Dear College Football World, I would like to introduce you to the Idaho Vandals.
You know, that Silver and Gold team from northern part of the Gem State, the one that the Sun Belt Conference treated liked a girlfriend who gained too much relationship weight. The one who, despite winning eight games this year, entered Thursday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl as a team more likely to have its rivalry with Boise State renewed than to emerge victorious.
You probably don’t recognize these Vandals because you’ve viewed them as a punching bag for so long that when they turned the tables and started doing the punching, it caught you off guard.
But I’m sure you all witnessed Idaho treat Colorado State like a Shih Tzu fighting a trained pitbull, blasting the heavily favored Rams 61-50 in a game that was nothing but a pummeling after the first quarter.
These Vandals have nine wins for the second time in school history. These Vandals were 8-2 against Group of Five teams. These Vandals deserve your respect.
It’s about time you gave it to them.
“Some of those great plays that you saw all of them making?” coach Paul Petrino said. “Hopefully everybody got to see that. We’ll see it here in a couple of hours when it’s on the ESPN highlights. Then it’ll be on the one in two hours, then the one two hours later after that.”
But before you begin to embrace these Vandals, College Football World, there are some things you need to know.
For starters, they’re like elephants: They never forget. Hours before smacking the Rams on Thursday, Idaho released a hype video that began with a series of news clips from the team’s announcement that it would transition to the FCS in 2018.
Your opinions are fuel to them. They enjoy proving you wrong as much as they enjoy winning. Social media jokes, blog comments, national think-pieces about their ineptitude? Keep ’em coming. Their bulletin board always needs more material.
Why else would Potato Bowl MVP Matt Linehan immediately take a stab at UI President Chuck Staben after the game, calling him “tone-deaf” for not believing the football team belongs at the FBS level?
Linehan later retracted his jab at Staben, but not the gist of his sentiment: Idaho deserves to be here. They proved that this year — and last year, too, if we’re being honest — and they aren’t afraid to toss that back in your face.
“Shoot, we won nine games,” senior Jayshawn Jordan said, “and went 2-0 in the Mountain West.”
I know what you’re thinking, College Football World, one winning season doesn’t guarantee sustainability at this level. You’re not alone in that thinking, either.
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, a Boise State alumnus, watched the Potato Bowl from his home in New Orleans with his wife, a Colorado State alumna. He’s happy for the Vandals, sure, but this game and this victory ain’t rekindling that conference flame anytime soon.
When asked about Idaho, in the context of Thursday’s win and their unceremonious break-up with the Sun Belt in March, Benson said: “The decision was made based on the future and not the present.”
And another thing, College Football World, Idaho would appreciate it if you’d stop asking whether or not they’re surprised to have success. This is new to you, not them.
“We were an underdog for everyone else in the country; we weren’t an underdog in our locker room,” said Petrino, echoing a thought he’s expressed all year. “In our locker room we expected to win.”
Now, College Football World, I’m sure you’re wondering how to go about respecting these Vandals. You should probably acknowledge something about the program aside from the coach’s last name or the fact they play in a dome. We get it, man, the darn thing was built four decades ago.
Some acknowledgment for the head coach’s work probably wouldn’t kill you, would it? The conference Coach of the Year honor was a good start, and naming him a finalist for the AFCA’s Comeback Coach of the Year award was, too. But be real, College Football World, you can do better.
Petrino has collected a bunch of Robb Akey leftovers, added a crop of athletes very few other FBS programs sought after and used them to form a prolific scoring offense that just broke the Potato Bowl record for points in a game.
Be warned, College Football World, this is going to be awkward. By the time you fully complete the getting-to-know-each-other stage, Idaho will be in the Big Sky Conference, off of your television and likely out of your brain.
So take this next year to get acquainted with one another, because in reality, you two have a lot in common. You both have this obsession with winning, facilities and making SportsCenter.
You’d probably have to agree to disagree on red velvet cake, the creepiness of Jim Harbaugh’s sleepover with a recruit and the oddity of Mike Leach’s pirate obsession, but all strong relationships require compromise.
What matters most, College Football World, is that, at the end of the day, you respect these Vandals. Respect what they’ve accomplished and their potential for accomplishing even more in the future.
Because if you wait any longer, it might be too late.
And you don’t want them to be the one who got away, do you?