The Idaho Vandals are the first college in decades to drop down from the FBS level to the FCS, and will begin playing in the Big Sky Conference this fall after they and New Mexico State were dropped from the FBS Sun Belt Conference.
Idaho is no stranger to the Big Sky – it was a member from 1965-1995. The Vandals have also been affiliated with the Pacific Coast Conference, The Big West and the WAC, as well as played as an independent.
Once the Sun Belt told Idaho to get packing a couple years ago, the decision to move from FBS to FCS was motivated almost entirely by money. As pointed out by this Bloomberg report, the average FBS school brings in nearly $60 million in revenue across all sports. In 2015-16, Idaho brought in $10 million.
Idaho president Chuck Staben mentioned the attractiveness of joining the FCS to the Spokesman-Review back in March of 2016 — before the decision to head to the FCS was final. Staben said, "We are one of the lower resourced teams in the FBS. I think we would be in the top third of FCS-type teams," and later added, "One of the advantages that we would anticipate in going FCS would be being clearly a nationally competitive team. At FBS, especially as an independent, I think that is a much more difficult situation."
Clearly, the president of the university believes Idaho will immediately be able to compete at the FCS level. Here's what you need to know about the newest member of the FCS:
Location: Moscow, Idaho
Enrollment: 11,500 (2015)
Team Founded: 1893
All-Time Record: 459-604-27 (.433 winning percentage)
Bowl Record: 3-0 (1998, 2009, 2016)
Conference Titles: 11 (9 Big Sky, 1 Pacific Coast, 1 Big West)
FCS/DI-AA Playoff Appearances: 11
FCS/DI-AA Playoff Record: 6-11
Best DI-AA Playoff Finish: Semifinals (1988, 1993, both losses to eventual champions)
Stadium: Kibbi Dome (Capacity: 16,000)
Mascot: Joe Vandal
Rival Teams: Boise State, Idaho State, Washington State, Montana
Notable NFL Alumni: Jerry Kramer, Mike Iupati, Jim Norton, Jeff Robinson, Mark Schlereth, Wayne Walker
2017 in review
The Vandals went 4-8 overall and 3-5 in conference play, finishing eighth in the Sun Belt standings. Idaho's four wins came against Sacramento State, South Alabama, Louisiana Monroe and Georgia State. Five of the Vandals' eight losses were by a touchdown or less, two were by margins of 28 and 47 points.
Idaho averaged 20.9 points per game and allowed 25.8 points per game. The Vandals' offense put up 349.5 yards per contest (224.9 passing yards, 124.6 rushing yards), and the defense allowed 390.4 yards per game (222.3 passing, 168.1 rushing).
Last Decade Capsule
Head Coach: Paul Petrino
- Record at Idaho: 19-41 (.316 win percentage)
- Alma Mater: Carroll College (quarterback)
- Past Coaching Experience: Arkansas (OC/QB, OC/WR), Illinois (OC/WR), Atlanta Falcons (WR), Louisville (OC/WR, WR), Southern Miss (QB), Utah State (WR/ST), Idaho (WR/RB/ST), Carroll (OC/QB)
- Personal: Age 51, younger brother of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino
Top Returning Offensive Players
Top Returning Defensive Players
How Does This Impact the Big Sky and FCS?
The Vandals are immediately eligible to challenge for a Big Sky Conference title and make the playoffs, either as an automatic bid or at-large bid. While Idaho has transitioned down from 85 to 63 scholarships, the team still has FBS-level players and recruiting classes. Despite a 4-8 overall record last season, the Vandals should be looked at as an immediate Big Sky threat and playoff contender in 2018.
Idaho defeated Sacramento State 28-6 in its 2017 season opener. Sacramento State went on to finish 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky, including a 54-27 win against eventual co-conference champ Southern Utah.
The Vandals play two FBS road games this year at Fresno State and Florida along with a home game against Division II Western New Mexico. Road conference games are against UC Davis, Idaho State, Montana State and Eastern Washington. Home games include Portland State, Southern Utah, North Dakota and Montana.
With that schedule, Idaho faces a lot of teams in the top half of the Big Sky. But expect the Vandals to make their presence felt in their first season back in the conference.