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Idaho is in Dire Straits, But At Least They Have Somewhere to Go

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Paul Petrino is Charlie Brown, and the Sun Belt is Lucy pulling away the football at the last second.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Sisyphean.

Is there really a better word to describe Paul Petrino's tenure at Idaho, or Idaho Vandals football in general this decade? That's not to say that Idaho is somehow being punished by the Greek gods for a misplaced sense of self-aggrandizement, but they (along with NMSU) seemingly have some of the worst luck in all of FBS. So much so to the point that trying to build a lasting legacy of success at Moscow just seems endlessly frustrating and pointless.

Consider the following:

  • Robb Akey, he of the miraculous Humanitarian Bowl win and 8 win season, sees his record crater after 2009 and is ultimately fired partway through the 2012 season.
  • Immediately after that season, the WAC dissolved, leaving Idaho in an untenable situation as an FBS independent.
  • Paul Petrino is hired in 2013. He proceeds to have two straight one-win seasons.
  • In 2014, the Sun Belt extends the Vandals a football-only lifeline good through 2018.
  • Petrino and Idaho go 4-8 in 2015, with two of their losses only coming by a touchdown. A solid, Sun Belt-worthy quarterback and receiving corps are established, leading pundits to speculate Idaho could make a bowl in 2016.
  • In January 2016, the Sun Belt yanks the rug out from Idaho's hard fought momentum by announcing their membership will not be renewed past 2018.
  • In March 2016, Idaho administrators announce football will drop down from the FBS to the FCS's Big Sky Conference.

That's not even taking into account decades of missteps by Idaho's administration as well as rival Boise State's meteoric rise to prominence, supplanting UI as the state's flagship institution along the way.

Unlike Sisyphus, Paul Petrino at least has the option of walking away from endlessly rolling that black and gold boulder up the hill. You'd have to think he'll do so before the ignominy of the FCS transition kicks in.

PROS:

  • There's some--SOME--history to build off of. Idaho had one hell of a run through the Big Sky in the 1980's and had plenty of I-AA playoff appearances in the 90's. They also have made two bowl games since their jump to FBS and won both.
  • California's embarrassment of football talent means a shrewd coach can come in and set up a pipeline based on luring overlooked prospects to Moscow.
  • Idaho has a proud fanbase and a solid academic reputation without the noticeable admission restrictions seen at Rice or Vanderbilt.
  • Moscow is where Pullman (and Washington State) goes to have fun! No, really.
  • The 2016 version of Idaho could go bowling if the current roster stays in tact.

CONS:

  • When you're two or three time zones away from 82% of your conference, they will likely look to get rid of you if they have the opportunity. Which is exactly what the Sun Belt did.
  • Moscow is just now getting the option of regional flights into the area. Previously, you had to fly to Spokane, then drive another 90 minutes to make it to UI. There's no natural local recruiting base to draw from.
  • The Kibbie Dome was never going to cut it long term. Idaho's outmatched in the facilities arms race, and the drop to FCS likely won't spur many improvements going forward.
  • One gets the impression that the leadership from the current university president and athletic director tend to be a bit...incomprehensible at times.
  • With the notable exception of Robb Akey's magical 2008 Humanitarian Bowl winning team, UI football has been a factory of sadness since 2000.

Making the case for why Idaho should be lower than 11th: Jeremy Harper, Arkansas State Beat Writer

Honestly, as much as I respect the Vandals for weighing the pros-and-cons and wisely dropping back down to the Big Sky, I'd rank Idaho EVEN LOWER as a Sun Belt job. If you accept a Sun Belt gig, you should at least be afforded the opportunity to get a nice tan. But the sun only shines in Idaho 5.5 hours per year (according to Will Butler, who has a degree in geography).

Furthermore, Idaho dislikes spending money (about $19M budgeted for athletics) and plays in the smallest football venue in the FBS. (When your football stadium doubles as your basketball field house, that's discouraging.) Hiring Paul Petrino (previously the OC at Arkansas) was actually a big time move for Idaho, but recruiting was still ranked next to last in the Sun Belt in 2016. Yuck.

Sun Belt Heat Rating: SPACE ICE

If you were playing NCAA football in an online dynasty...

You chose the Vandals because ALL GLORY TO KIBBIE DOME. Also, you have a real thing for the underdog. A very real, visceral, "I'd love you even if you suddenly came down with leprosy" thing. You're all in on the idea of a hermit kingdom on the Palouse winning a conference based in the football-mad southeast and eventually earning themselves a Mountain West invite.

If you choose this job in real life...

You're not afraid to get angry as hell and upset more than a few apple carts along the way. Because that's what Paul Petrino is doing, and it may just be starting to pay off. You obviously want one hell of a challenge that could launch you into a top tier Mountain West job, or perhaps even a Pac 12 gig if you defy the odds with flying colors.

You look at Utah State and go "why can't Idaho do the same?" Or maybe you just don't have an issue with dropping back down to FCS and presumably dominating the Big Sky.

Verdict

Idaho's always been one of the toughest jobs in the FBS, and now with the confirmed FCS move, it's arguably the most difficult. Recruiting will suffer immensely, many players will transfer given the opportunity, and any good assistants will leave at the first chance they get. However, Idaho at least have the Big Sky waiting for them with open arms, and in the short term the FCS move could lead to sunnier results in the win column.

Unlike NMSU, they'll be able to bus to EWU and the Montana schools and cut down on costs. Therefore there may be ways to offset the loss in FBS TV revenues and keep their football program viable, albeit in a lesser form.

That said, we've never seen an experiment like this in modern college football history, and it has the potential to go just as horribly wrong as their FBS tenure. If (when?) Paul Petrino leaves, Idaho might be in for its darkest days on the gridiron yet.

Best jobs in Sun Belt countdown:

12. NMSU

11. Idaho