Kragthorpe: Utes, Aggies make Idaho State’s schedule daunting
Mike Kramer knows the history that relates to his Idaho State football team’s immediate future.
One hundred forty points.
Opening the season, the Bengals are biting off the same scheduling sequence that resulted in Weber State’s allowing 70 points each to Utah and Utah State last September. Kramer’s description of those games: "Godawful."
He said so in an interview during the Big Sky Football Kickoff event this week — in a hotel meeting room occupied by the new Weber State coach (Jay Hill), who’s tasked with facing Arizona State in August, and the old Wildcat coach (Jody Sears, now Sacramento State’s interim coach), who absorbed those defeats.
If they lose at Utah and Utah State to begin the 2014 season, the Idaho State Bengals will have lost to all five Division I schools in Utah in a 45-week period, having fallen to Southern Utah, BYU and Weber State last year. However, the Bengals beat Division II Dixie State last September.
Praise for ex-Utes
Idaho State coach Mike Kramer raves about two of his defensive coaches, former Ute stars Spencer Toone and Steve Fifita. “I’m a little depressed for them that they chose college coaching,” he said, laughing, “because who knows what they could have become? They’ve both cost themselves millions financially, because they could be successful in anything they do.”
Fifita is “totally accomplished, totally understated, totally respected, totally on top of his game,” Kramer said. “He’s one of the finest defensive coaches I’ve ever known.”
Among the reasons Kramer made Toone his co-defensive coordinator is Toone’s experience with ex-USU coach Gary Andersen’s staff. “They are probably the most-copied defense in the nation,” Kramer said. “We’ll try to run the exact same defense. We just don’t have Kyler Fackrell playing for us. Nobody else does, either. He’s a phenomenal player.”
This is not new territory for Idaho State. In Kramer’s first three seasons, the Bengals visited BYU twice and Washington State, Air Force, Nebraska and Washington once each. ISU previously played Arizona State and Oklahoma in the same season, always collecting nice checks and cooperating on the scoreboard.
"We definitely, from a competitive point of view, never need to play these games," Kramer said. "We’re not ready yet on defense — a couple of years from now, yes. But not yet."
Even so, now comes this two-game swing to Rice-Eccles Stadium, "one of the coolest venues in all of college football," Kramer said, and Romney Stadium, which is "not as intimidating."
The teams themselves? Comparable, by Kramer’s account, based on his summer’s film study. Personally, I would suggest that Utah and USU fans not base their self-esteem on which team is the first to hit 50 points vs. Idaho State. There will be much more significant gauges to come in 2014.
Kramer’s compliments to USU are not any kind of slight to the Utes, who will need no motivational material in their effort to make a good impression in offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s first game. With that disclaimer, here’s what he said about the Aggies: "They might have a better collection of individual players than either Utah or BYU this year."
In any case, ISU’s players won’t be overwhelmed as they prepare for Utah and USU. "All of our guys think they can play [for] Utah," Kramer said, laughing. "Really, that’s the cool part of coaching 18-to-22-year-olds. They don’t have any ideas about their vulnerabilities. As a coach, you look at it with terrible trepidation."
Formerly a longtime Utah assistant, Hill now is on the other side of the FCS vs. FBS games. With the Utes, he said, "We didn’t want the games to be close, and we wanted to get better."
Last September’s meeting with Weber State was not close — 49-0 at the half, 70-7 at the end. The Wildcats then lost 70-6 at USU. Sears, who was fired after a 2-10 season, never sensed a long-term negative impact of those beatings on a young team, though. "That was one thing that I have no regrets over," he said. "The players hung together; nobody fractured. … That’s going to affect you, but welcome to the real world."
A year later, Hill somehow must convince the Wildcats they can hang with Arizona State. "They’re not going to be so outmanned that it’s going to be 70-0, like last year," he said. "They’ve got to go down there with some confidence that if they stick with our scheme and they do what we’re asking them to do, that they’re going to give ’em a game. I know we can give ’em a game."
Kramer’s goal in visiting Utah and USU is just to be reasonably competitive for a while. "What we want to try to accomplish this year is to show the rise in the program and be within range at halftime," he said. "That will be beneficial."
Bengals vs. big boys
Idaho State’s losses to FBS teams in the past five seasons:
Year Opponent Score
2009 Arizona State 50-3
2009 Oklahoma 64-0
2010 Utah State 38-17
2010 Georgia 55-7
2011 Washington State 64-21
2011 BYU 56-3
2012 Air Force 49-21
2012 Nebraska 73-7
2013 Washington 56-0
2013 BYU 59-13
Big Sky vs. Pac-12 in 2014
Aug. 28 » Idaho State at Utah; Weber State at Arizona State.
Aug. 30 » UC Davis at Stanford; Portland State at Oregon State.
Sept. 6 » Sacramento State at California; Eastern Washington at Washington.
Sept. 13 » Portland State at Washington State.
Big Sky vs. Mountain West in 2014
Aug. 28 » North Dakota at San Jose State
Aug. 30 » Montana at Wyoming; Southern Utah at Nevada; Northern Arizona at San Diego State.
Sept. 6 » Idaho State at Utah State; Northern Colorado at Utah State.
Sept. 13 » UC Davis at Colorado State.
Sept. 20 » Southern Utah at Fresno State.