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Vandals working toward return to FCS, Big Sky

From FOX Sports - February 15, 2018

(STATS)Two particular trophies sitting inside a display case at the Idaho Vandal Athletic Hall of Fame seem to be shining brighter this year.

The Walter Payton Awards won by quarterbacks John Friesz and Doug Nussmeier in 1989 and 93, respectively, are surely drawing extra interest in the display that overlooks the Kibbie Dome weight room and sits just outside football coach Paul Petrinos office.

Idaho is stepping back to its football past to move forward into what the Vandals hope is a brighter future. After 22 seasons on the FBS level, they are returning to the FCS and the Big Sky, where they played as a founding member from 1963-95, winning eight conference titles and making 11 appearances in the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs. During that heyday, Friesz and Nussmeier captured the Payton as the national player of the year.

I think the attitude of our team right now is excellent, said Petrino, whos now in his sixth season. I think all our guys are working their tails off and are excited and are moving forward. Were going to go try to win the Big Sky.

The drop in Division I affiliation was met with disappointment in the Vandals program when the school administration announced the move in April 2016. Yet they often played in Boise States shadow and posted a mere 86-174 (.331) record on the FBS level. After having their associate membership in the Sun Belt Conference terminated after the 2017 season, which created the difficult prospect of playing as an independent, the decision was looked upon as being fiscally responsible.

Its debated nationally whether others schools will make such a drop, but what the Vandals are more concerned with is restoring their program to a winning level. Most of the other sports at the Moscow, Idaho, school returned to the Big Sky in 2014.

My job is to control what I can control, be the best coach I can and make sure our guys graduate, Petrino said. Two years ago, thats when we found out we were being kicked out of the (Sun Belt), thats when we found out we were moving down. We didnt talk about it, we didnt worry about it, we worried about winning games.

Now that we know exactly where were going to be, then thats what we worry about. So were 100 percent moving forward, fired up about it and (will) go try to get it done.

Petrino, the 50-year-old younger brother of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, grew up in Montana and is well-versed in Big Sky history. He was an assistant at Idaho from 1992-94, with the Vandals winning the conference title in the first season and Nussmeier the Payton in the second.

The Vandals return to the Big Sky recreates rivalries with such schools as Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and Idaho State, and introduces new ones. Geographically, it makes more sense than playing in a Sun Belt that stretches east to Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

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