Hustle Belt: That was a rough year last season. What has happened to the Idaho Vandals since their bowl berth a few years back?
Sean Kramer: Incredibly poor recruiting and a lack of control over his program by Robb Akey. The H-Bowl was won largely with players recruiting by former coach Nick Holt, mostly, and some by Dennis Erickson. Once those players graduated the talent level dropped considerably. It didn't help that the quarterback position hit the dirt as well once Nathan Enderle graduated. Paul Petrino has, so far, instilled that discipline back into the program and if the ULM game is any indication it looks like Idaho at the very least has a decent option there right now.
HB: This offense looks to be the strong point of the team, led by Matt Lenehan (son of the Dallas Cowboys' OC Scott). What's the key to their success outside of their QB?
SK: Well, quarterback is still the key to success. Linehan had one good game but it's by no means a sure thing. There was still two interceptions and he hasn't been impeccable at practices. But he certainly has the talent and spending some time with NFL quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo over the years can only help. Beside that, it's finding those five guys on the offensive line. That was still a weak point last Saturday, and not surprisingly so considering there are still seven or eight players vying for the five solidified spots.
HB: Western Michigan used a solid run game to open up some passing late against Purdue. Which of the two should scare Vandals fans more given their defensive weaknesses?
SK: The passing game. Idaho has one of the better defensive fronts in the front seven with Quayshawne Buckley and Maxx Forde leading the way, they will be able to make some plays in the running game. Pass defense is not there yet for Idaho. There is still a questionable lack of talent and experience there, with a lot of junior college transfers and freshman and sophomores playing. Though if Idaho can get the pass rush going, Western Michigan could run into problems.
HB: The Kibbie Dome is one of very few (I think two) domed environments in college football. How much of an advantage does it give Idaho, being so small and compact?
SK: It doesn't give the team much of an impact if it's empty, which it might be. I've been at games where there are around 13,000 or more there and it makes a difference because the noise reverberates off the roof very well. Problem is, it hasn't been rocking lately thanks to a considerable amount of losses. It's the season opener, so there might be a good amount of fans in there.
HB: Prediction time. Who wins, by how much, and why?
SK: Idaho went into a pretty difficult environment in Monroe and went to the wire with a team that has a great chance of getting one of the Sun Belt's few bowl slots. I think coming home, where Petrino's teams have played at least relatively well in winnable games, gives Idaho a chance to win. Traveling to the Kibbie Dome can be rough on teams as well, just because the logistics of it are difficult. Although, I think from a pure talent standpoint Western Michigan is better. Idaho wins very closely, 28-24.
Huge thanks to Sean and Nic over at Underdog Dynasty. Check them out. They're like us, only not as cool. You know, because we're the MAC. They're still cool though.