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Idaho Vandals 

by Howie Stalwick & r & NATIONAL RANKING: Sports Illustrated ranks Idaho 112th out of 119 teams in NCAA Division I-A.

PRESEASON POLL: Media pick the Vandals to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference.

GOOD NEWS: Jayson Bird and Rolly Lumbala, two of 16 true freshmen forced to play for the rebuilding Vandals last season, combined for almost 1,500 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Chronic overachiever Cole Snyder, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound middle linebacker, made the All-Sun Belt Conference first team last year by recording 136 tackles -- 60 more than any other Vandal. Coach Nick Holt is a tireless worker and marvelous motivator who loves Idaho (where he once served as an assistant coach) so much that he left national champion USC to return to Moscow.

BAD NEWS: The cash-strapped Vandals again tackle a ridiculous schedule, with seven of 11 games on the road, including the first three. The WAC is a big step up from the Sun Belt, and the Vandals are far too young and talent-challenged to compete with the big boys, particularly archrival Boise State. Quarterback Michael Harrington will never have enough arm to consistently stretch defenses, but he might be able to hold off junior college transfer Steven Wichman. The Vandals need two or three members of an unproven corps of receivers to emerge so they can prevent defenses from stacking up against the run.

2004 RECORD: 3-9 overall, 2-5 Sun Belt (tied for last)

2005 OPENER: At Washington State on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 pm. (FSN cable television; KTRW 970, KVNI 1080 radio and other Vandal network affiliates) Home opener: Saturday, Sept. 24, at 7 pm vs. Hawaii.

HOME FIELD: Kibbie Dome (16,000 capacity)

TICKETS: (888) 884-3246

HEAD COACH: Nick Holt (second year; 3-9 career record, all at Idaho).

COACH SEZ: "We're recruiting better. Our talent level is increasing. But it does take some time to create more depth, especially in our offensive and defensive lines."

HOWIE PREDIX: The Vandals figure to be 0-4 when they play a weak Utah State team at homecoming. If Idaho doesn't win that game ... look out below. The Vandals will be fortunate to match last year's 3-9 record and escape the WAC cellar.

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