Season Opener: At Boise State (Boise, Idaho), Saturday, Sept. 4, 5:05 pm PDT (no TV; Vandal Radio Network, including KTRW 970 AM in Spokane and KVNI 1080 AM in Coeur d'Alene).
Home Opener: Louisiana-Monroe, Kibbie Dome, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2 pm (no TV; Vandal Radio Network). Also: At Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 18, 7:30 pm (FSN TV; KXLY 920 AM, Vandal Radio Network).
Tickets: (888) 884-3246
2003 Record: 3-9 overall, 3-4 Sun Belt Conference (tied for 4th).
2004 Predictions: 9th of nine teams in Sun Belt (poll of conference coaches, media and sports information directors), 116th of 117 teams in NCAA Division I-A (Sports Illustrated rankings).
Key Players: QB Michael Harrington (7 TD passes, 10 interceptions in his 2 seasons), DE Brandon Kania (sacks declined from 7 to 4 to 2 in his 3 seasons), OT Hank Therien (the lone Vandal named to All-Sun Belt preseason team, he'll sit out the first game for violating team rules), CB J.R. Ruffin (32 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick in 5 games last season).
Coach: Nick Holt (first season as college head coach)
The Good News: Holt is a fiery, charismatic leader who's always had a soft spot for Idaho. His return to the school where he was an assistant during the glory days of the 1990s, combined with Idaho's move to the Western Athletic Conference next year, bodes well for a program that has been one of the worst in I-A in recent years. Holt, a California native, solidified his recruiting contacts in California -- a key state for the Vandals for skill-position players in particular -- by spending the last three years as linebackers coach at USC. (The Trojans, of course, shared the national championship last year.) Recruiting experts gave Holt relatively high marks for his first class at Idaho, but he'll need some time to clean up the mess left by fired coach Tom Cable.
The Not-So-Good News: The Vandals are 6-29 since 2001, and there figures to be little or no improvement this year. Harrington may be the younger brother of Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, but Joey's arm strength was not passed along in the gene pool. The cash-starved Vandals play their first five games on the road, including a Sept. 25 suicide mission at 23rd-ranked Oregon. The Vandals play just three of their 12 games in Moscow, where they have never sold out the 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome in the stadium's 25-year history (though an estimated 17,600 fans attended a 1989 game). Idaho followers are excited about the pending move to the WAC and a reunion with archrival Boise State, but the Vandals have fallen far behind the hated Broncos on the gridiron.
coach's quote: "It's the people. It's the tradition. It's the Vandal family. It's a really special place. People don't realize that until they come here and they stay a few years. It grows on you. It's just a love affair between the program, the community and the state. I don't think a lot of places have that, but this place does."
Big Game: The opener at Boise State. The Vandals are expected to lose to BSU for the sixth straight year, but they played the Broncos tough last year, and another respectable showing would boost the confidence of Holt's young squad.
Betcha Didn't Know: Bill Fagerbakke, who played dimwitted college assistant football coach Michael "Dauber" Dybinski on the hit television series Coach, played football at Idaho. A knee injury cut short his football career, so Fagerbakke -- a native of Rupert, Idaho -- turned to acting while attending UI.