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2024 FCS Top 25: No. 7 Idaho Football Preview
2024 FCS Top 25: No. 7 Idaho Football Preview

Idaho ranks No. 7 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.

The Vandals finished 9-4 last year and lost 30-22 to UAlbany in the FCS quarterfinals.

Here’s a look at the 2024 Idaho football team.


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Returning All-Conference Players 2023 (4)

Award
OL Ayden Knapik
EN Keyshawn James-Newby
DT Dallas Afalava
S Tommy McCormick

D1 Transfer portal movement

Transfers incoming from FCS (5)
Dylan Fischer (LS), Alcorn State
KJ Trujillo (DB), North Alabama
Corry Thomas Jr. (DB), Northern Iowa
Nate Thomas (RB), South Dakota
Abraham Williams (DB), Weber State

Incoming transfers from FBS (2)
Xander Echols (LS), UAB
Orion Peters (WR), Washington State

Transfers lost to FCS (1)
Murvin Kenion (DB) to Sac State

Transfers lost to the FBS (7)
Marcus Harris (DB) to Cal
Ormanie Arnold (DB) to Cincinnati
Tigana Cisse (OL) to Ohio
Gevani McCoy (QB) to Oregon State
Terez Traynor (WR) to Tulane
Xe’ree Alexander (LB) to UCF
Anthony Woods (RB) to Utah


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Offensive outlook

Idaho lost its big four from last year – First Team All-Big Sky WR Hayden Hatten and Second Team WR Jermaine Jackson to the NFL, First Team QB Gevani McCoy to Oregon State and First Team RB Anthony Woods to Utah.

The Vandals return five starters on offense, including four on the offensive line and a starting tight end Jake Cox.

There is a certain hype surrounding the redshirt sophomore Jack Laynewho is expected to lead the offense at quarterback. Layne has started two games over the past two seasons while McCoy was injured, with his most notable performance being 20/26 passing for 275 yards and six touchdowns against Idaho State last fall.

He will have an offensive line in front of him that returns four starters from last year’s young unit – 2024 Junior Ayden Knapik (6 feet 7 inches, 295 pounds), Junior Nate Azzopardi (1.88 m, 134 kg), second-year student Charlie Vliem (6’8″ 290 lbs) and sophomore Layton Vining (6’2″ 280 lbs). The young offensive line struggled at times last year, but it had one of its better games in the quarterfinals against UAlbany’s vaunted front seven. With head coach Jason Eck’s expertise on the offensive line (something South Dakota State fans will say helped the Jacks reach a national title), Idaho looks to take a big step forward in the trenches this year.

With one of the most talented groups of qualified players in the FCS, the biggest questions for Idaho now are the running back and wide receiver positions.

In the backfield, Elisa Cummings is back after missing last season. He ran for 815 yards and five touchdowns in 2021 and 2022. Idaho has also added transfer RB Nate Thomas from South Dakota. Thomas ran for 717 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman in 2021, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He missed 2022 due to injury. Last year at USD, Thomas had few runs, running for 398 yards and five TDs on just 64 attempts.

Outside, Jordan Dwyer appears to be emerging as the target of choice after recording 20 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns last season. Orion Peters is another name to keep an eye on at wide receiver, a transfer from Washington State who was a three-star recruit in high school.

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Defensive outlook

Idaho returns eight starters on defense after allowing 22.1 points per game (28th in the FCS). The Vandals showed strong depth last year, and 13 of their 18 players who played at least 250 snaps are back, including 10 of their top 15 tacklers.

The top seven have a chance to become one of the better units in the FCS as they return 10 of 14 players from the 2023 roster, including all four starters on the D-line.

Defensive end Keyshawn James-Newby (1.88 m, 107 kg) and defensive tackle Dallas Afalava (6’1″ 274 lbs) were named All-Big Sky selections last year and are among the best at their positions in the FCS entering this season. Afalava recorded 26 tackles, eight TFLs and five sacks, ranking as the No. 7 FCS interior defender by PFF. James-Newby ranked just inside the top 30 FCS edge defenders at PFF with 38 total tackles, seven TFLs, five sacks and five QB hurries.

Inside the DL, returnees Aamarii Note (6’3″ 278 lbs) and Jahkari Larmond (6’2″, 315 lbs.) actually played more snaps than the All-Big Sky Afalava. Notice had 26 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and five QB hurries. Larmond totaled 22 tackles and 1.5 TFLs.

Sam Brown (6’2″ 250 lbs) and Malakai Williams (6’5″ 226 lbs) are back at DE along with James-Newby, two guys who played between 300 and 400 snaps last year.

Mathias Bertram leads the linebackers after finishing fourth on the team last year with 56 tackles, including seven TFLs and five pass breakups. Jaxton Eck performed great as a true freshman last year, totaling 37 tackles (seventh on the team) and three TFLs. Dylan Layne was another first-year quarterback with a lot of reps, recording 35 tackles, four TFLs, one interception and seven pass breakups.

Of the nine players listed above as part of Idaho’s starting seven, six were freshmen or sophomores last year, a promising sign for the future.

Idaho lost its two best cornerbacks from last season to the FBS – Marcus Harris to Cal and Ormanie Arnold to Cincinnati. However, the Vandals will have plenty of experience at safety and bring back the All-Conference selection. Tommy McCormick, Kyrin BeachemAnd Dwayne McDougle. McCormick’s 62 tackles were third-best on his team. Beachem finished with 27 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups. McDougle had 29 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups.

The Vandals will consider some FCS transfers to fill the void at the cornerback position.

KJ Trujillo comes from North Alabama. In two seasons there he had 40 tackles, one interception and 10 passes defended. Transfer from Northern Iowa Corry Thomas Jr. was among PFF’s top 30 FCS cornerbacks last season with a total of 44 tackles and two interceptions. And Abraham Williams was a great start from Weber State.

Williams had 33 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups last season. But he is best known for his brilliance on special teams. Williams is an elite returner. In 2022, he averaged an incredible 37.4 yards per kick return, returning 24 kicks for 898 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, he averaged 29.7 yards per return on 18 attempts for 535 yards and another score. Williams’ five career 100-yard KR touchdowns are the most in FCS history.

2024 Preseason Preview Central

31.8. in Oregon
9/7 in Wyoming
14.9. against No. 15 UAlbany
September 21 at Abilene Christian
28.9. at No. 21 UC Davis
10/5 against Northern Arizona
10/12 at No. 4 Montana State
19.10. against Cal Poly
26.10. against Eastern Washington
9.11. at Portland State
16.11. against No. 22 Weber State
23.11. at Idaho State

Bold means Big Sky Games
HERO Sports Ranking

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