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Idaho surpassed expectations last year and more than doubled its 2015 win total. The Vandals took advantage of the Sun Belt by winning all of the games they should’ve won. If that consistency shows up again with a four-year starter at quarterback, they should be in good shape, but nine wins may be a lofty projection.

Matt Linehan is back for his fourth year after career numbers in 2016 with 19 TDs and 10 INTs to go with 3,184 yards. In all, the offense scored a respectable 30.8 points per game, highlighted by 61 in the bowl win over Colorado State. Linehan loses his top couple receivers, but still has experienced guys to throw to in Alfonso Onunwor (403 yards), Jacob Sannon (303 yards) and Reuben Mwehla (166 yards). Running back is loaded with the top two guys returning in Isaiah Saunders (731 yards, 9 TDs) and Aaron Duckworth (676 yards, 5 TDs). This all sounds good, but Idaho loses three starting offensive linemen and early depth charts have four underclassmen projected as starters. After both backs gained 4.6 yards per carry last year, the goal will be to keep that rate alive with the same line.

The defense gave up plenty of points (31.3) and yards (428.3), but still managed to have a respectable season due to 28 takeaways. If they can’t force as many turnovers this year, that could be the difference in a couple wins after four of them came within one score in 2016. Linebacker is the best part of the defense with three starters back including Kaden Ellis. The line needs to be just as good with seniors across the board, namely Aikeem Coleman (eight sacks). The secondary can’t give up many more yards than a year ago (283.5), but with only one returning starter, it’s hard to see this group being much better.

The Vandals should get out to a nice start before back-to-back road games that could decide their season. Beating WMU would be great, but the South Alabama game could be more important if they want to challenge for the top of the Sun Belt. If not, Idaho may have to take down App. State at home or win at Troy to finish with six wins again in conference play. If they can win all of the games they should, then they’ll be set for another bowl.

However, Vegas isn’t projecting the Vandals to do so with an over/under at just 4.5 wins. They have the sixth-best odds at +1800 (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the conference and with their defense, that’d be hard to take. Linehan is in his final year, but with a new offensive line and defense that has its own issues, getting more than six wins could be difficult for Paul Petrino’s squad. But in terms of the over/under, five wins is definitely attainable.


2017 Idaho Vandals Football Schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Sacramento State
Sept. 9 vs. UNLV
Sept. 16 at Western Michigan
Sept. 23 at South Alabama

Oct. 7 vs. Louisiana Lafayette
Oct. 14 vs. Appalachian State

Oct. 21 at Missouri
Oct. 28 vs. UL Monroe

Nov. 2 at Troy
Nov. 18 vs. Coastal Carolina
Nov. 25 at New Mexico State
Dec. 2 at Georgia State

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