Philadelphia, PA – For the 2013 season, there will be half a dozen Independents in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Long-time lone wolves Army, Navy and Notre Dame were joined last year by BYU, and this season, former Western Athletic Conference members Idaho and New Mexico State enter the fray.
The WAC, which recently ceased to exist as a football league after 50 years of operation, was ushered into extinction thanks to the greed and power-mongering evident in the unprecedented shake-up that has transformed the college football landscape over the last few years.
With both slated to join the Sun Belt Conference in 2014, the Vandals and Aggies will spend this one season battling with their fellow Independents for national attention, although wrestling it away from the Fighting Irish will be impossible, and from the Cougars nearly as futile.
Still, there is an air of excitement in both Moscow and Las Cruces, respectively, as both teams get set to embark on an exciting new adventure.
Idaho is not only setting a new course in terms of its status among other FBS programs, but also in that a new coach was recently hired in Paul Petrino. The 33rd head coach in school history, Petrino was an assistant at Idaho from 1992-94, and he has also served on the staffs at Utah State, Louisville, Southern Miss and Arkansas, as well as one season with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. He is the brother of current Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino, and while he knows that competing against the teams his will face this season during an all-non-conference schedule won't be easy, he is thrilled at the opportunity.
"I'm very excited," Petrino said. "It's a dream come true. I've wanted to be a head coach my whole life."
Idaho Director of Athletics Rob Spear is equally ecstatic about Petrino's arrival.
"Paul has coached college football at the highest level and brings the coaching experience, energy, toughness and commitment to developing the entire student-athlete at the University of Idaho," Spear said. "He has an outstanding coaching pedigree and is known as one of most creative offensive minds in the country, which will bring an exciting brand of football to the University of Idaho."
As one of the least-heralded schools in the country, at least with respect to success on the gridiron, Idaho has been to only two bowl games in its history -- both wins in the 1998 and 2009 Humanitarian Bowls.
Since making the transition from I-AA to I-A full-time in 1997, the Vandals have won only one conference championship (1998) and they are coming off a season in which they went a dismal 1-11. Petrino's club will try to snap a six-game losing streak when it opens the 2013 campaign at North Texas on Aug. 31.
New Mexico State is also looking to the future with a new head coach steering the ship, as Doug Martin recently became the 34th leader of the Aggies football program, replacing the departed DeWayne Walker. Martin previously served as NMSU's offensive coordinator in 2011, and was Kent State's head coach from 2004-10. He spent the 2012 season at Boston College.
New Mexico State Athletics Director Dr. McKinley Boston spoke glowingly about his new coach earlier this year.
"Obviously with the resignation of Coach DeWayne Walker, we engaged in a search process for a new head coach, interviewing four candidates including Doug Martin. After that process the committee and I felt strongly that Doug would fit well as the Aggies' next head coach," Boston said. "Doug's familiarity with Las Cruces, his desire to come back to Las Cruces, the overwhelming support of him as a candidate were all factors that went into the thought process."
He continued, "I'm very confident that Doug will provide great leadership in our effort to build a quality program as one that is defined as consistently being bowl eligible."
Martin too is excited about the prospect of turning the Aggies into a consistent winner.
"I am thrilled for the opportunity and very appreciative that Dr. Boston and the administration have the confidence in me to move this program forward," Martin said. "I think there is unlimited potential in this program and in this city, and I look forward to building this football program to be part of the City of Las Cruces."
The Aggies have only four league crowns to their credit, the last coming way back in 1978 as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, and they are 2-0-1 all-time in bowl games (all in the Sun Bowl, the last in 1960).
They too are coming off a woeful 1-11 ledger, the lone victory earned in the 2012 season opener against FCS foe Sacramento State. They have lost 14 straight to fellow FBS squads, with the last win coming in a wild 48-45 decision at home versus Fresno State on Nov. 12, 2011.
The Aug. 31 season opener at Texas won't likely provide much of an indication as to what kind of season NMSU will have this year, but home games against Minnesota and UTEP the next two weeks could be telling.
Both Idaho and New Mexico State have fielded football teams for more than a century, but neither has done much to garner positive national attention. Time will tell what the future has in store, but for now they can each revel in the fact that change often brings about a renewed sense of purpose, and that could be used to drive them down the road toward potential success.