Idaho had chances to win games this season
Last season, Idaho lost by an average of 30.6 points per game. This season, the team’s average loss was 14.7 points per game. While this year’s schedule wasn’t the gauntlet of last year’s, Idaho coach Paul Petrino said his team made large strides in 2014.
“Last year we kinda got killed by everybody,” he said. “This year we got it to where we competed against everybody. We were in every game in the second half, and now next year we need to take that next step where we beat people. I think we can play with anybody in this league and next year we just need to take that next step.”
The Vandals finished the season 1-10, which made it the third-straight season the team finished with one win. Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear said from a win-loss standpoint, it was a disappointing season. He said the toughest part was watching the team make costly and critical mistakes late in the game.
While Spear said he never wants to put a benchmark for wins he expects the team to get each season, he thought the team would have finished with four or five wins this season.
“We had opportunities to do that. We just didn’t finish games and we need to learn how to finish games,” he said. “We can’t dwell on and feel good about just making progress. The expectation is that we need to win. Let’s not have ‘oh we got close’ — we need to take it to the next step.”
Spear added that progress from last year to this year has been significant — everywhere but the win-loss column.
After the season finale 45-28 loss to Appalachian State, Petrino wasted no time stating what his plans were for next month — recruiting.
“We’ll get right into recruiting tomorrow,” Petrino said after the game. “We got to do a great job. These next two weekends will be big for us.”
The hard work from Petrino and his staff has produced two commitments in the first week of December. According to 247Sports, junior college offensive linemen Jordan Barge and Devin Wiltz are the first commits to Petrino’s 2015 recruiting class.
Barge, who made the announcement on Twitter, makes his way to Idaho from Los Angeles Valley College. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound tackle picked Idaho over reported offers from Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State and Temple.
Wiltz played for Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts. Don Verlin, Idaho’s men’s basketball coach, might want to keep tabs on Wiltz, as he stands at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds.
Spear said it’s important for Idaho to find success recruiting this offseason and he expects them to. He said prospective players should be intrigued with the success Idaho had on offense this season.
A prime example of that success is senior Josh McCain. The 6-foot-2, 177-pound wide receiver converted to the position after playing quarterback his whole life. He finished with 76 receptions for 1,162 yards and nine touchdowns. He led all Sun Belt receivers in yards and touchdowns.
McCain, from DeAnza College in Cupertino, California, was a junior college transfer who excelled in his short two-year stint at Idaho.
Spear said Idaho is going to have to sign a few junior college players. He said Idaho should entice players, because of the opportunity to come in and play right away.
“When junior college kids are looking at schools now, they can’t make a mistake. They need to go where they can play, and more importantly, they need to go where they can make a difference,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to get as many midyear JC kids as we can, and not wait until summer, because this year we had some academic casualties — kids that we were counting on to play for us.”
While the coaches are out on the recruiting trail, the Vandal players are not only preparing for upcoming finals, but next season as well.
Petrino said players will be in the weight room for the two weeks before finals and then come back in January to start their offseason conditioning and winter workout program.
“We just got to go back to work,” he said. “We just need to remember how people acted after games and be excited when they come to our place and play them then.”
Next season, Spear said wants to change the time Idaho plays its home games. He said playing home games later in the day could give the Vandals a competitive advantage playing the southern dominant Sun Belt teams.
“Have a 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. kickoff, and they’re (visiting Sun Belt teams) kicking off at 9 or 10 their time,” he said. “Then get into the second half and their circadian rhythm is at one or two in the morning.”
Also in Idaho’s advantage is the NCAA bowl ban will be lifted next year and the Vandals will get back four hours of practice time each week.
“When you start off a year and your players know that they can’t go to a bowl game, that’s not very fun,” Spear said. “I would just tell you that we have six home games next year, and I expect us to be successful in those six home games. It’s the first time we’ve had six home games in a while, and I think it’s going to be huge for our kids.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org