The Idaho Vandals 2017 football season is set to kick off against future Big Sky conference opponent Sacramento State, 6 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Kibbie Dome.
The current Idaho football roster looks different than that of last seasons. A few receiving options, linemen and punter and kicker Austin Rehkow were lost after last season. Yet the missing pieces seem to have been reconstructed well.
Despite the changes, some of the more talented players in recent Idaho football seasons return to the gridiron, including senior quarterback Matt Linehan, who has only proven to be consistently getting better since his first start as a freshman. Idaho’s breakout junior running back Isaiah Saunders and senior running back Aaron Duckworth will be hanging out in the backfield as well, a combo which ran for nearly 150 yards per game last season.
Coming off a 2-9 season, the Hornets of Sacramento State return a good deal of players as well. The entire offensive line, quarterback Nate Ketteringham and nearly all starting defensive positions are back with experience under their belts.
While both teams are experienced, the Hornets lack consistency on defense. Sacramento State allowed nearly 527 yards per game last season, 291 rushing yards and 40 points per opponent.
Idaho’s balanced attack, anchored by a powerful running game, put up about 400 yards per game last season. The Vandals should be able to drive up and down the field with relative ease against the Hornets.
The Vandals averaged about 31 points per game last season against arguably tougher FBS competition. The Hornets struggled to keep opposing teams off the board, as 31 plus points were scored against them in all but two games.
The most striking victory for Sacramento State last season was the 41-38 win over Montana State in week five, the same team Idaho managed to slip by in the first week of play, winning 20-17. Although putting up 41 points against a team the Vandals only scored 20 on is impressive, Montana State still gained 385 yards on the ground, whereas the Bobcats could only rush for 110 total yards against the Vandals.
Expect Idaho to run early and often in week one. If Sacramento State’s defense did not improve tenfold during the offseason, the Vandals should be able to rack up at least 200 yards on the ground, allowing Linehan to take some deep shots off play action.
Idaho’s linebacking core proved itself to be one of the most talented in the Sun Belt last year, the defensive line is strong and the defensive backs took a huge step forward. For Sacramento State, gaining big chunks on single plays should prove difficult.
The week one matchup should be seen as a tune-up game for Idaho’s final season before heading to Sacramento State’s Big Sky Conference. The Vandals are predicted as a nearly 96 percent favorite by ESPN, the largest win probability for Idaho in the last several seasons.
I predict Vandals will take the game 41-17.
Colton Clark can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @coltonclark95