Ohio Bobcats vs. Idaho Vandals: A Way Too Early Nonconference Preview

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Bobcats finally return home in Week 4 to face an Idaho team that has notched just four wins in three seasons.

One month into the 2014 football season, Ohio will finally get to play in front of the Bobcat faithful in the friendly confines of Peden Stadium. After three weeks on the road (at Kent State, at Kentucky and at Marshall) Ohio could be opening up its home schedule already in a hole. But fear not Bobcat fans, for the Idaho Vandals are your guest for Week 4, and if everything plays out as it should, the green and white will have a nice tune up game..

Idaho Vandals 2013 Rewind:

Somehow, some way, Idaho survived 2013. After the WAC officially dissolved following the 2012 season, Idaho was left without a conference to call home, and in danger of having to drop down to the FCS neverland. Truth is, in this age where TV revenue rule all, independency—which was all the rage just a few decades ago—is a death sentence for nearly every program not located in South Bend, Indiana (and even then, the Fighting Irish sort of up and joined a conference).

It wasn't easy—the Vandals went 1-11 in 2013, their second consecutive one-win season—but when all was said and done, first-year head coach Paul Petrino (yes, he is the brother of that Bobby Petrino) prevented Idaho from getting any worse.

Mascot:

Idaho goes by the nickname the "Vandals", and is represented by some costumed degenerate named Joe. Well, that's not quite right. You see, "Vandal" isn't the vandal we think of. Legend has it, at the turn of the 20th century the school's basketball team earned the nickname Vandals because of their "vandalizing" of opponents offenses on the court.

In the 1950s the school's yell leader (you know, that "sport" George W. Bush "played") started dressing up in a homemade costume as "Joe the Vandal". Eventually "Joe the Vandal" graduated to full costume, and now looks like a clean-cut-bearded-viking--king-lumberjack in athletic gear. In other words, he's a hipster.

Conference/Division:

After one season of life as college football vagrant, wandering the vast wasteland of FBS independency, Idaho is heading back to the Sun Belt Conference. The Vandals were actually a founding member of the Sun Belt when it began football play in 2001, but left after the 2004 season to join the more geographically aligned WAC. Fast-forward a decade and things have come full circle, with Idaho struggling to adjust to life as an FBS program wandering around the Southeastern United States, thousands of miles away from home.

Last Bowl Appearance:

Once the big split of Division I occurred several decades ago, Idaho didn't return to what is now called the FBS until 1996. Those years spent in screwing around in the FCS playoff meant Idaho couldn't partake in the splendors of bowling. But two years after joining the FBS ranks, Idaho found itself in—and winning—its first bowl game, beating Southern Miss 42-35 in the Humanitarian Bowl. In 2009 Idaho returned to the Humanitarian Bowl, and eked out a 43-42 win over Bowling Green to improve to 2-0 all-time in bowls.

Head Coach:

As mentioned before, Paul Petrino is entering just his second season at the helm of Idaho Vandal football. The longtime assistant worked alongside his brother for several years as his offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Louisville from 2003-2006, the wide receivers coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, and the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach of Arkansas from 2008 until the younger Petrino before leaving to take the same position at Illinois in 2011.

Petrino is 1-11 all-time as a head coach.

More Nonconference Previews

Five Key Players:

Offense:

Idaho really liked to throw the ball in 2013. The problem was the Vandals weren't all too good at it. The team as a whole was among the least efficient teams in college football, ranking in at No. 106. After redshirt freshman Chad Chalich suffered a shoulder injury midway through the season, Idaho turned to senior quarterback Taylor Davis, who started the last six games of the season, and failed to complete 54 percent of his passes. He throw for 1,324 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in six losses. But Davis is gone now, and it appears Chalich, a sophomore, is ready to take back the reins behind a solid offensive line that returns four starters.

Luckily, there's no shortage of options for him to pass to. Dezmon Epps and Joshua McCain are likely to be the top targets. Both seniors, Epps caught on in the final six weeks of this past season, with big games at Ole Miss and Florida State. McCain was a backup quarterback last fall, but has since switched to wide receiver where his athleticism and quickness should prove valuable. He caught eight passes for 218 yards and five touchdowns in the spring game, so I'd say he's made the transition well. To mix things up there's also sophomore Richard Montgomery, an offensive weapon who can line up almost anywhere on the field and provides the Vandals' with a nice option for quick dump passes and a change of pace back.

Defense:

To put it frankly: Idaho stunk on defense in 2013. The 46.8 points allowed per game was 126th in thee FBS, out of 126 teams. to be fair, the Vandals, being independent, had to go up against some mighty offenses (NIU, Washington State, Fresno State, Ole Miss and Florida State), but even so, defense was the weak link. To solve that Petrino went hard after JUCO players in his 2014 class, signing 16 total. That should help on a unit that lacks in leadership.

The defensive line, the one bright spot on Idaho's defense, lost its two top performers, and will rely on senior defensive end Maxx Forde and newcomers such as Alphonso Hampton to fill in the gaps. What Idaho does have going for it on defense is its attacking nature. The Vandals are downright aggressive, but that also allows for big misses and explosive plays from opposing offenses. Expect Idaho to take a lot of chances on defense, and occasionally blow some plays up, but to more often than not bend, intensely., especially against the pass where four of the top six defensive backs from 2013 are gone.

Special Teams:

Idaho has a dynamic young kicking specialist in Austin Rehkow, who will be a true sophomore this fall. He handles Idaho's punting, kicking and kickoff duties in 2013, and was wildly successful.  He averaged 47.8 yards per punt, made 73 percent of his field goals and missed just one PAT all season.

More Ohio opponents: Kentucky Marshall

In the return game, Epps and Montgomery give the Vandals explosiveness and experience, but it's nothing Ohio hasn't faced already on a weekly basis in the MAC with players such as Dri Archer, Tommylee Lewis, etc.

Early Prediction:

When it's all said and done, expect Ohio to come out on top. Idaho should be a much better team than it was in 2013, but an increase by three wins is enough to achieve that. Ohio's defense, especially its secondary, is a strong point, and should go up well against Idaho's aerial assault. The Vandals tendency to give up big plays on defense will also help Derrius Vick and the offense loosen things up, and with playmakers such as Vick, Chase Cochran and Daz'mond Patterson, Ohio should be able to put up some hefty points on the Vandals.

My prediction is Ohio wins this one 42-27

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