| March 17, 2018

Column: Vying for validation

March 27, 2017

Aug. 31 – Sacramento State (Kibbie Dome)

The Vandals open the 2017 season by hosting future Big Sky opponent Sacramento State in a preview of the program’s transition to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The meeting not only provides head coach Paul Petrino an opportunity to experiment with various schemes, but it is also a chance for young receivers to step up and take the place of graduates Deon Watson, Trent Cowan and Jordan Frysinger.

Sept. 9 – UNLV (Kibbie Dome)

Last year’s meeting between the two programs marked a turning point for Idaho’s season, and the upcoming matchup could prove to be an even bigger factor for the success of the Vandals in 2017. The Rebels recently instituted new playmakers into the defensive front seven, but many questions remain concerning the team’s offensive effort.

Sept. 16 – Western Michigan (Waldo Stadium)

Although the Broncos will be without former head coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Zach Terrell, the team returns the bulk of the starting lineup that appeared in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin. No matter the outcome, developing a consistent ground game will be key for the Vandals before they enter conference play the following week.

Sept. 23 – South Alabama (Ladd-Peebles Stadium)

Although the Jaguars quarterback Dallas Davis and tailback Xavier Johnson return to the roster, the team has yet to find a consistent playmaker for the receiving core. The game will ultimately be decided in the trenches, as running backs Aaron Duckworth and Xavier Johnson battle for control of the gridiron.

Oct. 7 – Louisiana-Lafayette (Kibbie Dome)

The Ragin’ Cajuns boast a strong defense, but have had difficulty creating offensive opportunities during the current rebuilding process. The pressure will be on senior quarterback Matt Linehan to display a strong aerial attack and deliver his team a pivotal victory during Homecoming Weekend.

Oct. 14 – Appalachian State (Kibbie Dome)

The Vandals continue conference play by hosting the 2016 Sun Belt co-champions during a pivotal stretch of the season. The matchup highlights a key battle for the Vandal offensive line and provides the team with a valuable learning experience against one of the strongest opponents on the schedule.

Oct. 21 – Missouri (Faurot Field)

The road only gets tougher for the Vandals, who travel to Missouri to take on an SEC program with a reputation for staunch defense. On the bright side, the Tigers are reeling from a 4-8 season which included losses to Kentucky and Middle Tennessee last year.

Oct. 28 – Louisiana-Monroe (Kibbie Dome)

The Warhawks displayed inconsistency in 2016, falling to New Mexico State by 42 points and then beating bowl-eligible South Alabama during a three-week period. Duckworth should be able to make headway against the Louisiana-Monroe front seven, but the game will ultimately be determined with a strong showing from the Idaho secondary.

Nov. 2 – Troy (Veterans Memorial Stadium)

In what might be the most difficult matchup of the year, the Vandals travel to Alabama for a Thursday night meeting with a potential AP Top 25 program. The Trojans employ a powerful ground game, which will likely cause trouble for a defense that enters the game with only five days of rest.

Nov. 18 – Coastal Carolina (Kibbie Dome)

After a much-needed bye week, the Vandals return to Moscow for the final home game of the season against what many consider to be the Sun Belt’s “replacement” team for Idaho and New Mexico State. The meeting allows an opportunity for the Vandals to make a metaphorical statement against the Chanticleers during the team’s inaugural season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Nov. 25 – New Mexico State (Aggie Memorial Stadium)

For two programs heading in drastically different directions in 2018, the matchup highlights one final showing of the western “rivalry” of the Sun Belt. Linehan torched the Aggie secondary for 476 yards and four touchdowns when the teams last met, so the Vandal receiving core should enjoy some quality stats at the end of the day.

Dec. 2 – Georgia State (Georgia State Stadium)

The Idaho secondary appeared to give Georgia State quarterback Conner Manning a headache in 2016 with four interceptions in a 37-12 victory. The meeting is favorable to the Vandals, especially if the program is on the fringe of reaching bowl eligibility.

Josh Grissom can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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