| March 18, 2018

Football: An SEC Opportunity

Just weeks ago, fans across the country watched Troy march into Death Valley to face LSU in a game where the home team was heavily favored to win, as any SEC team vs Sun Belt team would be. But to the surprise of many, this time around the Sun Belt pulled one over on the SEC team when Troy found a way to upset the Tigers 24-21.

The SEC is either loved or hated among college football fans. Those who love it are fans of the teams known for tough defenses and the ability to bring home the trophy. Those who hate it are fans of pretty much any other conference. It is hard to dispute the idea that the SEC is one of the most winning conferences in college football history, with seven of the last 10 national champions reigning from the SEC, four of which were from Alabama alone. It is difficult not to at least consider the conference one of the best.

Idaho will travel to Columbia, Missouri Saturday to face a program hailing from the aforementioned conference. This is not the first time Idaho has experienced a Power Five matchup, let alone an SEC matchup.

Unfortunately for the Vandals, the history between Idaho and the Power Five favors the later. In Idaho’s time with head coach Paul Petrino, the program has faced a total of seven Power Five teams, two of which were SEC schools. Idaho traveled to Ole Miss in 2013 where the team took a 59-14 loss. Two years down the road, the Vandals took on Auburn at an even tougher Jordan-Hare stadium. The Vandals put up a fight, but still could not pull the upset, losing 56-34.

Idaho dabbled in the ACC in 2013 with a faceoff against No. 2 Florida State, where the Seminoles came out victorious 80-14. Idaho’s Pac-12 play thus far has not looked any better, taking losses from USC, Washington and neighboring Washington State Cougars.

Missouri will be the Vandals’ lone Power Five competition this season and the final one before the transition to the Big Sky Conference.

But all hope is not lost heading into Columbia. The Tigers 1-5 record and considerably weak defense for an SEC team gives Idaho a bit of hope.

“I don’t think there is anyone we can’t beat on any given day,” junior linebacker Kaden Elliss said of the Vandals’ chance at an upset. “It’s college football- that’s how it goes.”

Senior quarterback Matt Linehan said there is no pressure on the team either way, which may just be an advantage for the Idaho underdogs.

“A lot of people don’t expect us to go in there and win but I think we are going to go in there with a chip on our shoulder and try to show the country what we are all about,” Linehan said. “As long as we are confident enough, that we believe we can win I think we will have a chance.”

At the end of the day, win or lose, it simply comes down to playing hard and enjoying the game. Head coach Paul Petrino said the key to the game is simple- just enjoy it. Missouri brings the team an opportunity to play under the big lights with a larger audience and lower stakes. Petrino said as long as the guys are willing to fight for the win the team has a chance to pull off the upset.

“A lot of times when you play the best teams you’re going to play that year or the biggest teams you’re going to play, you want a copy of that game. You want to show that to your kids and your grandkids someday, ‘Hey look how good I played at Missouri, look how good I played at Auburn a couple years ago’,” Petrino said.

Regardless of record, Idaho has proven game after game that it can hang with tough teams from around the NCAA, from a close fight against Western Michigan to a heartbreaking loss to Appalachian State.

Despite the Vandals’ 0-7 record against Power Five schools, the experience of playing some of the toughest programs in the nation might just be another advantage Idaho can hold on to. Petrino has pushed the team into games where the likelihood to win is low, but they have competed nonetheless. Missouri, despite still being an SEC team, does not play at quite the same level that teams like LSU and Ole Miss do. Petrino’s scheduling over the past several years, regardless of the losses, has given the team the experience it just might need to win on the road this weekend.

Sure, Idaho will go into Columbia as 85.8 percent underdogs, according to ESPN. But let’s not forget Troy, a fellow Sun Belt school that had an even smaller chance for an upset and found a way to get the W anyway. Maybe, just maybe, the Vandals will find a way to add one in the win column against Power Five schools.

The game against Missouri is set to kick off at 9 a.m. PT in Columbia, Missouri. Fans can follow along on the SEC network or on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.

Meredith Spelbring can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on twitter @mere0415

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