Idaho Vandals

Will the Idaho Vandals' bowl dry spell end in the Arizona desert?

Idaho players celebrate after defeating UNLV in overtime in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Las Vegas. Idaho won 33-30.
Idaho players celebrate after defeating UNLV in overtime in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Las Vegas. Idaho won 33-30. The Associated Press

Mike Feder, executive director of the Arizona Bowl, believes Idaho football fans would savor a trip to the Southwest this December to watch the Vandals play in the postseason.

And anyone who’s fled that way for the winter months knows precisely what Feder’s hinting at.

“What’s the temperature (in Moscow) right now?” Feder asked from his home in Tucson, Ariz. “As we’re sitting here, I think it’s around 80, 81.”

The second Arizona Bowl will be staged in Tucson on Dec. 30 and could be the likely destination for an Idaho football team that recently became bowl eligible.

The Arizona Bowl, which is held at Arizona’s home venue, pits the Sun Belt against the Mountain West. The Vandals are one of only three Sun Belt schools located west of the Mississippi River, and the other two, New Mexico State and Texas State, are guaranteed to finish well short of six wins.

And although the Arizona Bowl is technically fifth on the pecking order of Sun Belt-affiliated bowl games, the league often bypasses the hierarchy to accommodate its teams with the best fit.

“The Sun Belt policy has always been, outside of the conference champion, is to have the right team, right fit philosophy,” Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear said. “So you look at that, there’s a lot of reasons that the Arizona Bowl makes sense for us.”

Before the Vandals’ sixth win, Spear spoke briefly with Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who indicated “that the Arizona Bowl was a possibility for us,” Spear said, “and would be the likely spot assuming that we held up our end of the deal and that’s getting to bowl eligibility.”

Feder, who accepted his executive director position in May, agrees that Idaho would be a natural fit.

“We would love to have Idaho. That would be great,” Feder said. “Idaho being West, us being West. Idaho not having been to a bowl outside of their state and going to a western city, I think it would be tremendous. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll get five qualifiers.”

Feder added: “In a perfect world, if there was a chance for us to get Idaho, I don’t think there’d be any hesitation on our part.”

Idaho’s easiest path to the Arizona Bowl would be for four other Sun Belt members to qualify for the postseason, meaning the conference fills all five of its spots. Currently, UI, Troy and Appalachian State are the only qualifiers. Arkansas State is riding a five-game win streak and needs one win in its final three games to become bowl eligible. Three other teams in the league have four wins.

If the conference isn’t able to place five teams in postseason games, it’s possible that Idaho is selected by a bowl higher up on the pecking order — likely the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., or the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla. In which case, the Arizona Bowl would be forced to reach into another conference for its second team.

“The conference is the facilitator,” Feder explained. “ We’re kind of at the mercy of the schedule right now.”

College football’s version of Selection Sunday comes on Dec. 4, which is one day after the FBS regular season concludes. Though the Vandals are indeed eligible, it is in Idaho’s best interest to win at least one of the final two games. The addition of six new bowl games over the course of the last two years almost ensures that every six-win team has a place in the postseason, but the Vandals aren’t actually guaranteed a spot until they win No. 7.

“You really take care of your own destiny with seven,” Spear said.

Regardless, the Vandals expect to be playing in their first bowl game in seven years and it’ll more than likely be the first time the UI program has crossed state lines to play in the postseason.

Idaho has made two appearances in the Humanitarian Bowl (1998, 2009) — now known as the Potato Bowl — but the game held at Boise’s Bronco Stadium has tie-ins with the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West and thus wouldn’t consider the Vandals.

“It’s a very long shot,” Spear said.

A bowl game would also break a long spell for Idaho coach Paul Petrino, who made his most recent postseason cameo in the 2012 Cotton Bowl. At the time, Petrino was an offensive aide for his brother Bobby at Arkansas.

“I’d just love to be a bowl game,” Petrino said Monday during a Sun Belt conference call. “For years as an assistant, probably took it for granted. Year after year after year. Now having missed a couple in a row, I just want to be in one and I’ll be happy wherever we go.”