A signature win might be exactly what the Idaho State football team needed heading into its Big Sky opener against Northern Colorado on Saturday in Greeley, Colo.
The Bengals stopped a 27-game losing streak to FBS opponents with a 30-28 upset of Nevada last week. The Wolfpack play in the Mountain West Conference alongside Boise State.
ISU (2-1) had not beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team since a 27-24 victory at Utah State in 2000.
“I love playing those teams. It’s the competition — those guys are supposed to be bigger, faster, stronger,” said Idaho State senior linebacker Mario Jenkins, a graduate of Columbia High in Nampa. “And I’ve worked my butt off over the years to be bigger, faster, stronger. Just because I’m at an FCS school doesn’t mean I can’t compete with those guys as well.”
Jenkins was named the Big Sky’s defensive player of the week after a career-high 17 tackles against Nevada. He had one sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, but he’s not dwelling on the accomplishment.
“We’re just putting it behind us, because that win’s not going to help us out in conference play at all,” Jenkins said.
Northern Colorado (1-1), which lost 41-21 to Colorado last week, already has faced one Gem State program this fall, rolling past NAIA competitor College of Idaho on Sept. 2 by a 41-14 score.
Idaho State’s only conference win last season came against Sacramento State, but the Bengals lead the series against Northern Colorado 21-9. The two teams last played in 2014 — a 46-12 ISU victory — and Idaho State has won three of the past four meetings.
Coming off a statement win against Nevada, the Bengals believe they now know what it takes to turn things around in conference play.
“I think we executed all four quarters. That’s what we’ve been driving to do overall as a team,” Jenkins said. “We’ve always been a first-half team, and then the second half we’ll come out not as strong as we want to. (Against Nevada), we had energy and we didn’t let off.”
Idaho tries to reverse trend
Since their return to the Sun Belt in 2014, the Idaho Vandals are 0-3 in conference openers. They’re 35-51-1 all-time in league openers.
Adding to the degree of difficulty will be a road trip to Mobile, Ala., to play a South Alabama team that pulled off a come-from-behind victory over the Vandals (1-2) in 2015 after Idaho led by as many as 24 points. Kickoff is at noon Mountain time Saturday (ESPN3) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Idaho’s most recent conference-opening road win came at New Mexico State in 2009.
Last week, South Alabama (1-2) earned its first shutout since 2010, topping Alabama A&M 45-0 and holding the Bulldogs to 172 total yards.
College of Idaho’s first win
The Coyotes earned their first win of the season and simultaneously upset a ranked opponent with their 28-20 victory over then-No. 11 Eastern Oregon last week.
C of I (1-3, 1-2) can continue its climb up the Frontier Conference standings against Rocky Mountain (2-2, 2-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday (99.1 FM) in Billings, Mont. The Battlin’ Bears sit alone in third place in the conference and are 2-2 all-time against the Coyotes.
Linebacker Forrest Rivers led C of I’s defensive effort against Eastern Oregon — collecting 11 tackles, including a pair of sacks — and must do so again this week, with Rocky Mountain averaging 236 rushing yards per game.
Rivers was chosen as the conference’s defensive player of the week, only the third such distinction in program history.
BYU on bye
After three consecutive losses against ranked opponents, the Cougars (1-3) have an open week. They’ll return to action on Friday, Sept. 29, at Utah State (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network).