Nine victories. A bowl win. Rewriting bowl record books.
Idaho’s historic 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Thursday night at Albertsons Stadium reignited a debate raging in all corners of the Vandals’ fan base.
Idaho will become the first team in history to move from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision in 2018, a move that has upset fans, boosters and donors.
And quarterback Matt Linehan.
“We belong in the FBS, period,” Linehan said in a post-game national radio interview. “That’s what I believe. That’s what everyone believes. We know we can compete. We know we belong here, no matter what everyone thinks, even our tone-deaf president.
“Maybe he doesn’t think we belong here, but I think we belong here.”
The Sun Belt voted to kick Idaho and New Mexico State out of its league in March. With no conference invitations, Idaho opted to return to the FCS Big Sky Conference instead of playing as an FBS independent, as it did in 2013.
Idaho President Chuck Staben told the Idaho Statesman last week: “We aren’t moving down (to the FCS.) We’re moving forward.”
Linehan apologized repeatedly to Staben in the postgame press conference, saying he got caught in the moment and the emotions of the win.
“They were out of line,” Linehan said. “I had no position to do that.”
But he maintained his position that Idaho belongs in the FBS.
“I thought we made a statement that we belong wherever we are, period,” he said. “... We can be the underdog. We can be the favorite. It doesn’t matter. We know that we’re going to go four quarters and, no matter what the outcome is, we’re going to hit you hard, and we’re going to make you remember us.”
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said he didn’t use the FCS move as a motivation tactic in his bowl preparation. But with wins over UNLV and Colorado State this season, he felt his team showed it belongs in FBS.
“We were 2-0 against the Mountain West this year,” Petrino said. “We’d look pretty good in that conference.
“But again, I only control what I control. And that’s to be as good as coach as I can and to make sure they all graduate.”
Linehan will run out of eligibility before the Vandals move to the Big Sky. But sophomore running back Isaiah Saunders, who ran for 147 yards and three TDs on Thursday, will start his senior year in 2018.
“I’m just going to be happy to play with this team,” he said. “FBS, FCS, NAIA — it don’t matter. We’re still going to dominate.”