The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. Next up is Idaho.
LARAMIE — Moving down a step in competition is supposed to be beneficial to teams’ on-field health.
It didn’t exactly pan out that way for Idaho a year ago.
The Vandals made the move from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA, before last season. Idaho, which was a member of the Sun Belt Conference before making the move down, is coming off a 4-7 campaign with none of those wins coming against an FBS opponent.
The entire Paul Petrino tenure has been a rough one regardless of the caliber of competition for the Vandals, who’ve had just one winning season this decade. Petrino, who’s entering his seventh season at the helm, has accumulated a 23-48 record at Idaho with a 9-4 season capped with a Potato Bowl win in 2016 being the lone highlight to this point.
Wyoming will be part of Idaho’s second season at the FCS level when the Vandals visit War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 14. The Cowboys are one of two FBS opponents on Idaho’s schedule this fall.
It may seem like a sure win for Wyoming, but the Vandals have some firepower on offense that the Cowboys will have to contend with. Idaho finished sixth last season in the FCS in yards per game.
The Vandals had most of their success through the air and should be a threat with their passing game again considering the pieces they have returning. Petrino’s son, Mason, and Colton Richardson are back at quarterback. Mason Petrino played in 11 games last season, throwing for 1,933 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions, while Richardson threw for 434 yards and five touchdowns in five games, though accuracy (51.7 completion percentage) was an issue.
The two seemingly ended the spring deadlocked in a competition to be the starter this fall after each threw for three touchdowns in Idaho’s spring game.
Whomever ends up getting the nod, he’ll be throwing to some familiar faces. The Vandals return two of their top three receivers from last season in Cutrell Haywood and Jeff Cotton, who led the team with seven touchdown receptions. Haywood was next with six.
Idaho will need the passing game to do most of the heavy lifting until the Vandals find reliable options in the backfield. Their top two rushers from last season are gone. Sophomore Roshaun Johnson’s 99 yards are the most among Idaho’s returning running backs.
But none of it is going to matter if Idaho doesn’t dramatically improve on defense.
The Vandals were among the worst in the FCS last season on that side of the ball, ranking no better than 87th nationally in yards allowed and points allowed (33 per game). Idaho also forced just seven turnovers all season, which tied for the fewest in the FCS.
Idaho lost one of its top playmakers, linebacker Kaden Elliss, to the NFL. The Vandals return his brother, Christian, who led the team with 81 tackles from his linebacker spot last season, though Christian’s junior season will be delayed after he and tight end Dalton Cash were reportedly arrested on theft charges this spring.
Both players have been suspended for Idaho’s season opener at Penn State.