Column: A Big Sky of Opportunity

The petitions have been waived. The damage has been done. There is now nothing we can do about Idaho football’s imminent move from the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), at least, in the forthcoming years. But it’s not all bad.

There are cons from moving down a notch and they have been repeatedly brought up.

Yet Vandal fans and Northwest sports enthusiasts need to look on the optimistic side of an issue that has been seen as entirely negative for almost a year.

Did fans really expect the Sun Belt Conference to be Idaho’s home of the future? While yes, the competition suits the Vandals nearly perfectly and Sun Belt teams are underrated as far as talent goes, but the conference itself makes no geographical sense. Idaho football currently sits in the top 10 for total travel miles, as the team must fly to the Southeast for nearly every conference game. It is possible many Vandal supporters had never heard of schools such as Troy, South Alabama, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State prior to Idaho joining the conference.

The Big Sky is more relevant than the Sun Belt to fans in the area. I grew up watching broadcasts of Eastern Washington, Montana and Montana State— teams that are consistently ranked in the FCS top-25.

In the issue of relevancy, Idaho football will not become nationally irrelevant just because of this drop. The move to the FCS received national attention because it was the only instance in which an FBS program moved down.

Simply being in the FBS does not make a team nationally relevant. Not many Idaho football games were broadcasted on national television, with the exception of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Bowl games will be a thing of the past after this season, but don’t expect the Vandals to take a complete drop out of the public eye.

In the FCS, the Big Sky Conference is a powerhouse, the Pac-12 of the subdivision. Every year, at least three teams from the Big Sky make the FCS playoffs, a 24-team bracket which is decided by athletic directors from around the subdivision and broadcasted on ESPN.

This Idaho team will be joining the conference potentially with two bowl wins under its belt and a whole mess of players and coaches with FBS experience.

This season is the one to watch, as it is definitely one of the most important years in Vandal sports history and sports around Idaho and Pacific Northwest. Maybe this season can be seen as a tune-up year for younger players, a send-off for the seniors, and perhaps another bowl win to improve to 4-0 overall in the postseason.

Game one is against future Big Sky opponent Sacramento State, a 2-9 team last year that lost to Cal Poly, 59-47 and Weber State, 14-7, both of which were FCS playoff teams last season.

ESPN has Idaho predicted as a 98 percent favorite entering the week one matchup, giving the idea that the Vandals should dominate the Hornets.

The schedule this season permits more than eight victories for the Vandals this season. The toughest competition comes from Missouri, Appalachian State, Western Michigan and UNLV. If Idaho is four games above .500 once again, and manages to pull off another bowl victory, Big Sky opponents should be scared of the Vandals’ ability to shake things up in their new conference.

Idaho will lose some stars after this year, including quarterback Matt Linehan, defensive tackle Aikeem Coleman, and several others whom have been valuable in their playing time.

But several bright spots return, including the majority of defensive positions. The offensive line will remain largely intact and, of course, star running back Isaiah Saunders will be in his senior season the first year of FCS play.

Sure, Idaho will not be expected to dominate teams like Eastern Washington, which defeated Washington State in week one last year, 45-42, but few players on the rosters of Big Sky teams have seen the FBS competition that the Vandals have experience with.

In the first two seasons of FCS play, Idaho’s roster will feature players who contributed to impressive wins over the Mountain West’s Colorado State, UNLV and managed to put up 34 points against Auburn two seasons ago. Another bowl win this season could signal the beginning of a Big Sky powerhouse instead of the end of Idaho football relevancy.

As much as people love to doubt Idaho because of the massive struggles seen throughout the early-2010s none can question that the Vandals have the chance to do something really special after leaving the FBS.

The 2018 and 2019 Idaho football seasons in the FCS may see Idaho receiving more public attention than ever, as the rosters easily will permit for playoff appearances, and hopefully, a showing in the FCS national championship.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu


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1 comment

Silas Robbins

August 19, 2017 - Reply

What about all the players that will transfer. What about all the lost donor dollars or big money games that will only pay a fraction. Do you really think if we win a bowl game this year Petrino will be here next year. Your article is poorly thought out with only one perspective on the topic. How about the affect it will have on local business. What does the student population think? Am I really supposed to get “jacked” for Sac St. So hit rewind and try again!

Please feel free to comment on what I wrote, I appreciate all feedback and criticism