Future UI schedules have western flavor

WITH IDAHO'S TRANSITION as an FBS Independent now in the rearview mirror, Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear is building future non-conference schedules around a Sun Belt Conference slate. With the SBC centered in the southeast, Idaho’s non-conference schedules after the 2015 season will be focused on the west. We talked with Dr. Spear for the inside scoop on UI opponents in '15, '16, and '17.

As with any future schedule statement, all non-conference games are subject to change and nothing is set in stone. This is the case right until the team is on the doorstep of a season, where multiple factors – including ESPN – can have an impact on schedules.

But for now anyway, Idaho football schedules for the next three years (after the 2014 season) are beginning to take form. Without a doubt, the challenges of building Idaho’s 2013 FBS Independent schedule, coupled with scheduling opponents at that time for future matchups (i.e. the 2014 and 2015 schedule, and much of the future schedules as well), will have ramifications into the future.

“I think there is a big misunderstanding with how difficult it was,” Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear to GoVandals.net. “There were scheduling challenges going Independent for that year, to stay alive and put some schedules together [for 2013 and beyond, not knowing how long Idaho would play as an FBS Independent]. There are some long-term consequences putting those schedules together, including scheduling a return game to Old Dominion – that will be a tough trip [on top of the Sun Belt schedule] with the 3-hour time change and going clear across the country.”

Although the Sun Belt is a welcome reprieve from Independence, the need for some flexibility in the future exists. “Part of the effort to schedule these future opponents is that I have to build in some flexibility, because there have been discussions about the Sun Belt going to nine-game conference schedule. If that happens, we’ll have three non-conference games [instead of the four Idaho has planned to schedule each season].”

Given all this, the pieces are starting to come together, starting with the 2015 season.

“For 2015,” Dr. Spear said, “Wofford University is going to come clear across the country to play us, and that is going to be a good game for us.” Asked about the possibility of moving or dropping one of the games against national powers USC or Auburn, both scheduled for 2015, Dr. Spear had this to say, “If I can move one I will, but it is probably unlikely. When we were scheduling as an Independent, we had to look into the future and find a money game out west that was going to help us run the program. That USC game was a victim of Independent scheduling. I’d like to move one of them, but it doesn’t look likely at this point.”

For now the 2015 schedule looks like the following:

Ohio (MAC) – Return game of a home-and-home series with the Bobcats
Wofford University (FCS)
@ Auburn (SEC)
@ USC (Pac-12)

In 2016, the Vandals will be in their third season with the Sun Belt Conference, and the fourth under head coach Paul Petrino. For that season Idaho will play a much more western regional slate. It will be challenging for sure, but the opponents will be well known before a down is played.

“For 2016,” Dr. Spear said, “we’re going to open the season against Montana State at home on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. After that, we’re going to play at Washington, at Washington State, and we’re going to play at UNLV (the first of a home-and-home series with the Rebels). That gives us six games on the Palouse, and goes along with the philosophy of non-conference games being played out West.”

Regarding the game against the Cougs, Rob said, “The Washington State game will be a challenging game, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s on the Palouse, and a game we probably should play more often.”

For 2016 the non-conference schedule looks like the following:

Montana State (Big Sky – FCS) – Thursday before Labor Day weekend
@ UNLV (MWC) – First of a home-and-home series with the Rebels
@ Washington (Pac-12)
@ Washington State (Pac-12)

For 2017 Idaho has signed contractual agreements on three games, all of which are either return games on home-and-home series, or the start of a home-and-home series. Two games are against MWC foes, while one is a MAC team.

“For 2017, we’ve got UNLV at home, Western Michigan on the road, and Nevada on the road,” Rob said of the schedule, with one game left to book. “I’m looking for a game against a Power 5 conference opponent.”

UNLV (MWC) – Return game of the home-and-home series
@ Western Michigan (MAC) – Return game of the home-and-home series
@ Nevada (MWC) – First of a home-and-home series with the Wolfpack

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