Maybe this is the rebuilding year to end the streak of rebuilding years.
That's what the folks on the other side of the Palouse are hoping this fall, as the Idaho Vandals enter a new season in a new conference with a coach who's still fairly new to a program where losing has become very, very old.
Coach Paul Petrino (yes, of the Petrino family) is back for his second campaign with the Vandals after a debut season that saw him win just one game. Petrino is looking to put that behind him, and he thinks he has a group of guys willing to help him.
"There are some good football players out here," Petrino told reporters the first week of the Vandals' fall camp. "They're just going to keep getting better and better. It's exciting. We just have to keep improving."
Any improvement would be notable for the Vandals. In addition to winning a single game in 2013, they only had one victory in the 2012 season. The 2011 season gave Vandal fans just two wins. If you're doing the math, that's only four wins over the course of three seasons, making for a 4-32 record during that span.
While the Vandals played without a conference last year, wandering the country for big paycheck games against the SEC's Ole Miss and eventual BCS national champion Florida State, they now have a home in the Sun Belt Conference. Vandal fans should remember the Sun Belt, where Idaho played from 2001 to 2004. The face of the conference has changed since then, but is still mostly comprised of southeastern teams, meaning the Vandals will racking up some serious frequent-flier miles in the coming years when they travel to schools like Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Southern, Texas State, South Alabama and others. The conference also features former perennial FCS powerhouse Appalachian State, which the Vandals face in Boone, North Carolina, to close out the season on Nov. 29.
There are a lot of new faces on the Vandals squad, including linebacker Irving Steele, a transfer from an Iowa junior college, who Petrino has already identified as a leader on the field. The 6-1, 222-pound Steele transferred for the spring semester and was with the squad for spring camp. Since then, he said he's seen a big change and a different energy with the Vandals.
"We're really becoming a team. In the spring we had a couple guys who seemed like they didn't want to be there. It's different now. We're playing like a team," Steele said after a practice last week.
This isn't to say the Vandals don't have some experience coming back. Center Mike Marboe enters his senior season as one of the top players at his position in the country, earning him a spot on the watch list for the Rimington Award, given annually to the nation's best center. You can look for him to anchor an offense that will rely on either Coeur d'Alene High School alum Chad Chalich or Matt Linehan at quarterback.
On the defensive side, senior Maxx Forde is expected to keep up his solid numbers from last year, which included 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. Not to be forgotten is punter Austin Rehkow from Spokane's Central Valley High School, who as a freshman was the nation's top punter. ♦
2013 record: 1-11
2014 Sun Belt Conference preseason poll: 9th
Sat, Aug. 30 at Florida, 4 pm
Sat, Sept. 6 at Louisiana-Monroe, 4 pm
Sat, Sept. 13 vs. Western Michigan, 2 pm
Sat, Sept. 20 at Ohio, TBA
Sat, Sept. 27 vs. South Alabama, 2 pm
Sat. Oct. 4 at Texas State, TBA
Sat, Oct. 11 at Georgia Southern, 3 pm
Sat, Oct. 18 vs. New Mexico State, 2 pm
Sat., Nov. 1 vs. Arkansas State, 2 pm
Sat, Nov. 8 at San Diego State, 3:30 pm
Sat, Nov. 15 vs. Troy, 2 pm
Sat, Nov. 29 at Appalachian State, TBA
Tickets at govandals.com