A brutal ending, a brutal beginning. And for that matter, everything in between was just that for Idaho football this season. Brutal.
The rigorous schedule, plethora of injuries, the season-ending loss to underachieving New Mexico State, which might have played its worst game of the season en route to its first win over an FBS opponent in 28 tries.
It was realistic to expect at least three wins from a season that could not be coined as anything else but a rebuilding year for first-year head coach Paul Petrino. But coming off a 1-11 season, the rebuilding process took a few twists, hits and turns. Then it took some more and Idaho fans couldn’t wait to see what Don Verlin was going to do with a young Idaho basketball team. That was in October.
Before we knew it, the Vandals were in familiar territory — desperate for win No. 2 in barren, dry Las Cruces, N.M. It was only two years earlier when the Aggies trumped the one-win Vandals in a home WAC matchup.
Trailing New Mexico State — the team Idaho has traditionally leaned on when seeking that first or second win — the Vandals again found themselves in the red zone with an opportunity to send the game into an overtime period. And again, the Vandal quarterback threw incomplete to hand NMSU the win — this time it was Taylor Davis failing to locate Deon Watson from the 19-yard line. In 2011, it was Brian Reader missing Justin Veltung in the end zone from just a yard out.
But in 2011, under coach Robb Akey, Idaho’s biggest obstacle was the final series, the final play. Two years ago, the four Vandal losses suffered by seven points or less might be the sole reason Idaho printed the word “Finish” on its practice apparel a year later.
Enter 2013 and the Vandals would have been ecstatic if finishing was their primary concern. In all but two games, Idaho had trouble finding the ignition, let alone attempting to move into the next gear.
Most expected a two or three-win season and the selective few who were on hand to witness the Vandals mirror their 2012 selves can only classify this season as a dud.
But behind the six losses by 40-plus points, four wins in three seasons and ugly outing in Las Cruces, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s just as important to factor in that exactly half of this roster had never played an FBS snap before the season opener at North Texas — the offensive line that concluded the season rock bottom in the FBS in sacks allowed dropped starters on a weekly basis.
An Idaho team may have never been more depleted by injury like these Vandals were. Starting quarterback Chad Chalich witnessed his redshirt freshman season come to an end seven games in with a shoulder injury, while backup Josh McCain was absent three games himself after suffering — you guessed it — a shoulder injury.
Thrown into the fire was fifth-year senior Taylor Davis, who had seen his last action against Utah State in a 45-9 blowout loss to close the 2012 season.
To Davis’ credit, the senior performed above average while enduring the toughest part of the Vandals’ schedule, appearing in losses to Florida State and Ole Miss.
It isn’t all bad for Petrino, though.
Idaho will likely be back in its comfort zone next season, participating in a Sun Belt Conference that is no better, but actually significantly worse than the Western Athletic Conference it ditched a year ago.
Five or six wins would be nice, four would be completely realistic and anything less would be, well, a third-consecutive dud.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org