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Ohio Bobcats vs. Idaho Vandals football: Q&A with Underdog Dynasty

We chat with Will Butler of Underdog Dynasty to get the lowdown on the Idaho Vandals.

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Ohio Bobcats football is back and it starts with what could be a tricky road game. On Thursday night, the Bobcats will travel to Moscow, Idaho to take on the Idaho Vandals - a team the Bobcats beat 36-24 in Athens last year. To answer some questions about Idaho, we turned to Will Butler of Underdog Dynasty.


Hustle Belt: Who are three players on Idaho's roster we should watch for and why?

Underdog Dynasty: Dezmon Epps (WR) - He was dismissed from the team after a DUI charge in 2014, but was reinstated this year. He finished just shy of a thousand yard receiving year in 2013, and with Idaho losing two of their top receivers, the Vandals are going to need him. He may also end up returning punts as well, since his overall athleticism is something Idaho badly needs on the field as much as possible.

Quinton Bradley (DL) - Idaho's bright spot on defense last year was the d-line, and Quinton Bradley is their best returning starter by a long shot. He was responsible for 6 sacks and 9.5 TFL last season, and you can see why from his game tape. He has solid pursuit off the edge and can lay down some big hits if he has a clear path to the ball carrier.

Matt Linehan (QB) - The sophomore is still presumably the incumbent starter, although he does have some competition from redshirt freshman Jake Luton. He showed flashes of promise with some big plays to now-graduated receiver Joshua McCain last season, but he also had some major turnover issues (18 INTs to 11 TDs). If he can cut down on the mistakes and find Epps on a consistent basis, and if the o-line--ranked 101st in the FBS for sack rate on passing downs--can keep him upright, then Linehan could show some major improvement this season. If not, look for Petrino to yank him pretty quickly.

Ohio and Idaho played last year, with Ohio coming out on top. How is this Idaho team different than last year's?

Last year's offense took some major steps forward from a sub-par 2013 season, but turnovers wrecked any real progress Idaho may have made despite being more effective at moving the ball. Despite some big losses at receiver and a couple of o-line positions, you'd like to think that this is the year where the offense (and Linehan) curtails the turnovers. There are still too many questions in the secondary to consider Idaho a likely bowl team, but they could end up winning a few shootouts they wouldn't have won in previous years.

What is this team's best attribute and why? Conversely, what is this team's worst attribute and why?

Quite possibly the best (or at least most consistent) aspect of Idaho is the special teams, specifically P/K Austin Rehkow. He averaged an incredible 47.8 yards per punt last season and was an expert at punning opponents inside the 20s. With him, Idaho has a better chance of winning field position battles as long as they're not turning the ball over. As a kicker, he's also automatic from inside the 40. From beyond 40, not so much, but overall he's Idaho's best shot at turning the tide in close games.

The worst attribute Idaho has is how consistently mistake-prone they've been. Last year, the Vandals had 28 turnovers (20 of them being INTs) and averaged 66 penalty yards per game, good for 109th in the FBS. The offensive line also gave up far too many sacks (41), which certainly didn't help with the ongoing turnover bug that bit Idaho's quarterbacks.

The Vandals had a porous defense last year - Idaho was 112th in scoring defense last year - but brought in a new defensive coordinator in the offseason. Should Ohio expect a stouter defensive this time around?

I don't know that you can say that the defense will be any better than last season. The secondary is having some turnover, which could end up being addition by subtraction after last year's bad unit. But they're definitely going to miss Quayshawne Buckley. Idaho does have some big options on the d-line to replace him, and perhaps Quinton Bradley will match Buckley's production from last season. But new defensive coordinator Mike Breske is known for one thing with his defenses--aggressiveness. That can be an excellent trait if he has the personnel to do it, but if he doesn't, then Idaho will likely give up some huge plays. Which is exactly what they did in 2014.

Paul Petrino seems to be an interesting character to put it mildly and doesn't have a good record at Idaho. Is this a make-or-break season for him?

With a less supportive athletic director, I'd say absolutely. But Rob Spear has had his back--at least publicly--during Petrino's recent controversies involving press relations and players having charges dropped for shoplifting. Everyone in college football knows that Idaho and NMSU are two rebuilding jobs that require quite a bit of time to establish a solid team, and Spear appears to be giving Petrino a very long leash that he wouldn't have at many other schools. That said, if another 1-11 season rolls around and enough Idaho fans and donors decide they've had enough of Petrino's antics, then you never know what might happen.

Finally, what's your prediction for this game?

Given Ohio's road woes last season and Idaho's relative level of improvement, I think an upset in Moscow is certainly possible. That said, I don't trust Idaho with their track record until they cut down on the turnovers and start winning some games they shouldn't. Ohio wins, 38-28.


Many thanks to Will and the gang from Underdog Dynasty for taking time out of their day to answer our inquiries! You can follow the team blog on Twitter @UnderdogDynasty and Will Butler for all your Texas State/Sun Belt news @THETXSTUniv.