Well, here we are. It's been about four months since I wrote the first game/season preview for Idaho. I had them going 5-7 and nearly missing the post season after a loss to Georgia State at home. I'll admit it, I fucked up. But in my defense there is a thread somewhere here on the Hoop where I said that the best case scenario for Idaho was an 8-4 season in which everything went right for them. That prediction was also a bit misguided as Idaho had plenty go wrong for them this year and still managed to come away with 8 wins. When you consider that all four losses came to teams with 9 or more wins on the season, it looks pretty impressive. And given the situation Idaho was in 3 years ago it is. Don't get me wrong there. But let's be real, Idaho has not beaten a single team with a winning record this year. Hell, the last time they did that was 2011 against FCS North Dakota. And the last time they beat an FBS team with a winning record was.....2009, in Boise, against Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl ( that was back when the bowl in Boise had a name that wasn't completely fucking embarrassing). At this point there are two possible ways that Idaho could finish the season with a win over a team that finished .500 or above. 1. Win against Colorado State on Thursday. 2. South Alabama wins against Air Force in the Arizona Bowl. I'm kind of giving away my prediction for this game here but neither one of those are very likely to happen unfortunately. Let's get to talking about the match up though. Both teams come into this game riding a bit of a hot streak. Idaho has won four straight and 6 of the last 7. The only loss being to Sun Belt Conference Co-Champ Appalachian State. Again, that sounds impressive until you realize that the 6 final wins of the season came against 6 of the bottom 7 teams in the Sun Belt Conference. It is definitely fun to see Idaho beat the teams they are supposed to, but when those teams go a combined 32-64 it's hard to be too cocky. Colorado State on the other hand arrives in Boise having won 4 of their last 5 and averaging 47 ppg in those contests. Their offense is absolutely on fire right now. Part of that is due to junior QB Nick Stevens who took over the starting job 6 games into the season after an injury to Collin Hill. Stevens has been exceptional so far and would be ranked inside the top 10 in terms of QB rating if he had thrown enough passes to qualify. His top target is easily Michael Gallup who has over 1,000 yards and 11 TDs on the season on his way to a first team MWC selection. This kid is a beast. CSU also has a ton of ways to hurt you on the ground with their power back Izzy Matthews and the change of pace back Dalyn Dawkins. This really is a pretty balanced offense even if they are more known for their running game. On defense the Rams have been decent, but nothing truly spectacular. They do have a solid punter in Hayden Hunt who is used to playing in the elements. He could make a big impact in this game if the Idaho defense can manage to force any punts. Moving on to Idaho. I'll start with this: Idaho needs to play a perfect game to win this week. Colorado State is playing like the best team in the MWC conference right now and that means they're pretty good. Idaho has played 4 games against truly good teams this year and they have been over matched in all four. Not only that but it was obvious they were out matched every time. That doesn't mean they didn't compete for at least a bit in each game. They played WSU, App. St., and Troy tough for 1-2 quarters. After that it got rough though. I won't count the loss to UW in the following comparison considering how dominant they've been this year and I'll take out the MSU win as well since it was an FCS game. But consider this: Idaho point differential against WSU, App. St., and Troy: -89 (38-127) Turnover margin in those games: -2 Idaho point differential in all other FBS games: + 113 (267 - 154) Turnover margin in those games: +13 The numbers are helped out a bit with huge blowout wins against Texas State and Georgia State, the latter of those two having committed 6 turnovers. Still, I think this helps highlight the point that Idaho has beaten the teams they were supposed to and that they have done so by forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. That's what Idaho has to do on Thursday to get the W. Force turnovers. Kaden Elliss has been a machine at grabbing INTs and forcing fumbles. He, Tony Lashley, and Ed Hall have all exceeded expectations this year as sophomore linebackers. They'll have their hands full with CSU's rotating backfield of talented backs. The real big play threat for the Rams however is Michael Gallup who I already mentioned. That guy scares the shit out of me. In Idaho's last game against Georgia State there were several instances of wide open GSU WRs getting over thrown or just dropping the ball. That can't happen against CSU. I would assume Jayshawn Jordan will be on Gallup most of the time, but we may see Desmond Banks over there a bit too. Just depends on what Breske wants in that matchup. Jayshawn is more experienced and a bit quicker but Banks is the bigger body and may match up better. Either way the guy covering Gallup is going to need some help at least some of the time. Guy to watch on defense for Idaho in this one is Ty Graham. Freshman DB from Cheney who stepped up due to some injuries. He had a pick and a sack against GSU. Can't forget the trenches here. Tueni Lupeamanu, Kevin Shelton, and Glen Antoine are going to be huge factors. Run D has been Idaho's strength this year but this is the best running team they've seen this season. I still expect CSU to do more damage through the air than they usually do, but if Idaho can't stop the run they're done in this one. On offense the main focus for Idaho IMO needs to be staying on the field. I'm already having nightmares about what could happen if the Vandals go three and out the first few possessions. If the Idaho D is on the field too long they will get worn out by the Colorado State running game. Possess the ball, keep the Rams off the field, and stay in the game. I'm sure that will be the game plan. For that plan to work they need a big game from the boys up front on the O-line as they open up holes for Isaiah Saunders. Saunders could do some work if he gets rolling in this colder weather. Would be nice to see him repeat Woolridge's performance from '09. Getting back to the turnover issue, Linehan needs to be efficient in this one. That means no throws across the body while scrambling in the other direction and it means hitting on more of his deep passes. He has struggled a bit in that department this year. But as important as his arm will be, Linehan might be able to do some real damage with his feet if he can get a better feel for when to run/scramble. He gets too indecisive back there sometimes and will often hesitate before attempting to make a move. If the Vandals can get the run game going I don't think he'll be in too much danger though. If the play action is working it leaves room to hit Cowan in the seam, Hightower on a crossing route, or Watson in a 1-1 match up. You can move the ball on that Ram defense. Coming out quick and punching them in the mouth will do a lot to set the tone. Idaho can't afford to come out slow in this game. Bottom line is basically this though: IF (big if) Idaho can keep this one close I like their chances. The Vandals are 4-0 in games decided by 7 or less. Prediction: Ugh....I just listed off everything Idaho needs to do but I'm just not confident they can get it done against a quality opponent like Colorado State. The Vandals have struggled this year against truly good teams and the Rams are playing lights out at this point in the season. I see Idaho coming out sluggish and getting behind early. Then they'll provide a glimmer of hope where they almost get back into it before CSU runs away with the game. This is just a bad match up for Idaho and I really can't see them keeping this within the 13.5 they are currently favored to lose by. I'm predicting Gallup to have a Freddie Barnes type day. Sucks, but I gotta keep it real. Final Score: Colorado State 45 Idaho 20 Hey though, at least I'll get to hear the ESPN announcers blindly spouting off nonsense about how good the FCS move will be the entire game. Can't wait for that shit. Go Vandals and god damn I hope I'm wrong.