Friday, October 2, 2009

Tick Tock Tick Tock

So as many folks know, one of the things I do is scour the net with Google Alerts and things for stuff about Idaho State. Sometimes I find out things from the ISU message board, the Bengal Den (no big shocker there). It was there I was tipped off to this dumb editorial by the Twin Falls it is from Monday...

Please Make it Stop: Send Bengals to Division II

Idaho State University won't do it on its own, so maybe it's time the State Board of Education forcefully suggested that the Bengals aren't a NCAA Division I-caliber athletic program anymore.

The football team, which has lost 45 of its last 59 games, is 0-4 this season and has been outscored 195-42. The men's basketball team has had one winning season in the past 20.

Students - in the form of fees - pick up much of he cost, but the coaches are paid mostly by the taxpayers.

Which means Idahoans are subsidizing arguably the weakest Division I athletic program in the country.

What's the purpose of continuing this? ISU would save money by downsizing (NCAA Division II schools can award up to 36 football scholarships, as opposed to 63 in the Football Championship Subdivision in which the Bengals now compete.) ISU would fit comfortably in either the Colorado-Springs based Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference or the Spokane, Wash.-based Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

ISU has been through six football coaches since the last successful one - Dave Kragthorpe - and four since the school last won a Big Sky Conference men's basketball championship in 1987. None of them have been able to talk enough Division I-quality athletes into spending four years in Pocatello. And the fans have noticed: 6,200 of Holt Arena's 12,000 seats were empty for Idaho State's home opener against Division II Central Washington University. The Bengals lost 33-22.

This is a college sports program quite literally out of its league. It's time for ISU to become big fish in a much smaller pond.

I'm not against a newspaper having an opinion (I am all for free speech, even when it is truly bizarre, like this or this. However, if you are going to offer up an opinion, and print it in a newspaper...well, please, please, please....make it informed. Get ALL the facts straight, and best of all, print the Letter to the Editor that I sent over as well. That's right....three days, no letter printed. Did I call them out on their shoddy journalism and lack of factual information? Maybe. Did I prove the point that they are painting the entire athletic program because of football's recent struggles? Hellz yes I did. And since this is the blog of the department, and since apparently the Times-News isn't interested in running this in a timely manner, here is what I sent them. I kinda like it.

On Tuesday, September 29th, the Twin Falls Times-News published an editorial calling Idaho State University “arguably the weakest Division I athletic program in the country.” The Times-News argued this based on very limited facts, mostly because of the poor record in recent years by the ISU football team, but the Times-News did a terrible job of fact checking, because it would have taken just a few minutes to realize that ISU competes very well in the Big Sky Conference and nationally.

Idaho State has been tremendously successful in many sports of the past few years. For example:

*ISU women’s basketball has won Big Sky Conference titles in 2006 and 2007, and they advanced to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT four times in the past six years , including three All-American and a finalist for the national player of the year in Natalie Doma.

*ISU women’s soccer has won four Big Sky titles in the last eight years, and advanced to the round of 32 in the 2006 NCAA College Cup

*Idaho State track and field won three Big Sky titles in the last five seasons, and they have had national qualifiers in indoor and outdoor track in nearly every season in the 2000s.

*Idaho State men’s basketball has won 25 conference games in the last three years, the best three-year stretch since 1976-78, and ISU has not finished below .500 in conference play under Joe O’Brien. Last year, ISU’s win 72-68 win over Utah came of the #3 ranked team in the RPI, ISU’s highest RPI ranked win ever. The basketball team has also been very competitive despite playing non-conference schedules ranked #7, #14, and #1 in the nation the last three years, taking two nationally ranked teams to overtime, and losing at nationally-ranked Wisconsin by two.

*ISU football has had just three winning seasons in the last 10 years, but the team has sent 14 players to NFL camps, and six of those players have seen action in a regular season NFL game. The last two Super Bowls had former ISU Bengals represented on the rosters (Matt Gutierrez with New England and Pago Togafau with Arizona). The Bengals also had 2003’s National Player of the Year in Jared Allen, who in 2008 became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and Jared has generously donated both his time and resources back to Idaho State.

*Over the last five years, Idaho State athletes have spent thousands of hours participating in community events through the P.A.W.S. program (Proud Athletes Working and Serving), including PaintFest, Sacking Hunger with the Idaho Food Bank, the Pocatello Marathon, Wal-Mart’s highway cleanup program, reading to elementary schools, and meeting with children in the Portneuf Diabetes Camp.

*Idaho State softball won 20 games in 2009 in just their third year, and will start play in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2010.

Also, stating that ISU has not had a successful football coach since Dave Kragthorpe is not fair to Jim Koetter, who took ISU to the playoffs in 1983, and to Larry Lewis, who led ISU to a share of the 2002 Big Sky title and is the only coach in school history to lead ISU to back-to-back eight win seasons.

In recent months, private funding and donations have allowed for ISU football to refurbish the entire locker room, to add a high definition video board in Holt Arena, and an electronic display board outside of Holt Arena. Construction will start this winter on Miller Ranch Stadium for softball. Improvements to other ISU athletic facilities are due to be announced in the upcoming months, all through private donations.

While it is true that the Idaho State football team has struggled for the past four years in accurate, the football team has had to also deal with budget holdbacks and playing five guarantee games against FBS teams in the last three years, including games with Oregon State, Arizona State, Oklahoma, and Boise State, in order to help raise funds for the entire department. With just six wins over that time span, to state that the entire ISU athletic department is out of its league is just not accurate, especially when a full-time writer from the Times-News has performed one interview or covered one ISU home event in the last 10 years.

It works for me, and I probably left stuff out. Still it shows what a shallow argument they presented, and honestly, they should cover a game or interview someone here before presenting an opinion like that, but sadly, that's where journalism seems to be heading sometimes. We'll see if they ever print that.

Streaking Soccer!

No, not that type of streaking, but here's a little soccer trivia for you...when was the last time the soccer team lost? Would you believe September 6? ISU has won three straight after taking down rival Utah State 1-0 in Logan, with the Bengals scoring on a corner kick (and Annamarie Hofstetter tying the Big Sky career assist record in the process), and sophomore Bailey Williams getting her first shutout of the season as well. The Bengals also have won four of the last five on the road, which is impressive, especially in light of this stat. From November 5, 2006 to August 21, 2009, ISU went 2-16-4 on the road. Two wins on the road in 1,020 days. and now they have four in the last 37. Just goofy.

Volleyball on the road again...

...which might be good as the team went 0-2 last week in their first home matches, although they played the defending regular season champions and the defending tournament champions. Now they head to the Montanas looking to get back on track, with both matches on Big Sky TV.


No, not the football team playing Eastern....the football team going to Georgia. That's a Homecoming for me, as I lived in Augusta for four years prior to coming to ISU. Interesting side note to going there...when I applied for this job, I had never been to a college football game, so I went with my wife to the Georgia-Kentucky game in the rain in 1997 just so I could say I had at least been in a college stadium. And now I get to go back...sweet.

See you all from the press box this weekend!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coach Z Will Definitely Find Out Who His Friends Are

One of my favorite songs on my I-Pod is Tracy (right) Lawrence's "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." After the debacle against Central Washington on Saturday night, Idaho State football Coach John Zamberlin is definitely finding out who his friends are this week.

The message boards lit up Sunday and Monday with diatribes on the state of ISU football. The Twin Falls Times-News was so concerned with the import of a loss to a Division II program it forgot about health care reform, Idaho's budget crisis and the war in Afghanistan long enough to editorialize in favor of ISU dropping down to Division II. (It was a shallow and misguided shot from the hip, but that is a topic for another day). And you can be sure the ISU coaching staff was busy doing damage control with potential recruits, trying to keep players who may have been interested in the Bengals from jumping ship.

The first set of folks to publicly declare they were standing behind Coach Z was a nice contingent from the Athletic Department who showed up for the coach's show Monday night at Chili's. That included Athletic Director Jeff Tingey and Bengal Basketball Coach Joe O'Brien. They know that Zamberlin and his staff have "taken two for the program," as Tingey said on our half-time interview Saturday night, by playing big money games at Arizona State and Oklahoma this year. It hadn't been announced yet Monday night, but Tingey also knew he was about to sign a contract committing Zamberlin to another killer game next year, at Georgia.

So out of that frying pan jumps Zamberlin and his Bengals into the fire of a Homecoming contest this Saturday against 17th ranked Eastern Washington, a team that is playing about as well as anybody in the Big Sky right now. The Eagles have shown they can win defensive contests (shutting out Northern Colorado, 16-0), or shootouts (56-30 over Sac State). They have discovered a new star running back, Taiwan Jones, to add to their terrific passing game featuring former Big Sky Offensive MVP Matt Nichols. They are, short of Montana, about the last team Idaho State wants to see walking down the Holt Arena ramp this week, while the returning alums conjecture about what ails the program.

Jones, who rolled up 279 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns against Sac State last week, is a good example of why the Eastern program stays competitive on a regular basis. Like former Eagle star running back Jesse Chatman, he came to the program as an academic non-qualifier and sat out a season. He got hurt early last year, then played four games at defensive back, before moving to the running back position in the spring. He's exploded on the offensive side of the football, leading the conference in rushing, averaging 8.3 yards a carry. He's also second in all-purpose yards and has scored six touchdowns. While Jones is an exception in that he's from California, Eastern lands a lot of Washington state athletes who may not qualify initially, but are willing to pay in-state tuition for a year while they get eligible. Chatman is the best, but not the only example of that.

Nichols, meanwhile, is back to the efficient playmaker who won the Offensive MVP award as a sophomore. He's completed 66 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns against only two interceptions. And he has back that great stable of receivers, but because of Jones, he hasn't had to throw the football nearly as much this year.

The Bengal defense, still hobbling from being on the field for 84 plays Saturday night against Central Washington, would love another five-turnover day like it generated against the Wildcats. Then they can only hope the extra attention Zamberlin and his staff are putting on the offense this week will cure enough of that unit's many ailments to keep the Bengals in the game. If the defense doesn't produce turnovers, Eastern has enough firepower to make it an early blowout.

Shots In the Dark

I went 3-1 last week and it felt good, even though both Weber State and Montana had to hang on by the skin of their teeth to get road wins. But that's what good teams do -- find ways to win in tough environments when they aren't playing their best football. My only misfire was picking a Northern Colorado team that is almost as ineffectual on offense as the Bengals to beat Montana State in Greeley. I'm done riding the potential of Bears RB Andre Harris, at least for this week. On to the games:

Sacramento State at Portland State: The over-under on this one should be at least 80 points. PSU has given up an average of 32 points and 419 yards a game -- and that looks good next to the Hornets' defensive numbers. Sac's opponents are averaging 44 points and 493 yards a contest. Sac's secondary doesn't have an interception in three games -- they'll get plenty of opportunities on Saturday and will probably emerge with one or two picks -- but they'll be watching the Vikings celebrate in the end zone a lot more. Sac hasn't won in Portland since 1985, and they won't break that string this year.

Montana State at Weber State: Classic matchup of a stellar defensive team that relies on a ball-control offense, and an air-it-out, let it rip offensive machine. Montana State has held opponents to just 2.5 yards per rush this year, and Wildcat running star Trevyn Smith has had only one 100-yard game this season (against the Bengals, of course). But it won't matter if the Bobcats shut down Weber's running game -- the real Cameron Higgins is back at QB for the Wildcats. After tossing seven picks against two D-1 schools to start the season, Higgins has passed for seven touchdowns and no picks in Big Sky play. He'll be the difference in Ogden, where surprisingly Weber hasn't beaten MSU since 1996, on Saturday night.

Northern Colorado at Northern Arizona: Idaho State is in the middle of a school-record road losing streak (17 and counting), but the Bears are in a worse rut, believe it or not. Northern Colorado has lost 19 straight road games and is 0-13 in its Big Sky travels. You can add one more to both those counts after Saturday. NAU QB Michael Herrick is coming off a monster game (440 yards) against Montana last week, and he won't need to play nearly that well against a Northern Colorado team that has scored just seven points in its last 127 minutes and 59 seconds of play.
--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal -- it ain't always easy (especially this week!) -- but it's always fun.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Updates from the Coach's Show

John Zamberlin talked at length on our coach's show Monday night about the steps he and his staff are taking to address the football team's issues. Here are some highlights:

Zamberlin is going to get personally involved in coaching the offensive line. The Bengal front has struggled mightily this year, with ISU averaging less than a yard per carry in the running game. Coach Z is going to try to "light a fire" under the O-line.

Freshman defensive lineman Mihn Williams is moving over to offensive guard to compete for playing time. Fellow true freshman Mark Clampitt will likely see some playing time at guard this week against Eastern Washington, as well as the H-back position he played last week against Central Washington.

The Bengals are going to simplify their punt protection schemes in order to try to break the four-game streak of having a punt blocked. Personal protector Clint Knickhrem is also expected back this week.

True freshman wide receiver Shaquille Senegal has been cleared to play for the first time this year after suffering a pre-season injury. He will likely see playing time on Saturday. Fellow freshman WR Rod Rumble is going to take some practice reps at safety and freshman RB Darrius Coleman will see practice time at the "nickle back" position in an effort to build some depth in the defensive backfield. Senior Amir Owens is still hobbled considerably by pre-season knee surgery and is only available in an emergency situation.

The Bengals will get more information on their "walking wounded" in the next couple of days, including Lance Cartwright, Isaiah Burel, Sean Rutten and Russell Hill.

Basketball Updates

A large contingent from the ISU Athletic Department showed up for the broadcast tonight in a show of support for Zamberlin. Among those attending was Bengal basketball Coach Joe O'Brien. He gave me some updates on the basketball team, including:

Bengal wing player Austin Kilpatrick (above) reinjured his surgically repaired shoulder when he fell in the shower a couple of weeks ago and grabbed the bar in an attempt to hold himself up. He'd been shooting in personal drills up to that point. O'Brien said doctors are hopeful he merely tore some scar tissue rather than reinjuring connective tissue. O'Brien will make a decision in mid-November about whether to redshirt A-K.

Forward Rolando Little is still waiting for his final transcript in order to get eligible for the season.

--Brad B.

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