POCATELLO — Western Colorado comes into Thursday’s game at Idaho State, the season opener for both teams, as the 10th-placed team out of 11 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll.
The Mountaineers are coming off a 2-9 season that included a 45-10 loss to the Bengals.
Of the six Mountaineers who earned honorable mention all-RMAC nods in 2018, just two return.
And yet, Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie insists that the Bengals aren’t taking their inaugural 2019 opponent lightly.
“They’re gonna come in here and play extremely hard,” Phenicie said about the Division II Mountaineers. “It’s not a gimme by any stretch of the imagination, we have to go out and play well. If we don’t play well, things aren’t going to go our way.”
The game kicks off Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Holt Arena.
Despite Phenicie’s dire pronouncement, it should be a season-opening celebration for the Bengals.
Idaho State led last year’s contest 31-3 at halftime, and outgained Western Colorado 479 to 135.
The Mountaineers do have some talent on defense, where linebackers Lane Farris and Robert Garlock both return.
Ferris led the team with 92 tackles and Garlock added 76. They also have Desmond Marfizo, who led Western against Idaho State with 13 tackles.
The secondary also had a relatively good game, holding Tanner Gueller to 17-for-27 passing and intercepting him once.
Dominick Fletcher, who had the interception, also returns.
“They gave us a lot of problems with what they do,” Phenicie said. “Defensively, they have a very strong linebacking corps. You definitely have to account for those guys. On the back end they have three DBs, one’s their nickel safety that comes in, but they have three solid (defensive backs) that each had several interceptions last year and a cornerback (Fletcher), big, tall, rangy kid that gave us some problems last year.”
The other slight concern for Idaho State is that Western Colorado has a new offensive coordinator, which makes the tape from last year less predictive.
The Mountaineers hired Ryan McFadden away from Humboldt State in February.
He’ll split playcalling duties with co-offensive coordinator Joe McLain this year. The new situation makes it difficult for the Bengals to prep for what they’re going to see.
“We really don’t know what to prepare for,” Phenicie said. “We can look at their depth chart and kind of guess, but that’s probably the biggest unknown, is what they’re doing on offense.”
Despite that, it should be nothing more than a season-opening tuneup for Idaho State.
The Bengals’ depth chart, released Monday, showed that they got through fall camp pretty much unscathed in terms of injuries, with no unexpected names missing.
And regardless of the quality of their opponent, every season has to start somewhere.
“I can’t even explain it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world, being able to play against an opponent,” senior wide receiver Michael Dean said. “Those guys have been training their whole life to play us, and we’ve been training, so it’s just exciting having that adrenaline, that feeling of going out versus other guys.”