THE FRONT ROW with Mark Nelke Aug. 25, 2013

How area college teams might fare

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Loaded with optimism - with hopefully a little reality sprinkled in - here's a look on how football teams at Idaho, Washington State, Boise State and Eastern Washington could do this fall:

Idaho: How do you balance the optimism and pedigree of a new coach, a home-grown quarterback and a couple new playmakers as recruits with the fact this team won just three games combined the past two years?

Though it's very possible the Vandals could flirt with the six wins needed to qualify for a bowl berth, we're going to be conservative and say they go 4-8 - which would be a heckuva step up from 2-10 and 1-11 the last two years.

There are fewer "sure loss" games on the schedule. Florida State, Ole Miss and, to a lesser extent, WSU are the "money" games. But there others are there for the taking, and the Vandals should be able to pick off a few of them.

And in their losses, if they play well (like last year vs. Wyoming), that can almost be considered a victory of sorts. But they need to avoid the embarrassing, one-sided losses of recent years.

Washington State: A record better than 3-9 was expected out of the Cougars last year, after bringing in highly-touted coach Mike Leach.

But progress sometimes comes in small steps, and WSU was competitive in losses to Oregon State, Cal, Stanford and UCLA. The win in the Apple Cup stopped much of the bleeding.

This year, if the Cougs win their opener at Auburn, they could be 3-1 heading into their final eight Pac-12 games. If that happens, a bowl game could be a possibility, and it could come down to having to win the Apple Cup in Seattle.

We'll say the Cougs go 5-7, come up just short of a bowl.

(But say WSU does go 6-6, with a win over Idaho, and the Vandals end up 5-7. That would mean the WSU-Idaho game was essentially a bowl play-in game.)

Boise State: There doesn't seem to be as much buzz about the Broncos this year, though it's conceivable they could run the table this year.

It's almost like people forgot about BSU after it lost to Michigan State in the season opener. The Broncos even lost on their hallowed blue turf, to San Diego State.

I think Boise State goes 11-1 this year, but I'm not sure which game the Broncos lose. Is it at Washington, in the season opener? Or do they slip up once in Big East -- oh, that's right, they're still in the Mountain West -- play? Or fall at BYU?

I would be more impressed with Washington, if it could win its first game in the remodeled Husky Stadium, because I think Boise fans will descend upon Seattle in droves (good luck with that traffic, Bronco fans), and BSU is coming off a win over U-Dub in their bowl game last year.

Eastern Washington: The Eagles' quarterback is back, but the top three receivers are gone. Still, Beau Baldwin has built the Eagle program into a perennial title contender in the Football Championship Subdivision.

EWU went 11-3 last year, losing at home to Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals. The Eags will be tested in three of their four nonconference games this year -- at Oregon State, at Toledo and at Sam Houston State.

EWU played Washington and Washington State tough the past two years, so a win at Oregon State would not be all that surprising. I don't know if they can win all three of those nonconference games on the road but if they do, obviously expectations increase.

I'll say the Eags go 9-3 this year and make a return trip to the FCS playoffs.

Mark Nelke is the sports editor of the Coeur d'Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at 664-8176, Ext. 2019 or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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