Editorial note: for the start of the season, we'll emphasize text summaries of the upcoming games. After we've had a couple of games and there are some stats out there, we'll start back up with the shameless rip-off of Burnt Orange Nation's "Under the Hood" posts. In the meantime, feel free to add in your thoughts, predicted scorelines, etc., in the comments.
USC takes a small hit on their out-of-conference scheduling with Idaho as the first game to start this season. As you'll no doubt remember, the game was scheduled when Nick Holt was the Idaho head coach, before his return to USC. The Vandals were "coached" by Dennis Erickson during 2006, and promptly ditched by him as soon as the Arizona State job came available. They now have Robb Akey, former Washington State defensive coordinator, as their head coach - the fourth in five years, and he's stuck with taking a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1999 into an opening game against the all-world, all-conquering Men of Troy (/ sarcasm).
Change change change. Only one of the Vandals' coaches has been around longer than since spring practice. Akey got rid of 19 players in the off-season, which has allowed some recruiting of juco players to fill in the gaps.
Experience in some places, youth in others. The Vandals return 2 upperclassmen running backs, Brian Flowers (561 yards, 4 TDs) and Jayson Bird (506 yards, seven TDs). However, their starting QB, Nathan Enderle, is a redshirt freshman, and their WRs are pretty inexperienced. The QB at least gets to hide behind Center Adam Korby, who has started every game he's played at Idaho and has been on the Rimington Award watch list for 2 years. They also have eight returning starters on defense, including all-WAC Seniors David Vorbora (linebacker) and Stanley Franks (cornerback). Franks made 9 interceptions last year, which he returned for 220 yards, and Vorbora made 134 tackles. However, the other corner is a 5' 6" freshmen, who is competing with two juco transfers for the position.
Defense = Attack. With a fair bit of experience in defense in the line and linebacker positions, Akey is supposedly going to emphasize an attacking 4-3 formation. Given the vast gaps of experience at the corner position, that is both a necessary risk and also opening up chances to get scorched on running plays.
Offense = Balanced (in Principle). Even though the strength of Idaho's offense is in their running game, Akey is emphasizing balancing that with a passing game. That has shown up in scrimmages - in the August 19th scrimmage, running backs Flowers and Bird put in a decent performance, and QBs Nathan Enderle (4-8, 38 yards) and Chris Joseph (6-15, 61 yards) spread the ball around. (Chris Joseph promptly got himself suspended for being arrested with 3 other Idaho athletes in a car in Pullman, WA, for a pot bust. Evidently he wasn't on the wacky weed himself, but when no-one 'fessed up, all 4 people in the car were hauled off by the Pullman po-po.)
What they worry about: The Vandals just haven't been able to score enough in the last few seasons, which is not a good thing in the WAC. They are doing their best to use the total lack of respect they get as a motivation, but in the first 4 weeks of the season they play USC, Cal-Poly, Washington State, and Northern Illinois - at least 2 of which could be demoralizing losses before they get started on WAC play.
Results so far this season: N/A.
Guessing the game trends against USC:
On Offense: No matter how hard they try, a freshman QB and inexperienced WRs are going to struggle against USC's line and secondary, even allowing for how solid Korby is at the center. They have 2 strong running backs to rotate, so there's a good chance of them being able to hold the ball and pick up yards that way - and to buy the QB some time.
On Defense: Idaho's going to have to try and disrupt Booty's pass game (not always the biggest challenge, to be honest) with speed, and shoot for stuffing SC's run near the line of scrimmage. They are potentially inexperienced enough on whatever side that Franks isn't playing corner that they could get picked apart - either by Turner & Ausberry on longer passing plays, or by Fred Davis and (a hopefully healthy) Joe McKnight on shorter passing plays.
Likely result? Beats the hell out of me. I could see this being a relatively low-scoring game as both teams work their offensive kinks out, but what's relative in this case? Idaho really can't lose much here, as no-one really expects them to win. An unconvincing win however could start people jumping off the Trojan bandwagon... not that this would automatically be a bad thing.
What's the community prediction for this one?