Schedule Preview: Idaho

North Carolina welcomes Idaho to Kenan Stadium for the final non-conference game of the season on Sept. 29. The matchup marks the first ever meeting between the Tar Heels and Vandals.

Overview: Robb Akey was the fourth head coach hired by Idaho in a five-year span when he was chosen for the job in late 2006. In the over five years since, the Idaho football program continues to struggle, despite a victory in the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl. Under Akey, the Vandals are 19-43 (9-30 WAC).

Heading into last fall, expectations were mixed for the Vandals. Record setting quarterback Nate Enderle was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 2011 NFL Draft and the Vandals top three receivers from 2010 were also gone. For an offense that passed the ball more frequently than any team in the country in 2010, this was a lot to replace.

Fortunately, Idaho returned a veteran quarterback in Brian Reader as well as solid stable of running backs, including Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass. Idaho also welcomed back 62 combined starts along the offensive line in 2011.

Last fall was a disappointing season for Idaho as the Vandals (2-10, 1-6 WAC) were unable to build on the programs first back-to-back six-plus win seasons in over a decade. Reader (192-of-354 passing, 1,974 yards, 10 TD, 12 INT) led an anemic offense that ranked 111th out of 120 FBS schools in total offense (301.5 ypg) and 107th in scoring offense (20.25 ppg).

Despite the record and statistics, it could be said that the Vandals performed better than a typical two win team. They lost by one point in overtime at Virginia, by two points to Hawaii and by one touchdown to bowl bound Utah State in double overtime. Nonetheless, the Vandals always seemed to find a way to lose.

With eight returning starters, the defense expected to lessen the inevitable difficulties that accompany an inexperienced offense. However, the defense struggled as much, if not more, than the offense, allowing fewer than 21 points just twice. One of those games was a 44-14 win over FCS opponent North Dakota.

For the 2012 season, Idaho was picked to finish fifth in the WAC by the league coaches and fourth by the media.

Akey completely overhauled the offensive staff during the offseason. New offensive coordinator Jason Gesser barely has one years coaching experience on the college level yet he must choose between junior Taylor Davis (28-of-62 passing, 234 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT) and gigantic junior college transfer Dominique Blackman (6'5", 274 lbs) for the starting quarterback job. Wide receiver Mike Scott returns to provide a quality target for the quarterbacks after leading Idaho in 2011 with 55 catches for 691 yards and two touchdowns.

Idaho must also replace three starters along the offensive line. All this while attempting to install a new offensive system is a tall task to say the least.

Defensively, the Vandals must replace six starters, including linebackers Tre'Shawn Robinson and Korey Toomer, as well as cornerback Matthew Harvey, all of who were named second team All-WAC last fall. The Seattle Seahawks selected Toomer in the fifth round of this years NFL Draft.

Quotable: "It's a devastating loss. We've lost a brother, a teammate, a family member. But, more importantly, a momma lost her son today." – Akey following the tragic shooting death of senior wide receiver Ken McRoyal on May 13.

Matchup to Watch: With only seven current football programs in the WAC and just two planning to play football in the 2013-14 season due to conference expansion and realignment, this may be the final season of WAC football. Therefore, Idaho needs to make a splash on a national level in order to garner interest from other conferences. Trips to Baton Rouge and Chapel Hill are unlikely to result in victories. However, a win against BYU on Nov. 10 would certainly turn some heads. LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah is not an easy place to play. If the Vandals steal a late season win from what is likely to be a solid BYU squad, it will be a positive finish to the season and notable start to an uncertain offseason.

BCS School Woes: Idaho has not defeated a BCS conference opponent in over a decade. The last victory over a school from one of the six automatic bid conferences was in 2000, when the Vandals defeated a 4-7 Washington State team, 38-34. Ironically, Gesser was the starting quarterback for the Cougars in that game. The Vandals have never defeated an ACC school.

2012 Schedule
Aug. 30 E. Washington
Sept. 8 @ Bowling Green
Sept. 15 @ LSU
Sept. 22 Wyoming
Sept. 29 @ North Carolina
Oct. 6 New Mexico State
Oct. 13 @ Texas State
Oct. 20 @ Louisiana Tech
Nov. 3 San Jose State
Nov. 10 @ BYU
Nov. 17 UT – San Antonio
Nov. 24 @ Utah State

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