Two years ago, the Idaho State football team went 8-4 and had a chance at the FCS playoffs.
After two straight 2-9 seasons, that seems like an eternity ago as the Bengals have now only won four games in the last two seasons.
ISU started 2016 much like it started 2015, with a blowout win over a Division II school – 2015 vs. Black Hills State and 2016 against Simon Fraser.
2016, like 2015, looked promising in the early stages.
And then the season turned south.
The Bengals played two Pac-12 schools on the road, one of which (Colorado) is going to finish the season ranked in the top ten and play for a Pac-12 championship this weekend.
“It is pretty obvious, you play two Pac-12 schools back-to-back, you are going to spill, and we spilled it,” Head Coach Mike Kramer said. “You can’t ask any team to do that.”
ISU made $900,000 from playing Oregon State and Colorado.
In the Kramer era, ISU has played 12 money games in six years, losing those 12 games by a combined score of 658-121.
“If you look at the six years that I have been the head coach here, you will realize what the cost is to our ability to win,” Kramer said. “Let alone the ability to get the cash.”
ISU won its conference opener against Sacramento State, but that would be the last game it would win all season, as the Bengals were outscored 321-164 the rest of the season, losing five games by 18 or more points, finishing last in the conference with a 1-7 record in conference play.
The 2016 Bengals, much like the 2015 Bengals, were riddled with injuries.
The 2015 Bengals lost two of the top three leading tacklers from the previous season in Mario Jenkins and Taison Manu.
The 2016 Bengals were wounded on the offensive front all season, forcing to start younger players that otherwise wouldn’t have.
The only offensive lineman to have started all eleven games at one position was true freshman Dallen Collins at center.
Chase Collins, who was supposed to be the starting left tackle coming into the season, did not make a single start due to injury.
Skyler Phillips, who moved from right to left tackle when Collins went down, started four games before he was lost for the season.
Brian Fineanganofo, who finished the season as a Big Sky Honorable Mention, sat out the first four games of the season.
Thomas Vazorka started the first two games at left guard, moved to right guard when Jacob Molenaar came off of his injury, moved to right tackle when Cody Abbott came back, moved back to right guard when Abbott went down again and then missed the last two games because of his injury.
Nine different Bengals started at five positions over the course of eleven games on the offensive line.
“The one great thing about it is we have so many great players coming back,” Kramer said. “We have to not get unlucky, we have to not get so beat up.”
The good news for ISU is this year’s team was young.
Quarterback Tanner Gueller was a redshirt sophomore, linebacker Mario Jenkins was honored Second Team All-Big Sky as a redshirt junior, defensive back Anthony Ricks started all eleven games at left corner as a redshirt sophomore and Joe Martin started all eleven games as a redshirt sophomore at linebacker.
Michael Dean did not start any games, but proved to be a viable weapon as both a running back and slot receiver with his break-away speed, scoring a 91-yards touchdown in a home game against Sacramento State, the longest play in the Mike Kramer era.
Mitch Gueller, Tanner’s older brother, caught 10 passes for 187 yards in ISU’s final game of the season as a true freshman and redshirt sophomore Tate Razor came off the bench and sacked Weber State quarterback Jadrian Clark three times.
The 2017 Bengals will look a lot like the 2016 Bengals, few key pieces are lost.
Wide receiver KW Williams, tight end Josh Cook, running back Jakori Ford, linebacker Hayden Stout, defensive lineman Nikko Taylor and safety Taison Manu are the most notable losses.
“The team that can win is here,” Kramer said. “We are on-site. We have very few scholarships to offer.”