Thursday, November 19, 2009

Zamberlin Faces Busy Off-Season

With the official announcement Wednesday that he is making more significant changes in his coaching staff, Idaho State head football coach John Zamberlin faces a very busy off-season. His first task is to decide where to take the offensive philosophy of his football program. Zamberlin told us during his coaches show earlier this fall that's he been consulting with good friend Mike Dunbar (right), a "spread offense" guru who's served as offensive coordinator for Northwestern, Cal and Minnesota.

Dunbar, like Zamberlin a former head coach at Central Washington, helped popularize the spread when he brought it in at Northwestern in the early 2000s. The theory behind the offense is that you create greater opportunities to run the football by spreading out the defense. There are different variants of the attack, but the approach that Dunbar used at Northwestern involved a lot of running by the quarterback. If Zamberlin chooses to adopt that offensive approach, he'll have to decide if any of the current quarterbacks on the roster have that skill set. If not, finding a junior college or D-1 transfer who does becomes a recruiting priority this off-season.

Of course, making a decision on the offensive philosophy is also a key to hiring a new offensive coordinator and, to some degree, offensive line coach, two positions Zamberlin has to fill. What comes first -- the coordinator, or the philosophy? We shall see.

On the recruiting front, ISU loses 14 seniors, but it's hard to guess how that translants into new recruiting numbers. In the FCS world, of course, you can divide up scholarships, so it's hard to tell how many full scholarship equivalents the Bengals will have available to offer, and nearly impossible to predict how they'll be divided up once ISU identifies who they want to bring in.

A couple of things are obvious about this recruiting campaign, however: the Bengals need at least one speed back on the offensive side of the football; they will need three or four offensive linemen who can step in and contribute immediately, especially if Demetrius Grant's bulging disks in his neck don't allow him to continue to play football; and they desperately need an effective pass rusher or two, either off the end or the outside linebacker position. The Bengals finished with just eight sacks for the entire season, and it's amazing to me that they were able to stay with Montana and beat Portland State the last two games of the season without a single quarterback sack.

Speaking of Portland State

The "resignation" of Viking coach Jerry Glanville earlier this week has generated a lot of speculation about potential replacements. Oregonian columnist John Conzano went out on the limb for Willamette Head Coach Mark Speckman, who was a candidate when Glanville was hired three years ago. Speckman is in his 12th season at the Division III school, and has posted a 19-3 mark over the last two seasons, including a 10-0 regular season last year. He certainly would be plugged into the local recruiting scene.

There have been a large number of potential candidates bandied about for the PSU job, but this is a critical hire for both the school and the rest of the Big Sky Conference. Both the Oregonian's Canzano and, more importantly, PSU athletic director Torre Chisholm have noted if the Vikings don't get this right, there may not be a future for football in the Park Blocks area. And if PSU made the decision to drop football, it would have a ripple effect all across the conference.

Basketball Updates

Idaho State's men's team ended the early signing period Wednesday with just one recruit in hand, 6-4 guard Andre' Hatchett of Arizona. That means Bengal coach Joe O'Brien will have a ton of work to do in the spring, when he'll have to replace seven seniors -- especially on the front line.

The Bengals are actually already fairly well set on the guard line with Hatchett coming in, and returnees Broderick Gilchrest, Mike Lacey, Eric Segert, Sherrod Baldwin and Phyllip Taylor. But they have no post players returning, so O'Brien will have to beat the bushes for five or six players in the 6-foot-6 and taller range.

While we're on the topic of men's basketball, Montana and Northern Colorado have certainly made the biggest early season splashes, both going 3-0. The Griz won their own tournament with wins over North Dakota, Boise State and Loyola-Marymount. Pre-season player of the year Anthony Johnson won the tournament MVP and he continues to look good enough to single-handedly carry Montana to contention for the regular-season title.

The bigger surprise, at least as far as I was concerned, was Northern Colorado sweeping through the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. The Bears beat McNeese State, Southern Utah and the host Rainbows to take the title. While Johnson was carrying Montana, the Bears took a different approach, with eight different players scoring at least six points in the championship win over Hawaii.

Last Chance at Playoffs

Montana has nothing to play for other than hating Montana State's guts (okay, that might be a motivational factor), but three other Big Sky teams are still clinging to post-season playoff hopes in this, the last week of the regular season. Emboldened by a 4-0 performance last week, I'm going way out on a limb this week and picking a big upset as part of the final edition of this year's shots in the dark:

Montana at Montana State: MSU can claw its way into the playoffs with a win over their hated in-state rivals and I think they're going get it. The Griz have been up and down all season and, even though this is a big rivalry game, it still likely won't impact Montana's first-round playoff fortunes. With Dane Fletcher back in the defensive lineup for the Bobcats, MSU held Sac State to 35 rushing yards on 30 carries and sacked the Hornets' quarterbacks five times last week. They'll bring the heat on Justin Roper and Andrew Selle, and contain Chase Reynolds just enough for the Bobcats to get the win -- and the Big Sky's second playoff berth.

Cal Poly at Weber State: The Wildcats have to get a win to stay mathematically alive for a post-season berth. WSU put up 49 points on a better Mustang team on the road in the playoffs last year, so I have to think Cameron Higgins and crew will get the job done again this week. I don't think it's going to be enough to get them into the playoffs, though.

UC Davis at Sacramento State: The Causeway Classic usually brings out the best in Davis, who has a commanding 39-17 lead in the series. Except last year, when the Hornets won, 29-19. With Sac stumbling down the stretch, though, the series reverts to form and the Aggies finish 7-4.

Eastern Washington at Northern Arizona: The Axers are out of the playoff mix, but they have a chance to clinch a winning season, both overall and in Big Sky play. EWU QB Matt Nichols was brilliant last week, while NAU's Michael Herrick was horrible in the Ogden snow. This game is in the climate-controlled comfort of the Skydome, however, so both teams should put up plenty of points. I'm going with EWU to put up just a few more, and keep their playoff hopes alive in a shootout. If MSU loses to Montana, EWU will be in.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.


Anonymous said...

Caught a typo: FCS can divide scholarships, not FBS.

The assistant coach shake-up is long overdue, although I'm mystified why there are some who apparently are "safe."

Wonder if Al Borges would be interested in going back to PSU?

My vote goes to Tad Boyle as the best coach in the Big Sky, and not just because of what he has accomplished so far this season.

Anonymous said...

A typo indeed, I'll change it. Thanks.

And on the issue of "safe coaches" -- it's like any boss-employee relationship. The boss has a comfort zone with certain employees and feels they provide him with what he wants. Since Coach Z is the boss, he gets to make those decisions. Ulimately, his coaches will have to perform or he will lose his job, too.
--Brad B.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Zamberlin should try and hire Dunbar to be our offensive coordinator. I don't think he is currently coaching since he resigned at Minnesota last January so might be worth a shot to try and recruit him here. It would be a huge hire for Zamberlin if he could get him to come here that is for sure.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

--Brad B.

Anonymous said...

Is it any coincidence that Orthmann left ISU around the same (the same week I think) time that Dunbar left Minnesota?

Makes me wonder if Dunbar has been in the cards all along?