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Paul Petrino struggles to jumpstart Idaho Vandals rank No. 127 Today at No. 127: IDAHO VANDALS Coach: Paul Petrino (1-10, entering third season, 2-21...

college football pickPaul Petrino struggles to jumpstart Idaho Vandals rank No. 127

Today at No. 127: IDAHO VANDALS

Coach: Paul Petrino (1-10, entering third season, 2-21 overall)

2014 record: 1-10, 1-7 in the Sun Belt Conference, tied for ninth overall

Look back: After suffering through three straight seasons of double-digit losses, Idaho was hoping a strong group of returning starters and a schedule ranked near the bottom of the nation in difficulty would end the program’s suffering. Instead, the Vandals managed only one victory for the third straight season — its first in the Sun Belt Conference.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: RB Jerrel Brown, WR Joshua McCain, WR Richard Montgomery, TE Justin Podrabsky, OT Nick Von Rotz, C Mike Marboe, DE Maxx Forde, DT Quayshawne Buckley, SS Bradley Njoku

Top returnees: QB Matt Linehan, RB Elijhaa Penny, WR Deon Watson, WR Jacob Sannon, WR David Ungerer, CB Jayshawn Jordan, S Russell Siavii, LB Marc Millan, DE Quinton Bradley

Strengths: Redshirt sophomore Matt Linehan appears set to return as the starting quarterback. Linehan played in 11 games last season, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,540 yards and 11 touchdowns. Turnovers, however, are concerning after Linehan threw 18 interceptions in 2014. Senior Jerrel Brown (569 yards, 4 TDs) entered last season as the top running back on the depth chart, but finished second behind sophomore Elijhaa Penny (589 yards, 12 TDs) in rushing yards. Brown’s departure leaves the bulk of the workload on Penny and Aaron Duckworth, who carried the ball just 22 times for 98 yards last season.

The offensive line loses center Mike Marboe (47 career starts), but Steven Matlock moves over from guard to fill the vacancy. He’s joined by Mason Woods, Jordan Rose and Dallas Sandberg. Punter Austin Rehkow was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award last season after averaging 47.8 yards per kick.

Weaknesses: Idaho returns 30 percent of its total receiving production from last season thanks to the departures of Joshua McCain (1,162 yards, 9 TDs), Richard Montgomery (543 yards, TD) and Justin Podrabsky (380 yards, TD). Deon Watson (343 yards, TD) moves from receiver to tight end this spring. Dezmon Epps returns to the program following his dismissal from the team in 2014 for off-the-field issues. He led the team in receiving in 2013 with 980 yards.

Idaho ranked No. 116 in total defense in 2014, forcing changes in the offseason. Former Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske is taking over the unit. Idaho needs to replace two starters on the front line after the departures of end Maxx Forde (27 tackles) and tackle Quayshawne Buckley (56 tackles, 4.0 sacks). Quinton Bradley (41.5 tackles, 6.0 sacks) anchors the group.

Outlook: Petrino is set to begin his third season with the Vandals and the program doesn’t appear in any better shape than it was when he took over in 2013. The good news is Idaho can only go up from here. The team returns enough key pieces on offense to show improvement from a top-60 ranking in total offense. However, it’s the defense needing to make strides if the program hopes to snap its four-year run of double-digit losses and earn its first winning season since 2009.

2015 schedule

Sept. 3 vs. Ohio University

Sept. 12 at USC

Sept. 19 vs. Wofford

Sept. 26 vs. Georgia Southern

Oct. 3 at Arkansas State

Oct. 17 at Troy

Oct. 24 vs. Louisiana-Monroe

Oct. 31 at New Mexico State

Nov. 7 at South Alabama

Nov. 14 vs. Appalachian State

Nov. 21 at Auburn

Nov. 28 vs. Texas State

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,

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