WAC Preview: Idaho (Moscow)

Dennis Erickson is back as the coach of the Moscow, Idaho school, inheriting a team that has a record of 43-71 since being accepted into Division I-A 10 years ago. Idaho has won a total of 11 games over the last five seasons. They have a low fan base, poor facilities and not a lot of things to do in Moscow for recruits. What can Erickson do to make a difference?

Dennis Erickson had never coached a Division I-A team with a worse record than Wyoming, but that's the situation he finds himself in when he signed with Idaho. After he left the Moscow school, he quickly went through Wyoming, Washington State, Oregon State and then Miami of Florida. The Hurricanes had won a few national championships prior to Erickson taking over, and he was able to partake in the fun as well. Erickson then went on to the National Football League where he coached Seattle and San Francisco, neither of which did very well under his tutelage. The 49'ers fired him and he found himself without a job. Unemployed for the moment, who should call Erickson but the Moscow team he once coached?

Nine starters return for Erickson including quarterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219, Sr.). Wichman was 226-401 for 2,746 yards and 15 touchdowns but 18 interceptions. He looks comfortable in the position and can make some great throws, but what if the interception bug returns?

At running back, Rolly Lumbala (472 yards last season) will play second fiddle to Jayson Bird (6-0, 221, So.) who missed most of last year with a broken collarbone. Bird ran for 859 yards as a freshman. Brian Flowers, a transfer from El Camino College, could get playing time immediately as well.

Wendell Octave (6-1, 187, Sr.) is the top returning receiver with 33 catches for 537 yards and a fine 16.3 yards per catch average. Expect Wichman to go to Octave much more this season. Lee Smith (6-0, 193, So.) will be the other receiver for the Vandals this fall. Matt Askew (28 catches for 330 yards) will also get considerable playing time. The tight end is Luke Smith-Anderson (6-5, 253, Jr.), a physical blocker and athletic receiver. Erickson says Smith-Anderson "can be as good as anyone in our league at that position." This group's success depends on an offensive line that returns four starters from last year's 2-9 team. The left side of the line is where the Vandals will try to run the ball, with seniors Nate VanderPol (6-6, 3-6, Sr. tackle) and Jade Tadvick (6-5, 314, Sr. guard) anchoring that side.

The right side is the inexperienced pair with guard Adam Juratovac (6-3, 297, Fr.) and Kris Anderson (6-3, 299, So.) set to go. Adam Korby (6-2, 292, So.) will start at center against some great middle linebackers in the Western Athletic Conference.

Only four starters return on defense and that's from a unit that gave up 419 points last year. The group is extremely small as well. Defensive Coordinator Jeff Mills will have to work around that.

Ben Alexander (6-1, 225, Jr.) and Charles Campbell (6-3, 226, Sr.) will start at end this fall with senior Ryan Davis (6-0, 261) at nose tackle and Josh Shaw (6-2, 254, So.) at the other tackle position. Jon Dominguez (6-3, 270, Jr.), a transfer from Fresno City College, could also see time. Returning "Sam" 'backer Josh Bousman (6-2, 228, Jr.) leads that unit. Bousman made 75 tackles last campaign along with five sacks for the Moscow school. Senior Jaron Williams (6-1, 217) is poised to start at middle linebacker with backup from Robert Downs. David Vobora is the other linebacker at the Will position; he made 43 stops last season.

Reggie Jones and Stanley Franks are the corners the Vandals this fall. Coach Erickson was greeted with two huge pieces of bad news upon coming to Moscow. First, All-WAC safety D.J. Dykes transferred to Arizo. Now, Idaho will have to go with freshman Brandon Nystrom at strong safety. Joining Nystrom at safety will be Tone Taupule. Franks comes to Moscow via junior college.

The other major loss for the Vandals happened just a few weeks ago when All-WAC placekicker Mike Barrow was lost for the season due to an injury suffered while playing basketball. Barrow also served as the punter so it was a double blow for Idaho. Matt Gregg or Luke Hardwick will thus have the placekicking job fall in their lap. DeAngelo Ramsey will head the kickoff return team and. T.J. Corley will be the punter--he's back after a broken leg.

The schedule is not conducive to improving. Idaho plays at Michigan State, Oregon State and Washington State and hosts in state rival I-AA Idaho State. In the WAC, the Vandals host Boise State, New Mexico State, Nevada and San Jose State while traveling to Utah State, Louisiana Tech, Hawai'i and Fresno State.

In EA Sports simulations, the Vandals come up with an average WAC record of 3-5 and 4-8 overall. They defeat New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State in conference games with an additional win over Idaho State. The games that could go one way or the other are New Mexico State, Utah State and Louisiana Tech. Thus, Idaho could win as few as one game (over Idaho State) or as many as five.

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