Idaho State issued its two-deep roster for this week's opening game with Arizona State and we learned almost as much about the team from who's not on it than who is. The big news was that defensive back Kenny Viser, a transfer from Nevada who impressed a lot of folks with his athleticism during spring ball, is academically ineligible. And we learned that linebacker Jeremy Gibson and defensive back Kelvin Miller, both of whom were expected to play important roles in a rebuilding Bengal defense, may be ineligible, pending the outcome of their grade appeals.
So that took a little of wind out of what has really been a very positive fall camp for the Bengals. The one thing I wanted to see from this, John Zamberlin's (above) third edition, was some evidence of a rising talent level. For the last two seasons, the talent base on this ISU team has been well below the Big Sky level. Coach Z's first two recruiting classes were not all that productive, so it was critical that he showed the dwindling Bengal fan base that there is hope for the future.
I think he's done just that. Zamberlin and his staff had just one healthy scholarship running back during spring ball, for example, but they added four young backs who have impressed this fall, and they have all come from varying backgrounds: Stew Tracy, a Boise State transfer; Jordan Scott, a JC; and Skyler Morgan and Darrius Coleman, two freshmen. Add that talent infusion to senior Clint Knickrehm and redshirt freshman Ben Laporta, and I think you've got the start of a pretty good backfield -- and, best of all, one that should have quality depth for several seasons to come.
Another thing I find particularly attractive about this collection of young kids is the Idaho pedigree. We've all been engaged in the ongoing debate over on the Bengal Den about how well ISU recruits Idaho kids. Those who contend the Bengals need more of a Gem State flavor should be excited to see 14 Idahoans on the two-deeps, and 30 total on the roster. (Let those who are most vociferous about recruiting Idahoans also be forewarned: their theories about how Idaho kids will compete more vigorously, and attract more fans will also be put to the test).
Finally, I like the presence of all those young defensive linemen on the roster: of the 15 d-linemen in camp, only two are seniors. The Bengal coaching staff recognized how critically undermanned the program was on the d-line last year, and moved to rectify the shortage with not only numbers, but what appears to be quality. The two-deeps include two JC transfers, Rustin Phillips and Chad O'Donnell, and a true freshman in Minh Williams, with another true frosh, Isaiah Walker, expected to see action.
The bummer, of course, came with the news of Viser's ineligibility and the questions about Gibson and Miller's availability. Linebacker still appears to be one of this team's weak spots, and Gibson could bring a playmaking element to the position -- if he gets eligible. Losing both Viser and Miller, meanwhile, would not be fatal, but it surely would weaken the patient. With Viser and Miller, the defensive backfield likely would have been counted among the areas of real growth in talent and depth. Without them, however, it appears there is a significant dropoff after starters Keith McGowan and Michael Wright at the corners.
After watching both scrimmages and talking with the coaching staff, I like the direction this program is going. It appears the overall talent level is on the rise, and now we'll watch to see who among these talented youngsters will rise to the level of playmaker. Unfortunately, they may be difficult to identify in those first two games against ASU and Oklahoma.
Arizona State Suspends "5 or 6" for Opener
Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson told a reporter he's suspended "five or six" players for the opener against Idaho State on Saturday, but he declined to name the players. Also, ASU freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has not been cleared yet by the NCAA, will not play on Saturday.
Big Sky Predictions
Shot in the dark time. Okay, here we go:
Portland State at Oregon State: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game will be seeing how much, if any, Jerry Glanville's offensive approach has changed now that long-time offensive coordinator Mouse Davis has retired. JG has vowed to be more committed to running the football this year, but how committed will he be if the Vikings fall behind early to their PAC 10 neighbors? The Beavers, who are picked to finish fourth in the conference after coming off a 9-win season, shouldn't have much trouble winning this game, so what matters will be how the Vikings play the game.
Montana State at Michigan State: This is another "foregone conclusion" game where style points will matter most. MSU named Mark Iddins as its starting quarterback earlier this week which comes as something of a surprise after the way Bobcat coach Rob Ash talked up Cody Kempft earlier this summer. Iddins got the nod because he didn't turn the ball over in fall camp. No turnovers would be a worthy goal for the Bobcats against a Spartan team that also won 9 games last season, and who are picked to finish third in the Big 10.
Western State at No. 3 Montana: Keeping with the theme of quarterback selection, this game will serve as a dress-up scrimmage for two contestants for Griz starting QB -- Andrew Selle, incumbent backup; and Justin Roper, Oregon transfer. The final score will be a mere distraction. For those who are looking at Idaho State's non-conference schedule and comparing with the Griz, remember one thing: when you put 20,000 butts in the seats, you can play anybody you want to.
Weber State at Wyoming: Upset of the day? Why not. The Wildcats are experienced on both sides of the football, but particularly at the most important postion -- quarterback. The Cowboys are breaking in a new head coach and a new offensive system after averaging just 13 points a game last year. Sure, I'll take Weber in this one.
Northern Colorado at No. 25 Kansas: Just for the record, I think the Jayhawks, who are picked to finish behind Nebraska in the Big 12 North race, are overrated. Also for the record, I don't think it will matter against Northern Colorado. Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing has thrown for 68 touchdowns and over 7500 yards in his career. It should be a short work day for Mr. Reesing.
Sacramento State at UNLV: Perception in the coaching busines is everything. Sac State's Marshall Sperbeck is perceived as being a success in his two seasons with the Hornets with his 9-14 record, including a 6-6 campaign last year. UNLV head coach Mike Sanford, meanwhile, is feeling the Vegas heat with his 11-36 mark after four years. And yes, it's a dry heat, but Sanford's goose will likely be well-cooked if he doesn't show marked improvement this season. Freudian slip of the week goes to the author of the Big Sky game notes, who wrote, "UNLV is picked to finish in the Mountain West." Take that anyway you want. BTW, I'm still going with the Rebels in a completely forgettable matchup.
Western Oregon at Eastern Washington: Well, since nobody in Cheney's heard from the NCAA lately, I guess we can assume the Eagles' probation is still in force. This matchup with D-2 Western will be the first "chip test," then. As in, "will Eastern play with a chip on its shoulder because it can't go to the playoffs, or simply lose interest." Western Oregon, coming off a 7-4 year and a respectable 31-14 loss to Portland State last season, could give Eastern a game if the Eagles are indeed distracted. But I don't think Western has the firepower to hang for 60 minutes.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.