Coach: Nick Holt (2nd season, 3–9) 2004 record: 3-9 Sun Belt finish: 2-5 (t-7th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 78th (131.6 ypg) Passing: 67th (208.4 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 97th (196.6 ypg) Passing: 81st (232.1 ypg)
at Washington State
at New Mexico State
at Boise State
at San Jose State
Depth Chart: Offense
9 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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Nick Holt's first season at Idaho was certainly a disappointment but hardly a surprise. The Vandals won just three games and ranked in the bottom half of the Sun Belt Conference in almost every key statistic.
The optimistic Holt, however, is excited about his second year in Moscow. The program is jumping up a level to the WAC, and he believes his players are ready to take a step forward as well.
"The kids are a year older, and they know what to expect," he said. "We've got some kids who were here in the spring from the junior college ranks and a couple of redshirts and grayshirts who are helping us out and who have done a real nice job of transitioning into our program."
The challenge to record the program's first winning season since 1999 won't be easy. The Vandals are still young and trying to stockpile talent in their program, while at the same time, trying to improve while stepping up a level in competition.
"It's going to be tough for us," Holt said. "I think we'll be ready for the challenge."
Idaho does return 41 letter-winners and 16 starters from last year's 3-9 team.
For the Vandals to make progress, they need to stay healthy and continue to develop their young talent. They also need several players to have breakthrough campaigns.
Holt is looking hard at the quarterback position. Senior Michael Harrington, the younger brother of Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, is the returning starter. He had a solid but not spectacular junior season.
Holt brought in junior college transfer Steven Wichman to challenge for the starting position and will give the two-time all-conference pick at San Joaquin Delta (Calif.) College a chance this fall.
The Vandals' quarterback, whether it's Harrington or Wichman, will be operating behind a line that returns five players who started at some point last season -- Jarrod Schulte, Desmond Clark, Hank Therien, Nate VanderPol and Jade Tadvick.
The running game, which was uncertain heading into last season, should be a strength in '05. Speedster Jayson Bird, who rushed for 859 yards and eight touchdowns last year, is joined by bruiser Rolly Lumbala, who rushed for 614 yards and six scores, to give the Vandals a nice one-two punch.
The biggest concern is at receiver, where Idaho lost Bobby Bernal-Wood. Holt is expecting big things from holdovers Wendell Octave and Desmond Belton, as well as tight end Luke Smith-Anderson.
Seven starters, including the top three tacklers, return on a defense that forced 27 turnovers last season. Middle linebacker Cole Snyder was the main man last season and will be counted on to be a playmaker this season.
Holt decided to move senior Mike Anderson back to linebacker after experimenting with him at defensive end last season. Anderson's numbers dropped significantly after the switch, and Holt is optimistic that moving Anderson back to his original position will allow him to make more of an impact.
Safety Dan Dykes, who started as a true freshman last year, anchors a secondary that has serious questions at cornerback.
The defensive front should be improved thanks to some added depth. Holt is expecting contributions from tackles Jeff Edwards and Siua Musika. Finding a top-notch pass rusher remains a priority this fall.
Although Mike Barrow was inconsistent in the dual role of punter/kicker last season, he is the only experienced kicker on the roster. Barrow converted only 4-of-12 field goals a year ago, but all of his kicks came from 37 yards and out.
Redshirt freshman Carl Ott and several walk-ons will try to land the placekicking duties, while reserve quarterback T.J. Conley punted this spring and will be given a chance to take that starting job.
It's another transition year for the Vandals, who haven't had a winning season since '99. Last year, it was the move to a new coaching staff. This time around it will be the jump from the Sun Belt to the WAC, a considerable step up in competition.
The Vandals should improve this season because of their familiarity with the offensive and defensive schemes. That improvement, however, may not show in the win column as a tougher schedule will make things difficult again this season. A realistic goal for Idaho would be to avoid the WAC basement by beating out fellow conference newcomers Utah State and New Mexico State.