Idaho Vandals

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is seen during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Dennis Erickson to retire, co-OC won’t be retained by Utah

CORVALLIS, OR - OCTOBER 15:  Head Coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes calls a play against the the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Corvallis, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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It appears Utah will be moving in a new direction on the offensive side of the ball.

The Utes announced Friday afternoon that assistant head coach/running backs coach Dennis Erickson has decided to step away from the game and retire from the sport.  Additionally, co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick will not be retained by head coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Both Dennis and Aaron have been instrumental to the success of our program and we appreciate their contributions,” said Whittingham in a statement. “Dennis is one of the most respected coaches in the history of college football and the opportunity to work side by side with him and learn from him has been an invaluable experience. Aaron has been an incredibly loyal member of our staff for many years and has been an integral part of this program’s growth.”

Erickson had spent the past four seasons with the Utes as an assistant on Whittingham’s staff.  Prior to that, the 69-year-old had been a head coach for the previous three decades, with collegiate stops at Idaho (1982-85, 2006), Wyoming (1986), Washington State (1987-88), Miami (1989-94), Oregon State (1999-2002) and Arizona State (2007-11).  He won a pair of national championships with the Hurricanes.

There were also two NFL stops as a head coach, with the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98 and the San Francisco 49ers from 2003-04.

Roderick, who played his college football at BYU, had served as a Utah assistant since 2005.  During his time with the Utes, Roderick had been a receivers coach (2005-13), quarterbacks coach (2014-16), passing-game coordinator (2012-13) and co-offensive coordinator (2010, 2015-16).

Idaho QB Matt Linehan apologizes for comments about “tone deaf” Idaho president

BOISE, ID - DECEMBER 22: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP quarterback Matt Linehan #10 of the Idaho Vandals at the conclusion of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on December 22, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Idaho won the game 61-50. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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Idaho had a smashing end to their 2016 season with a high-scoring 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the Potato Bowl in Boise on Thursday night. After the game, the emotions of winning a game against a Mountain West Conference opponent ran wild from the Idaho football program, and that moment of victory may have gotten the best of Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan. Linehan fired off a shot at university president Chuck Staben and the school’s decision to drop from the FBS ranks in 2018.

“We belong in FBS period. That’s what I believe, that’s what everyone believes,” Linehan said. “We know we can compete, we belong here. No matter what anyone thinks, even our tone deaf president. Maybe he doesn’t think we belong here, but I think we belong here.”

Asked about those strong words in the postgame press conference by Michael Katz of The Idaho Statesman, Linehan was quick to apologize for his comments.

Idaho is scheduled to become the first football program to drop from the FBS down to the FCS in 2018. The Vandals, along with New Mexico State, will play one more year in the Sun Belt Conference before moving into the Big Sky Conference in 2018.

Idaho caps off turnaround season with high-scoring win in Potato Bowl

Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan (10) runs the ball against Colorado State linebacker Max McDonald (31) during the first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl NCAA college football game in Boise, Idaho, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
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Idaho hasn’t reached the postseason much over the years but when they do, they win in Boise.

The Vandals capped off a remarkable turnaround season and tied a school-record for wins by thumping Colorado State 61-50 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to move to 3-0 in bowl games as an FBS program.

After a slow start in the first quarter that was dominated by punting from both teams, the Rams were the ones who struck first when wideout Olabisi Johnson found the end zone from 52 yards out.

It appeared as though that was enough to jump start Idaho, which promptly ran off 41 points in a row to take control of the game and end much doubt about who was more motivated to play in this one. Isaiah Saunders led the way on the ground for the Vandals with 147 yards and three scores while quarterback Matt Linehan really came on after halftime and finished with 381 yards and four touchdowns.

CSU did get something going late in the fourth quarter but by that time it was too late to make things interesting as they lost for the second time this year on the blue turf that Boise State typically calls home. Nick Stevens did throw for 445 yards and five touchdowns (with two picks) and was a potent combination on deep balls with Johnson, who had 265 yards and two touchdowns for the game. Michael Gallup chipped in with another three scores and had over 100 yards receiving as well.

But the night belonged to the Vandals, as they went from one of the postseason’s biggest underdogs this year to one of the biggest early winners. With an FCS move looming in 2018, racking up 606 yards of offense and limiting an explosive offense for most of Thursday night isn’t a bad way to close out one of the more impressive seasons at the Group of Five level.

Idaho holds the lead at halftime in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

BOISE, ID - DECEMBER 22: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP and team championship trophies on display at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between the Utah State Aggies and the Akron Zips on December 22, 2015 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Akron won the game 23-21. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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Punts and potatoes made up the bulk of what happened in the first quarter at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl but things picked up considerably after that as Idaho held a surprising 20-7 lead over Colorado State at halftime on Thursday.

The Rams kicked off scoring early in the second quarter as signal-caller Nick Stevens found Olabisi Johnson from 52 yards out for a long touchdown pass that capped an 84 yard drive and injected some life into the game.

But the Vandals would respond in impressive fashion, mounting three straight scoring drives of over 60 yards — the first two of which took just nine plays combined. Running back Isaiah Saunders did the bulk of the damage, finding the end zone from two yards out the first time (the extra point was missed) and then from 26 out the second time.

Saunders finished the half with 77 yards on the ground while his quarterback Matt Linehan managed to rack up 157 yards and a touchdown through the air after a slow start.

While it was not the sharpest of starts for either team, both seemed to get going before the whistle and that could make for a fun second half up in Boise.