Bandwagon fan has become somewhat of a derogatory term in sports. Fandoms are built on loyalty. Bandwagoning is the exact opposite- jumping to whatever team suits the fans desire to be a part of a winning tradition.
Fans want to see success. It’s why the Power Five schools have some of the largest stadiums in the country, why Notre Dame and Ohio State, ranked no. 3 and no. 4, are currently the top selling jerseys in college football, according to Fanatics.com.
It is even something that’s seen around Idaho in the past year, increasingly so after the Vandals won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Even with the expanding fan base, Idaho will never have the following that programs like their neighbors Washington State have.
The more a team wins, the more fans it will attract. The higher a team climbs in the polls, the more fans want to join the club.
This is not to say smaller conferences like the Sun Belt do not have loyal and loving fans, but the excitement that comes from being a part of a major powerhouse is just not something fans of the conference or its teams are used to enjoying.
And then there is Troy.
Troy football brought a new light to the conference over recent years. The Trojans head coach Neal Brown transformed a mediocre team into one of the top programs in the conference and the only team in Sun Belt history to rank in the A.P. Top 25 poll.
The success drew fans to games in the masses, setting a program attendance record in 2016 for home games.
Then this season rolled around and the team marched into Death Valley and once again made a name for themselves when they upset college football giant LSU.
This is the program that is easy for fans to get behind- a program that knows how to win and is not defined by their conference status.
Idaho’s chances at making a similar name for the program are waning as the upcoming drop to the Big Sky Conference looms. Regardless, there is still a sliver of hope. If the Vandals can pull the upset in Alabama Thursday, they could make a bowl game for a second season in a row, which would be a first in program history.
Despite Troy’s recent rise in Sun Belt power, this game is not an automatic loss for the Vandals. The team has been preaching their abilities all season and it’s only recently their promises translated on to the field.
Idaho head coach Paul Petrino is familiar with the coaching staff that has built Troy into what it is today, having worked with several coaches in past careers. Petrino said this ultimately has no effect on the game, rather it is which team goes into the game ready for the win.
“When it comes right down to it, it is going to be what group of coaches and players did the best job of preparing this week, you know, and really understanding their plan and going out and executing it,” Petrino said.
It is do-or-die time for Idaho. In order to continue to build a winning tradition here in Moscow, this team has to win three of the final four games to keep the post season hopes alive.
Fans may not get the joy of seeing Idaho ranked with the best teams in the country, but there are still plenty of opportunities for the Vandals to prove they are worthy of bandwagoners and their own fans loving affection.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @mere0415