They havent faced anyone but themselves, but a full offseason under first-year coach Paul Petrino has given the Idaho Vandals some much-needed confidence as they take the early steps toward righting the ship.
Idaho has lost 25 of its past 30 games, but a much more clear vision of the future, Petrinos reputation, his past connections to Moscow and his approach to rebuilding have the Vandals thinking there is nowhere to go but up.
The energy is way different, redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Chalich said. Weve got guys who love the game here right now, guys committed to working hard and getting better.
After spending last year struggling through a 1-11 season and searching for a conference home the Vandals will spend this season as an FBS independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2014.
Petrino, a former offensive coordinator at Louisville, Illinois and Arkansas, was an Idaho assistant from 1992-94. Though he will start around a half dozen players with no FBS experience, Petrino understands the project in front of him will not be a quick fix. Theres probably going to be a couple games where we take some lumps, he said prior to fall camp.
I think its important we celebrate our small victories right now highlighting big plays when we watch practice film, or recognizing guys doing a great job in the weight room because those small victories will eventually turn into big ones.
The offense averaged 15.8 points per game last season (120th in the nation), and the No. 1 quarterback was kicked off the team midway through the season. There is optimism in 2013, starting with Chalich, who is likely to be the No. 1 quarterback, though Petrino had not named a starter at press time.
The Coeur dAlene High product will be protected by a line that returns three starters, including Rimington Trophy nominee Mike Marboe at center. Petrino brought in two junior college running backs and some intriguing freshmen to compete for carries. The Vandals had only three rushing TDs last season.
The guys catching passes could be a strength, led by senior Najee Lovett (548 yards, six TDs last season). Petrino also praised the strides made by senior Roman Runner, JC transfer Dezmon Epps and redshirt freshman Deon Watson, a teammate of Chalichs at Coeur dAlene.
Our depth at receiver is kind of making you happier and happier all the time, Petrino said after the Aug. 17 scrimmage.
The defense, which gave up 42.4 points per game (118th nationally), has fewer knowns than the offense. Only one linebacker who played in 2013 returns, and four of the top six defensive backs are gone after combining for 38 starts last season. The line could be a strength with Maxx Forde (four sacks) and fall camp standout Quinton Bradley providing a solid pass rush.
I think we brought in a lot of guys who can contribute right away defensively, Petrino said. The guys who were here are hard workers, guys who grind every day to turn it around.
Petrino often speaks of basic tenets like hard work, grinding and diligent preparation. He is well aware of the struggles in Moscow, but also believes the foundation is being laid toward a move out of college footballs basement.
I havent really spoken much about the past with our guys, Petrino said. Were getting the right people in here, people who want to be here and work hard. Were going to be fighters, by the end of the year I think well have a good football team, and then next fall, go for that Sun Belt championship.