I am all for tough out-of-conference schedules, but there is something about this week that feels rather refreshing. Perhaps it is that the California Golden Bears are 80%+ S&P+ favorites in a game at home or that the Bears managed to walk away from two tough games 2–0, but I find myself ready to see the Idaho State Bengals come to town. The Bengals come by way of the Big Sky conference and are the first FCS opponent Cal will see since Weber State last fall.
The Bengals have struggled in recent years, finishing dead last in 2016 and 4–7 just a year ago. Just two weeks ago, the school fired their athletic director and the Bengals only saw a crowd of 5,000 fans attend their home opener. Things haven’t exactly been going to plan.
Yet the 2018 season started with a win over Western State and the Bengals offense dropped 45 points on their Division II opponent. That improvement under a new coaching staff gives Idaho State fans at least a few things to look forward to coming into Saturday.
Five Ridiculously Fun Facts about the Idaho State Bengals
The head coach of the Bengals is Rob Phenicie, who played football at Nebraska and Memphis during the 1980s. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach under previous Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer. He actually left the program last season for a position with Northern Iowa, but a week later Kramer retired and Phenicie was pegged as his replacement. Phenicie has had several stops in his career including leading the UNLV offense in the beginning of the decade and being a graduate assistant at UCLA.
Jared Allen is without a doubt the best player to ever don an Idaho State jersey. Allen was an absolute force at nearly every stop of his NFL career and a constant reminder to teams that despite all the prepping you can do, you will still miss on a few elite players in every draft. A little known fact is that Jared Allen was also potentially one of the best bar fighters in Idaho State history; he was reportedly arrested multiple times in college due to his “keen bar fighting skills”.
One of the better known football personalities on ESPN actually grew up in Pocatello, Idaho and went on to play football at Idaho State. He starred as a running back earning All-Conference honors three times during his tenure with the Bengals. Hoge is now working for Your Call football league where fans call plays in real time during live games. Put on your thinking caps, Cal fans—your chance to take over for Beau Baldwin may not be as far away as you once thought!
Idaho State University is located in beautiful Pocatello, which is about three and a half hours east of Boise. Pocatello was a very happy town and they felt strongly about keeping it that way—so strongly that they actually created a law making it illegal not to smile. Every year, the city holds a smile festival to remember the importance of smiling and I cannot wait to attend this myself.
Cal vs Idaho State History
This is the first time in history that Cal and Idaho State have played on a football field. Cal is 6–0 vs Big Sky opponents (which might have to do with why they keep scheduling them) and 9–0 lifetime against FCS opponents.
What to Expect come Saturday
Going back to 2010 when head coach Rob Phenicie was offensive coordinator with UNLV, the offense ranked 82nd in S&P+ averaging 24.4 points per game. In 2011, the offense regressed even further, crossing the not-glorious threshold of ranking in the 100s. The offense would finish averaging 21.2 points per game, good for 103rd in S&P+. The offense itself featured a run-heavy approach, leaning on the ground game at nearly a 2:1 clip. A lot can change in eight years, but in the first game of the season, the Bengals relied heavily on running back James Madison for the vast majority of their production. While this was very successful against Western State, Madison will have a much tougher opponent on Saturday.
I expect Idaho State to find themselves in a fairly unfortunate position come Saturday. Defense is certainly not a hallmark for Phenicie as he has consistently held offensive coaching positions throughout his career. The run-first approach will also find itself with a tough match-up given the Cal’s ability to completely shut down BYU’s rushing attack last week. I expect the Bears to bottle this offense up rather handedly and try to force Idaho State to go to the air early.
It should be a great day in Berkeley and it is always great to be a part of history.