When the 2010 Husker football schedule was announced, all fans could do was groan. South Dakota State had just moved to division 1-AA. Western Kentucky was in the process of moving to division 1-A, Washington (which seemed to be falling off the map in the Pac-10), and Idaho. At that time, Idaho was a perennial bottom-feeder in the WAC going 1-11 in 2007. That was coach Robb Akey's initial season in Moscow, and was also the bottom. In 2008, they won two games...then last season, they busted out and won eight games, earning a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl on the Blue Turf in Boise.
The Vandals are led by quarterback Nathan Enderle, a graduate of North Platte High. After Josh Freeman decommitted, Bill Callahan asked Enderle to come to Nebraska, but Enderle had already committed to Idaho. In fact, he enrolled a few weeks later in the spring of 2006, earning the starting quarterback job as a redshirt freshman. Enderle enjoyed a breakout season in 2009, finishing fifth nationally in passing efficiency (157.28). Blame Enderle for missing the start of the Holiday Bowl, as Enderle led the Vandals down the field in the final 34 seconds of the Humanitarian Bowl for the winning score.
So what's the problem? The Vandals lost four out of five offensive linemen, including Mike Iupati, who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Only left tackle Mike Cleveland returns...meaning that the rushing game that set up Enderle and the passing game is going to be sorely tested. Matt Hayes of the Sporting News says the Vandals offensive line has "more questions than bodies"...never a good thing. Especially with Jared Crick hoping to launch Enderle halfway home to North Platte...
Defensively, the Vandals return 10 starters from a defense that gave up 36 points a game last season. Nevada hung 70 on them and Boise State scored 63. Almost, but not quite, Cosgrovian numbers there. They return all of the front seven on defense. Safety Shiloh Keo led the Vandals with 113 tackles and three interceptions.
If the Vandals can find an offensive line, they'll have a shot at another bowl game in 2009, especially if the defense finds a way to improve a little bit. The matchup in Lincoln is going to be much more competitive than it looked a year ago, but if Nebraska plays the way they should, Nebraska should win this game handily. Certainly this group of receivers will give the Huskers a great test.
For more on the Vandals, see the Mountain West Connection's preview of Idaho.