Boise State had to adjust to the altitude at Wyoming Saturday night—now the Broncos have to deal with the atmosphere tonight at Fresno State. Save Mart Center is a beautiful, comfortable arena, capacity 15,596, opened in 2003. But comfy has not served the Bulldogs well. The arena was built on the heels of Fresno State’s Jerry Tarkanian era, so hopes were high that the ‘Dogs could fill it. But the program fell into mediocrity for awhile, and there are still lots of empty red seats in there. Fresno State is reporting 5,597 fans per game this season, but the San Joaquin Valley media there regularly questions those numbers. The biggest issue at Save Mart Center is the lack of energy. There’s no noise. And Boise State has not dealt with that sleepy environment very well, losing three straight there.
Boise State’s worst Mountain West loss of the last five seasons was a 76-56 road rout at the hands of Fresno State in 2014 with a squad that included both Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic. The Broncos have lost by six and nine points at Save Mart Center since. This is the only shot they get at the Bulldogs, who do not have to travel to Taco Bell Arena this season. Neither of these programs is considered among the elite in the Mountain West. Then again, you have to define “elite.” Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State are the only teams in the MW to play .500 basketball or better in conference in each of the past four seasons.
For all of Boise State’s strengths over its 13-3 start this season, turnover margin is not one of them. The Broncos turned the ball over 18 times at Wyoming and are averaging 14.4 per game, second-to-last in the Mountain West. Tonight they face a Fresno State team that specializes in steals. The Bulldogs came into league play averaging 8.6 steals per game. That number is now 7.5, still second in the conference. It’s their heritage. Fresno State has led the MW in steals for three consecutive seasons, was second in 2013-14 and tied for first with UNLV in 2012-13. Last season, the Bulldogs averaged 8.4 steals per game—no other team in the Mountain West averaged even 7.0. It is imperative that Boise State take care of the ball tonight.
A lot is made of the fact that Boise State has been ranked in the Top 25 at some point during the year in each of the past 16 seasons. But it rings kind of hollow unless the Broncos actually finish there. You know that following the Las Vegas Bowl romp over Oregon, Boise State was anxious for the final polls of the 2017 season to be released the night of the CFP national championship game. After Alabama’s unbelievable 26-23 overtime triumph over Georgia for the title last night, the final rankings placed the Broncos at No. 22 in the AP Poll, with the Coaches Poll still to come. It’s their first Top 25 finish since the last Fiesta Bowl season in 2014, but it’s their 10th in the last 16 years.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin gave his first offseason interview yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk and told Mike Prater and me “three or four” scholarships remain to be doled out on the standard National Letter Of Intent Day on February 7 (the Broncos signed 19 players on the early signing day last month). “Obviously we’re going to take a quarterback,” said Harsin, adding that an inside defensive lineman, tight end and offensive lineman are also on the wish list. Harsin announced that Boise State has added a walk-on quarterback, junior college transfer Brandon Bea from Independence Community College in Kansas. Bea, who hails from Vancouver, WA, played in seven games this past season and threw for just 353 yards. Sounds like a practice player at the outset.
Harsin also said, uh, UCF is not the national champion. While he sympathizes with UCF as the only undefeated team in the nation, Harsin said, “That’s not the way the system works.” It’s kind of gone overboard, with Florida Governor Rick Scott signing a proclamation yesterday recognizing the Knights as “the College Football National Champions in Florida.” Aaron Tevis, a starting linebacker on Boise State’s 14-0 team that beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl eight years ago, had a great tweet on the subject: “2009 National Champion here. I’m still waiting for our ring…”
Spencer Danielson has his calling card going into his first day as a full-time assistant coach working with the STUD ends at Boise State. One of the STUDs Danielson mentored as a graduate assistant this past season, redshirt freshman Curtis Weaver, has earned his second first-team All-America award of the 2017 season after being voted to the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America Team. Weaver was previously named to the USA Today All-Freshman squad after leading the Mountain West—and all FBS freshmen—with 11.0 sacks for the season. He also logged 13.0 tackles-for-loss.
Back to hoops—After rallying from an 11-point deficit in the final 7½ minutes to beat Sacramento State last Thursday, Idaho was on the short end Saturday when a Portland State tip-in with 0.6 seconds remaining spelled a 73-72 defeat in Cowan Spectrum. Idaho won every statistical category except the one that counts. The Vandals are now 2-2 in the Big Sky with a solo game on tap this Saturday at Eastern Washington.
The team to watch right now is Idaho State, which has won eight of its last nine games following a home sweep of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona and is 4-0 in Big Sky play. The Bengals will try to get it done on the road Thursday and Saturday at North Dakota and Northern Colorado. Locally, College of Idaho looks to make a jump in the new NAIA Division II poll today after a road sweep of Northwest College and Evergreen State. The 12th-ranked Coyotes are prepping for a first-place showdown in the Cascade Conference with 24th-ranked Warner Pacific Friday night at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.
This Day In Sports…January 9, 2013, five years ago today:
The College of Idaho introduces Mike Moroski as its first head football coach since the program was disbanded following the 1977 season. Moroski had been on the UC Davis staff for the previous 26 seasons after spending eight years as a backup quarterback in the NFL. C of I athletic director Marty Holly was steered to Moroski by Boise State coach Chris Petersen, a fellow UC Davis alum. Moroski would then go to work putting together the Coyote team, which was set to make its debut on September 6, 2014.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)