HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Idaho.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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Idaho (4-7 IN 2018)
Big Sky (Idaho finished T9th in 2018)
COACH: Paul Petrino – At School: 7th year (23-48) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 1995 (First Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 24.9 ppg. (83rd in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 37.5 ppg. (109th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 21 vs. Eastern Washington: This is considered a nonconference game, but is set the week before Idaho begins Big Sky play. The Eagles return a ton of talent off of their national championship appearance. This is a good test for the Vandals to measure up against one of the best in the conference and the FCS.
SUM IT UP: Idaho got a tough welcome back to the FCS last year. No one really had a clue how an FBS program moving to the FCS would do, but the thought was the Vandals would be in the mix for the Big Sky title and have a good shot at the playoffs. That wasn't the case as they went 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference. If anything, it showed what this program needs to do to be successful at this level.
For starters, the defense needs to improve. The Big Sky Conference throws explosive offense after explosive offense at you every week. Idaho was near the bottom of the FCS with 37.5 points allowed a game. The good news is leading-tackler Christian Elliss is back at linebacker. Idaho has five of its top 11 tacklers returning. There is impressive talent in the secondary with Jalen Hoover and Lloyd Hightower leading the way.
And there's also this: of the 12 transfers coming into the program this year, 10 of them are on defense. Three of those are from the FBS level: Western Michigan DB Davontae Ginwright, Boise State DL Kayode Rufai and Boise State DB Mujeeb Rufai.
Offensively, eight starters return. The offensive line should be a strong unit with four starters back, led by HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American Noah Johnson. Logan Floyd, Conner Vrba and Matt Faupusa bring plenty of experience as well up front. Finding production in the backfield is key. Idaho loses its top two rushers and the No. 3 rusher was quarterback Mason Petrino, who is back for his senior year.
Petrino has some nice options in the WR room. Idaho's No. 1 pass catcher is gone, but the next two are back in Cutrell Haywood and Jeff Cotton. The two combined for 100 catches for 1,145 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
The Vandals also have punter Cade Coffey back. He's one of the best at his position and is a HERO Sports Preseason Third Team All-American.
OUR TAKE: It was probably a humbling season for the Vandals in 2018. Everyone inside and outside the program assumed a team full of FBS talent could come in and immediately impact the FCS landscape. That didn't happen, but the way Idaho has been recruiting says it'll be a factor sooner than later. The 2019 nonconference schedule is challenging again. Idaho faces FBS opponents Penn State and Wyoming along with a game versus Eastern Washington. The Big Sky slate is a bit more favorable, though. The only Big Sky opponent (that counts toward in the conference standings) that made the playoffs last year is Weber State. No UC Davis, no Montana State and EWU is a nonconference game. While it's too early to predict a playoff appearance for the Vandals, we think there's a good opportunity to rise in the Big Sky standings.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./OL Noah Johnson (HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./P Cade Coffey (HERO Sports Preseason Third Team All-American); Jr./LB Christian Elliss (All-Conference Third Team, team-leading 81 tackles); Sr./QB Mason Petrino (QB1 last year, 1,933 yards with 15 TDs and 8 INT); So./WR Cutrell Haywood (51 rec. for 489 yards and 6 TDs); Sr./WR Jeff Cotton (49 rec. for 656 yards and 7 TDs); Jr./DB Jalen Hoover (54 tackles); Sr./DB Lloyd Hightower (13 PBUs, 14 PD, 1 INT)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./RB Marquese Albert (No. 100 ranked FCS recruit in 2019)
THE QUOTE: "When you know everything and you keep learning that's the biggest thing. So I keep learning, this is my third year going with coach Molnar. Just picking his mind, getting everything that I can get out of him. He's helped me tremendously and my dad (head coach Paul Petrino) has helped me out. Those are probably two of the best minds in college football." — QB Mason Petrino said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Idaho Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Big Sky
Montana | Montana St | NAU | UNC
Portland St | Sac St | SUU | UC Davis | Weber St
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast