Quick 2018 Recap: Idaho’s first season in the FCS did not go smoothly, as the Vandals finished with a 4-7 record after moving down from the FBS and Sun Belt Conference. All four Vandals victories came at home, while the team went 0-6 on the road. The two games against FBS opponents were not competitive in the slightest, losing to Fresno State 79-13 to kick off the season, and then getting walloped by Florida 63-10 in the regular season finale.
Offensive Player to Watch: WR Jeff Cotton
Cotton can be a handful to cover at 6-2 and 204 lbs. and has a penchant for big plays. He led the Vandals with seven touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore in 2018, when he also finished second on the team in receptions (49) and receiving yards (656). Cotton has been able to rise to the occasion, having some of his biggest games against top competition. He recorded 96 yards and a touchdown against Fresno State, three catches for 38 yards and a score at Florida, and eight catches for 110 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Washington, the eventual 2018 FCS runner-up.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Charles Akanno
Idaho’s best returning defensive player is Christian Ellis, but he will be serving a one-game suspension in week one. However, Charles Akanno proved to be a disruptive force in his second season with the Vandals, finishing with four sacks and eight TFLs. His best games came towards the end of the season, suggesting he’s ready to breakout in 2019. Akanno has the ability to make things difficult for the Nittany Lions as they break in a quarterback who is very short on experience.
Penn State Wins If: There are a few scenarios where Penn State loses this game:
-the entire team and staff forget to practice all summer and then are informed they have a game 20 minutes prior to kickoff.
-the entire team and staff lose track of time while waiting in line at The Creamery, resulting in a forfeit.
-Sean Clifford is informed it’s Opposite Day, and follows up his near-perfect 2018 season by throwing an interception on each attempt.
Even with vanilla gameplans and the inevitable hiccups from new starters, Penn State should be able to outclass a four-win FCS squad. If the team isn’t sprinting away by halftime, perhaps it’s truly time to get nervous about the upcoming season.
Idaho Wins If: See above scenarios.
Major Changes for 2019: Not much. Idaho is searching for stability after the rare move down to FCS. The Vandals had 14 seasons with four or fewer victories since 2000 and will hope to become a more reliably competitive program. Head coach Paul Petrino returns for his seventh year at the helm, and the Vandals return most of their key playmakers from a year ago. The biggest loss is linebacker Kaden Ellis, who dominated with seven sacks and 17 TFLs in 2018 before being drafted in the seventh round by the New Orleans Saints.