Idaho's move to Sun Belt brings hope for better football

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comJune 29, 2014 

Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, formerly of the WAC, thinks Idaho football coach Paul Petrino, above, is good for the Vandals. "I am expecting them to be successful and contending for a bowl in the not-too-distant future,'' he said.

KYLE MILLS — For the Idaho Statesman

  • VOICE OF THE FANS - WHAT VANDALS ARE SAYING

    "I think it's not the ideal situation. ... I'd like to see them playing teams out west, more in line with their history, but you also want to see them stay at the upper division. It's the haves and the have nots with the money involved in big-time college football.''

    — BRANDON GRANT, Meridian, season-ticket holder and 1995 graduate

    "I like the regional rivalries, that's always good, but if we're going to play at the FBS level, it's the right move and the right thing for the university. ... Location makes it a difficult place to recruit, but Washington State has had some good years in their league, so I see no reason we can't have success.''

    — MARK TIDD, Boise, played football at Idaho and graduated in 1986

    "The Big Sky side, I like the opportunity to bring back the regional rivalries and to cut down on some of the travel cost for those Olympic sports. I know football drives the bus, but if you can cut down the other costs and bring back rivalries, I'm for that.''

    — NICK EPLER, Kuna, and a 2002 graduate.

As Idaho prepares to enter (or re-enter) its fourth conference since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1996, what matters most is the progress the Vandals can make on the field.

Idaho joins the Sun Belt on Tuesday, ending a one-year stint as an independent. The new league brings stability to the schedule, bowl affiliations and additional revenue.

"I don't think we're likely to be playing Florida and Florida State on an annual basis for the national championship," Idaho President Chuck Staben said. "In our level of competition, we want to be competitive."

The past few years have been painful: Idaho is 4-32, including 1-11 in coach Paul Petrino's first season.

Despite the lack of success and Idaho being banned from bowl eligibility in 2014 because of poor academic performance, Petrino's second season brings optimism, if you can believe it.

"It's funny. I say we're a lot closer than you think coming off a 1-11 season. He's changed the culture of the program. Kids are going to class. They're good citizens. He has spent a lot of time coaching effort and attitude," said Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear, who has had five football coaches since 2004. They are a combined 30-91.

"This year, I think you're going to see him be able to coach technique and football more. A lot of people were taken back a little bit by his intensity and passion. But he's exactly what the program needed."

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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