Idaho Vandals (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) v. Fresno State Bulldogs (0-0, 0-0 MWC)
Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, CA. Capacity 40,727
Saturday, Sept. 1, 7:00pm kickoff
How to Watch:
Game will be broadcast live on Facebook and through GoBulldogs.com
After a few years between playing, the former WAC mates are playing, but under very different circumstances from their last game in 2013. Since then, Fresno State has changed coaches, and Idaho has changed Divisions. They are becoming the first program to drop down from FBS to FCS since the Ivies dropped in the early 80s, potentially setting the stage for other programs to follow. Idaho followed up a shocking 2016 bowl winning campaign with a return to form, going from 9-4 to 4-8 under 5th year coach Paul Petrino.
The Vandals and Bulldogs were actually conference mates in the WAC from 2005-2012, before the Bulldogs left for the MWC. Idaho limped along in the Sun Belt after the WAC folded, but again found themselves without a conference after 2017, they made the drop down to the Big Sky conference starting in 2018. It is going to be an interesting experience to see how the program handles the drop in division, and if they can find success in the Big Sky.
In 2017, the Vandals limped to a 4-8 record, despite playing in 7 one-possession games. They went 2-5 in those games, dooming their hopes for a 2nd straight bowl game, and sticking them back in losing territory for their last season in the FBS. They ranked 99th in S+P, buoyed barely by a 60th ranked defense. Their offense fell to Earth hard, going from 68th to 111th last year, even though they retained QB Matt Linehan, who seemed like he had been there forever. They will look for an improved passing attack utilizing two QBs to start the season, junior Mason Petrino, and sophomore Colton Richardson. Look for them to use Richardson as a change of pace option QB, especially early in the season.
Idaho actually has a manageable schedule in their first FCS season, given that they only have two FBS opponents book-ending the season. They start out against the Bulldogs, and finish the year against the Florida Gators, in a makeup from 2015. They also face off against DII Western New Mexico, a winless Portland State, and only 4 teams that had a winning record in 2017. That creates a chance for Idaho to get above .500 to start life in the Big Sky
Fresno State Preview:
On the other side of the field, we’ll see a Fresno State team with far less questions than it had this time last year, but much loftier expectations. After winning 10 games and the West Division crown in Jeff Tedford’s first season on the sidelines, aspirations for this year’s Bulldog team couldn’t be higher. There are predictions ranging from another division title, to even the G5 NY6 bowl spot. And the first game against Idaho will help answer some questions, and help set the tone for Fresno going forward. Last year’s 66-0 thrashing of Incarnate Word showed the new-look offense, and the hyper-aggressive defense that would surge to 10th in the country in scoring defense.
The question this year for Fresno State will be how much better can this offense get, and can the defense maintain its elite level despite losses along the D-Line? A potential tune-up game against Idaho should help with that, especially since there is no school like Alabama waiting in the wings like last year. One key to Fresno State’s offensive improvement will be a full year of training for QB Marcus McMaryion. He came into Fall camp late last year from Oregon State, and didn’t get much time to learn the offense before starting Game 4 for the Dogs. He did go 9-2 last year as a starter, and now he’s had a full offseason working with Tedford and the rest of the team to get even better.
He’ll also have the best WR corps in the conference at his disposal, and the same stable of running backs to choose from that he had last year. 1,000yd receiver Keesean Johnson returns for his senior season within striking distance of all Fresno State career records. Jamire Jordan anchors the Z position after an absurd season with 20yds/reception. Now, they do lose slot receiver Da’Mari Scott to the Cleveland Browns, but his replacement be even more dynamic. Former 4* recruit and Oklahoma Sooner Michiah Quick returns to Fresno for his last season, and brings both height and speed to that slot position. And none of this even covers the backups. Fresno State returns 93% of their receiving yards from last season, and they’ve even gotten Delvon Hardaway back for a 6th year after missing last year with a broken foot. Look for Nebraska transfer Derrion Grim to get more of a look in his second year with the program, or redshirt freshman Chris Coleman, who dazzled coaches with his skills in camp.
On the defensive side of the ball, we’ll see what the newly tooled defensive line looks like under new DC Bert Watts. Kevin Atkins returns after starting 4 games last year, and Jasad Haynes has experience, but there’s definitely question marks there. We’ll see how they stand up against an admittedly mediocre Idaho offense before facing Minnesota and UCLA afterwards.
The last time these two teams met, Derek Carr and Davante Adams blew past the Vandals 61-14. Now, I don’t think that this team will have that sort of scoring margin, but I think the defense can produce a similar result this time. Tedford isn’t quite a pour it on them sort of coach, but he won’t call off the Dogs if Idaho can’t stop them. He’ll also probably use this chance to get some younger players some reps under the new redshirt rules. Also looks like the weather will be surprisingly nice for the game, with highs only reaching the high 80s instead of the normal 100+. In front of a rocking Bulldog Stadium, the Dogs blow out the Vandals to start their season on the right foot, 45-10