The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Idaho

IT'S BACK, BUT don't say we're resuming a rivalry. Washington State playing host to Idaho is every bit the pay-for-a-whipping game that is a Southern Utah or a Portland State.

The Cougars and Vandals meet Saturday in Martin Stadium, their first game since 2007. WSU has won seven consecutive games against Idaho, all by double digits. The last time Idaho beat the Cougars was 2000.

But 2000 marked a different era for Idaho football. The program has since been gutted, largely due to conference movement throughout the country that left the Vandals without a league.

Cougs vs Vandals

The kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Martin Stadium.

TV: Pac-12 Networks.

The line: Cougs by 31.

The series: WSU leads the series 70-17-3.

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Idaho is a college football orphan this season, playing as an FBS independent much like Notre Dame. Well, except for tradition or juice or even much of a following.

Idaho hits the road for seven of its 12 games, including trips to Florida State, Ole Miss, North Texas and Arkansas State. You can make a case that WSU is Idaho's third most difficult game in 2013, a game for which Idaho will receive $550,000.

There's no reason to believe things are going to get better any time soon for Idaho. Next year, the Vandals join the Sun Belt Conference as a football-only member. That appears to be a move of desperation rather than one of sense in my opinion. The Sun Belt schools for 2014 are Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama. Texas State, Troy, Western Kentucky, Appalachian State, New Mexico State and Georgia Southern.

Idaho has as much connection with those schools as orange trees in Moscow. Exactly which one of those Sun Belt teams becomes Idaho's rival? A home game against mighty Troy isn't exactly going to cause thousands to drive the back roads of Idaho for a Saturday tilt in the Kibbie Dome.

Money is the only reason Idaho clings to the idea that it's an FBS school, as the financial benefits drop if the Vandals moved to FCS.

As a college athletics program, aren't you obligated to do what's best for the student athlete? What's best for Idaho is to play in a healthy situation where there's a chance to win and compete for championships. That's not going to happen anywhere in FBS. But it's possible in the Big Sky.

Idaho used to be a big dog in that league, and although the Big Sky's profile has significantly increased in recent years, the Vandals remain a good fit.

Ask yourself this: is there any question Eastern Washington is more relevant these days than Idaho? The answer is a resounding yes. Idaho can be Eastern Washington, if it dropped the ego and did what was best for its athletes.

About Idaho: The Paul Petrino era in Moscow is off to a slow start at 0-3, but really, not much more was expected. The Vandals have won once since Nov. 5, 2011, and bring a nine-game losing streak into Saturday's game. Since the outset of the 2011 season, Idaho's collective record is 3-24.

The Petrino name is well known in the football world. Most famous is Paul's brother Bobby, who has experienced both success and scandal in college football, and is currently trying to reclaim his reputation as coach at Western Kentucky. Petrino's father, Bob, was a successful small college coach at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.

If Idaho's most recent performance is an indication of progress, the Cougars had better be ready. The Vandals, 29-point underdogs to Northern Illinois, led by two touchdowns during the first half before losing to the Huskies 45-35 in Moscow. Idaho committed three turnovers in the game.

"If we don't fumble the ball, there's no question we win the game," Petrino said.

Previous to that, Idaho wasn't competitive in blowout losses to North Texas and Wyoming.

There's no question where Idaho is vulnerable. The Vandals yield points like few teams in college football. During its nine-game losing streak, Idaho has given up an average of 45.3 points a game.

Idaho tries to counter with some offense, as it put up 442 yards against Northern Illinois. Freshman quarterback Chad Chalich has completed 56 of 85 passes for 652 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Chalich's primary target is Dezmon Epps with 23 catches for 265 yards. The Vandals don't have much of a running game, but have received some production from Joshua McCain (112 yards, 5.1 yard average) and James Baker (110 yards, 3.2 avg.).

Washington State shouldn't have any trouble moving the ball on the Vandals. Through three games, Idaho is yielding an average of 553 yards a game, split almost equally between rushing and passing yardage. Another Idaho vulnerability is turnovers, specifically fumbles, as the Vandals have lost eight fumbles this season.

Familiar faces: As one might expect from a college that borders the state of Washington, Idaho has plenty of Evergreen state talent. The Vandals' roster includes 20 Washington high school graduates. Four projected Idaho starters hail from Washington in receiver Jared Klingenberg (Carnation), center Mike Marboe (Wenatchee), tackle Jesse Davis (Asotin) and defensive end Maxx Forde (Woodinville). As for coaches, one assistant of note is quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson, son of former WSU and Idaho head coach Dennis Erickson.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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