019. Though, its’ not clear at this point whether their current top-15 rankings are a reflection of real growth or a near universal rounding up of 2018’s extensive series of fortunate events.

  1. Montana

2018 was an archetypal ‘what if’ season for the Grizzlies. The term Jekyll-and-Hyde is used to describe teams that look great one moment then awful the next, but using last year’s Grizzlies as an example, Jekyll-and-Hyde teams are truly Mr. Hyde teams, which is why Montana missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in spite of finishing with the fourth-best scoring offense and the fifth-best scoring defense in the Big Sky.

There’s reason to believe 2019 should be different. In truth, the Grizzlies were two plays away from finishing 8-3, which would have guaranteed at least one FCS playoff game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Head coach Bob Hauck returns 19 starters, including Buck Buchanan Award nominee Dante Olson (LB), Big Sky Newcomer of the Year Dalton Sneed (QB) and arguably the Big Sky’s best receiver in Samuel Akem. Those three will be joined by maybe the best wide receiver group in the conference: Jerry Louie-McGee, Samori Toure and Gabe Sulsar. But what Grizzly fans will likely find most reassuring is the potential improvement on the offensive line. Last season, the Grizzlies’ front five weighed an average of 281 pounds. The addition of new recruits and growth from returning underclassmen has grown that average to about 316 pounds. Size alone will not buy Sneed more time in the pocket, it’s the progress from underclassmen and an influx of talent in the trenches which should improve Montana’s margin for error compared to 2018.

The biggest on-paper difficulty the Grizzlies face this year will be their schedule. Montana will face all four of the Big Sky’s FCS playoff participants from 2018, while also taking on South Dakota, Oregon, North Alabama, and Monmouth in non-conference play, meaning Hauck’s squad will have to hit the ground running in 2019. If the squandered promise of last year’s 6-5 run can materialize more positively for the Grizzlies this time around, expect to see more of the Montana that led UC Davis 21-6 through the first 44 minutes of play, but until we see it, this is still the same Montana team that was outscored by 62 points in the fourth quarter throughout 2018.

Their Horses Might Be Dark

  1. Northern Arizona

First-year head coach Chris Ball returns 17 starters from last year’s disappointing 4-6 finish, which started out with high expectations after a 2017 FCS playoff appearance and an opening-week win against FBS opponent UTEP.

From this far away, the brightest spot for the Lumberjacks is the return of senior quarterback Case Cookus, who missed most of 2017 due to injury. The former FCS STATS Freshman of the Year threw 50 touchdown passes in his first 15 starts, only to see multiple seasons cut short due to injury. If Cookus returns to his freshman form and avoids landing his second targeting ejection (no other quarterback in football history has one), NAU could be the surprise team that moves into the upper crust of the conference.

  1. Idaho

It will be tough for Idaho to have any more of a disappointing season than it had in 2018, when the Vandals picked up a total of three Big Sky wins. Whether there’s a turnaround lurking in Moscow is unclear. On the offensive side of the football head coach Paul Petrino will again start the year with a quarterback platoon, though until further notice expect coach Petrino’s son Mason to eventually win the starting nod. If that’s the case, Idaho will continue to struggle on the offensive end, in spite of having strong receiving talent, particularly senior Jeff Cotton and sophomore Cutrell Haywood, just like it did in 2018. The Vandals averaged about 25 points per game, good for third-worst in the conference.

Where Idaho could be intriguing is on the defensive side of the ball. In 2018, the Vandals gave up the second-most points per game in conference and were vulnerable essentially everywhere. That defense may not exist anymore. Paul Petrino brought in a lot of FBS transfers with defensive lineman Noah Eliss, a former Mississippi State signee being the prized recruit. If the Vandals defense takes a significant step forward this year, Idaho might finish around .500. The limiting factor will circle back to offense. Junior Colton Richardson has the arm to stretch the field, but struggled with injuries, turnovers and a very short leash in 2018. Senior Mason Petrino is an intelligent player who makes few mistakes but does not have the arm to threaten defenses with even intermediate throws. Early indications from Paul Petrino give his son a leg up to remain being the starter in 2019. If that’s the case, the Vandals will need a defense in the mold of Montana State and Weber State to compete for the playoffs. We doubt they have that, but expect more from the Vandals in 2019 than we saw in 2018.

  1. Idaho State

The Bengals return two All-Big Sky wide receivers in seniors Mitch Gueller and Michael Dean, but it’s unclear who will get the ball to them. Coach Rob Phenicie has not yet named whether senior Gunnar Amos, a former Vandal and Coeur d’Alene native, or junior Matt Stuck will start at quarterback. With the Bengals opening 2019 with a week one bye it’s unlikely we’ll learn the answer anytime soon. No matter who starts under center, the Bengals have made steady progress in two years under Phenicie and will look to finish with their second consecutive winning season for the first time since 2002-03.

Penciled in Wins

  1. Portland State

There’s talent in Portland, no question. Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau might be the best NFL prospect in the Big Sky and the Vikings recruiting class this year was ranked No. 13 in the FCS by HERO Sports. Portland State showed it can compete by beating Montana 22-20 at the Grizzlies’ homecoming game in 2018, but otherwise only looked okay when playing the worst teams in the conference.

  1. Cal Poly

After a 1-4 start, Cal Poly discovered its form and finished the season on a 4-2 run, including a win against Idaho State which kept the Bengals out of the playoffs. Head coach Tim Walsh will have to find a way to replace the dearly departed Joe Protheroe (1,810 rushing yards) if the Mustangs are to again lead the FCS in time of possession. On the other side of the ball, the linebacker combo of sophomore Matt Shotwell and senior Nik Navarro (173 combined tackles) will need some help to keep Cal Poly from surrendering points more efficiently (36.4 points per game allowed in 2018) than the rest of the conference.

  1. Southern Utah

Good luck projecting these guys. Southern Utah went 9-3 in 2017, then 1-10 last season with their lone win coming in the Battle for the Bottom against Sacramento State. The Thunderbirds started four quarterbacks last season due to injury and the projected starter Chris Helbig, the only returning starter who tossed more touchdowns than interceptions, should play more than five games this year. Though, he won’t do much to shore up the Big Sky’s worst defense from 2018.

Every Week is a Bye Week

  1. Northern Colorado

The Bears are another team that can chalk up part of last season’s struggles to quarterback injuries. If senior Jacob Knipp can stay healthy then that alone should improve Northern Colorado’s league-worst scoring offense (23.8 points per game) which scored 14 points or less in six games. Though, it won’t be enough to keep the Bears from hanging out around the Big Sky cellar.

  1. Sacramento State

Sacramento State and first-year head coach Troy Taylor have nowhere to go but up after winning exactly zero conference games in 2018. Injuries, particularly to starting quarterback Kevin Thomson, undoubtedly played a part in the Hornets anemic offense. Luckily, offense happens to be Taylor’s specialty. Getting a full year out of Thomson, the former Bobby Hauck recruit at UNLV, and the return of first team All-Big Sky running back Elijah Dotson (115 rushing yards per game) should help the Hornets look a little closer to their 2017 selves when Sacramento State finished 6-2 in conference. But with maybe the roughest schedule in the conference, don’t expect the Hornets to come close to reaching their sixth winning season this century.