The Idaho Vandals kicked off their final season in the Sun Belt Conference last night against Sacramento State, a member of the conference UI will join next season.
But before the Big Sky welcomes back one of its brothers — the Vandals won nine conference championships in the Big Sky between 1965-1995 — there’s some bidness to tend to, as they say in the South.
Let us take you back to a Moscow press conference April 28, 2016. In announcing their eventual return to the Big Sky after receiving an eviction notice from the Belt, UI Athletic Director Rob Spear, not known for overstatement, mentioned that the Vandals ”are extremely motivated to compete in the Sun Belt for the next two years.” Last year, the Vandals posted a potent 9-4 record, winning their last five games, including a thrilling 61-50 bowl victory over Colorado State. Idaho also kicked around most of its Sun Belt foes, going 6-2 in conference play.
With a strong core returning this year, Spear & Co. might have been expecting a modicum of respect from their fellow Sun Belters.
Didn’t get it.
In July, the Sun Belt head coaches made their predictions for the upcoming season and declared Idaho the sixth-best team in the conference. Nothing like a swift kick in the arse on your way out the door.
But the thing is, Idaho isn’t at the door yet. The Vandals have eight dates against Sun Belt teams before that door closes. And a lot of damage can be done in eight days.
Fans have a bit of a wait for the conference schedule to begin. Idaho hosts UNLV, then travels to Western Michigan before playing at South Alabama Sept. 23. There’s also a special engagement at University of Missouri Oct. 21, but otherwise, it’s all Sun Belt, all the time.
We count ourselves among the many UI fans who are thrilled to see the Vandals returning to their more regional roots next year. Games against the likes of Eastern Washington and Montana mean more than tilts against Troy and Coastal Carolina, wherever the hell they are. It’s hard to develop rivalries against teams you can’t find on a map. Other than Louisiana-Lafayette, whose Rajin’ Cajuns nickname is world class, what do you know about the Sun Belt squads? How many can you even name? Our point exactly.
Thank goodness, football is here again.
Let’s hope the Vandals leave a nice dent on their way out.