THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Vandals could make it a clean sweep for area college football teams

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Bowl games for two teams and berths in the FCS playoffs for the other two?

That’s not out of the question for area college football teams Idaho, Washington State, Boise State and Eastern Washington.

The above-mentioned accomplishments are a lock for three of the four teams.

It’s up to the Vandals to make it 4 for 4.

Lacking a crystal ball in the office, we gazed at a not-so-crystal Mountain Dew can, and this is how we see the seasons of those four schools playing out:

• Idaho: The Vandals, 4-7 last season, struggled defensively in Big Sky play against teams with big-play capabilities — UC Davis, Idaho State, Eastern Washington and Montana all took Idaho to the woodshed.

The Vandals say they have addressed those problems. Idaho also says it should be able to make more plays on offense, something that was also lacking in 2018.

We’ll see.

Just to be optimistic, we’ll say they are indeed better in those two areas.

The schedule should help, too. Idaho doesn’t play the teams picked to finish 1-2 in the Sky in league play. The Vandals play Eastern Washington, the conference favorite, but the game doesn’t count in the league standings.

Idaho is home vs. Weber State, which is picked to finish third. And the Vandals don’t play Montana State either, which as a regional matchup is just too bad.

Idaho is picked to finish eighth by the coaches and the media in the 13-team league.

Let’s say the Vandals beat the four teams picked to finish below them in the Big Sky — Cal Poly (9), Portland State (10), Sacramento State (11) and Northern Colorado (13).

That means Idaho will have to beat at least one of the four teams picked to finish above the Vandals — Weber, Montana (4), Northern Arizona (6) and Idaho State (7) — to have a shot at the FCS playoffs.

Best bets might be ISU at home, or at NAU in the final game of the regular season.

We’ll say UI finishes 5-3 in league, 6-6 overall.

If that’s enough to put Idaho in the postseason, great.

If not, it’s still a step up from last season.

• Washington State: The Cougars’ rise in recent years has coincided with the decline of some of the Pac-12s elite programs — USC, Oregon, Stanford to a degree. One of these years, WSU will beat the Huskies and win the Pac-12 North.

The reports that Anthony Gordon has earned the starting quarterback job in Pullman have to be encouraging to other QBs who have spent a few years in the WSU program — they won’t necessarily be usurped by the annual Grad Transfer of the Year at that position.

WSU should have two cakewalks (over New Mexico and Northern Colorado) before playing an arena football game at Houston on a Friday night.

The Cougs will be tested on the road with games at Utah (Sept. 21), Arizona State (Sept. 28) and Oregon (Oct. 26), in addition to the Apple Cup.

We’ll say WSU goes 10-2, finally breaking through with a win over the Huskies.

• Boise State: The Broncos would have preferred to keep QB Brett Rypien around for the rest of his life, but NCAA rules only allow for four years of college football.

With Rypien now trying to make it in the NFL, Boise State has turned to true freshman Hank Bachmeier as its quarterback.

His college debut will be Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., against the artist formerly known as Florida State. The Seminoles went a very-unlike-FSU 5-7 last season under nomadic coach Willie Taggart, who kept the motor running in Eugene for a season before returning to the Sunshine State last year.

In the time it takes FSU fans to figure out that Boise is not a state, the Broncos could be on their way to a surprising win.

Two things usually happen to Boise State these days — the Broncos stumble somewhere along the conference trail, but they also make it to the conference title game. Where will this year’s hiccup be? Perhaps at Utah State in the next-to-last week of the regular season?

In any event, Boise State figures to head to another conference title game with a 10-2 record.

• Eastern Washington: Not that the Eags needed any breaks with the conference schedule.

The three “toughest” opponents for Eastern this year are Montana (picked fourth), Northern Arizona (6) and Idaho State (7). The Montana and ISU games are on the road.

Eastern plays the same conference teams Idaho plays, with one exception — Idaho plays Weber State, while the Eags play former Big Sky member North Dakota in a game that counts in the conference standings.

EWU coach Aaron Best likes the “dynamic” Eric Barriere at quarterback, but is hoping to reign in the “turnover-prone” Barriere at QB.

The Eags play just five games at home, and the home schedule is underwhelming — Lindenwood, North Dakota, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona and Portland State.

However, EWU should roll through the conference with an 11-1 regular season (or a perfect record if the Eags upset the Huskies in the opener) and could have three home games before reaching the FCS title game.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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