1971 was one of the most successful seasons in Vandal football history. The 8-3 record compiled by Idaho’s Wild Bunch was good enough to win the one and only Big Sky championship garnered during Athletic Director (AD) Ed Knecht’s tenure.
1971 also marked the opening of New Idaho Stadium. The Vandals christened the stadium against in-state rival Idaho State and came away with a 40-3 win. The game against the Bengals of ISU marked the end of a marathon 27 game road trip. It was the Vandals first game in Moscow in more than two years.
Meanwhile down in Boise things were looking up for the Broncos as well. Although rumors abound about Idaho working to keep Boise State College out of the Big Sky Conference that is not the case. BSC was admitted into the NCAA (from the NAIA) in 1969. In 1970 they were admitted into the Big Sky Conference. Idaho coach Don Robbins described the good breaks received by Idaho’s new rival “first they get into the Big Sky Conference the first time they ask…and get to use freshmen when no one else can, then they get us on their schedule the first time there’s an opening, and now when they were supposed to play us up here this first game, our stadium isn’t ready so they get to play it at home”. BSC shellacked Idaho in the first game of the 1971 campaign. The game was a sellout and counted as an Idaho home game.
Forty years ago Idaho drew over 14,000 fans to the open-air New Idaho Stadium on the same day that WSU drew over 30,000 for a game against Pac-8 team UCLA in Spokane. The Chronicle reported that 4,000 additional seats could be added to the endzones in order to bring capacity to 20,000. However, Idaho’s wildly successful 1971 football season ended without a bowl appearance. Despite winning the Big Sky Conference, the season ending loss to Utah State thwarted any attempt at a post-season appearance. As a University division program in a College division conference, Idaho was not invited to a bowl. Idaho maintained hope that the new Big Sky commissioner would work to move the conference to the University level. Tensions between Idaho and the conference continued to mount as the other members of the conference continued to undermine Idaho’s university level ambitions. 1971 came to an end with the Big Sky presidents recommending to the NCAA that schools be classified by division based on financial aid levels rather than scheduling. Note that Idaho maintained a higher classification based on schedule while being limited by the Big Sky’s scholarship limits. Finally, the conference censured Idaho coach Don Robbins for criticizing the scheduling practices of Boise State and NAU.
The silver lining of bowl season was that Idaho standout running back Fred Riley was selected to represent the west in the All-American Bowl.
Idaho vs Boise State