A fork in the road for both teams tonight

Boise State is favored by seven points tonight against BYU? In Provo, for cryin’ out loud? That’s an unbelievable number. It directly reflects the Cougars’ 1-4 record, and the belief that they’re struggling more than the Broncos right now. So who has the most at stake tonight? I’d say the Cougars. No matter what happens, the Broncos will still be 1-0 in the Mountain West. For BYU, bowl eligibility is on the line. If the Cougars come out of this 1-5, they’ll have to find six wins out of what they have left, since they play 13 games this year. They’re at Mississippi State and East Carolina the next two weeks. From there on out, the Cougars have home games against San Jose State and UMass and road dates at Fresno State, UNLV and Hawaii. I can see six wins perhaps, but BYU sure doesn’t want to chance it.

Coach Bryan Harsin is as anxious about Boise State’s running game as anybody. When he was asked this week about the limited use of Robert Mahone in the loss to Virginia, he said, “Our rotation has to be better. You’ve got to get guys in there that are going to carry the ball and be effective.” Boy howdy. What will that mean for Mahone on the natural turf of LaVell Edwards Stadium tonight? We don’t want to see him become Jack Fields, a highly-touted recruit who rushed for 336 yards in his four-year Bronco career and averaged 3.1 yards per carry. The staff knows best after the sub-par rushing performance against Virginia. “I don’t think there’s any team in America that says 30 yards is acceptable,” said Harsin. “It’s not.”

You saw this in the Statesman the other day from former Boise State defensive lineman Elliot Hoyte: “I cannot stand them. There’s some pent-up aggression there. I hate to say it, but if Boise State lost each game, as long as they beat the crap out of BYU, I’d be happy.” Where else do you think it ended up? That’s right—the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. It’s gotta be on a bulletin board somewhere near Eagle High grad Tanner Mangum. Oh how Mangum wishes he could play tonight. It hasn’t been completely ruled out, as the junior quarterback was cleared to practice the other day. But after weeks of wearing a protective boot, how effective would he be? On his weekly KSL radio show, BYU coach Kalani Sitake joked that he might bring Mangum out on the field in a wheelchair just for effect.

Beyond the emotion surrounding tomorrow night’s San Diego State-UNLV game in Las Vegas are these noteworthy games involving the Mountain West. The Colorado State-Utah State matchup in Logan now looks key in the Mountain Division. Both teams are 1-0 in conference play and are looking better than expected (especially the Aggies). And Air Force begins its quest for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy tomorrow when the Falcons play at Navy. Air Force always has two pieces of hardware to play for—this one and the Mountain West championship. What’s more important? When pressed at Mountain West Media Days this summer, senior linebacker Grant Ross said, “They’re equal! They’re equal!” The Falcons possess the C-I-C Trophy now after winning it last season for the first time in five years.

The last full game Ryan Finley played for Boise State was at the site of tonight’s game—against BYU in Provo two years back. Last night it was Finley and North Carolina State versus last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. And Finley was outstanding, throwing for 367 yards with a 48-yard touchdown as the 24th-ranked Wolfpack upset the 19th-ranked Cardinals 39-25. Also last night, former Bronco Doug Martin made his return at Tampa Bay and was stellar in the first quarter, rushing for 48 yards on five carries during the Buccaneers’ first touchdown drive and capping it with his first touchdown of the year. There wasn’t much after that as the Bucs were playing from behind in New England’s 19-14 win. Martin finished with 74 yards on 13 attempts.

The sidebar of the week has Chris Petersen facing his old Boise State defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, as Washington hosts Cal tomorrow night at Husky Stadium. Petersen hired Wilcox at the age of 29 in December, 2005. But in tracing his passion to coach, Wilcox goes back to Bob Gregory, UW’s current linebackers coach whose first of two stints at Boise State was as D-coordinator in 2001 (Coach Pete was offensive coordinator then). Gregory asked Wilcox, newly-released from an NFL camp, if he’d like to be a Broncos graduate assistant. “He’s maybe the number-one reason I got into the coaching profession, because of him and the type of person that he was,” Wilcox said Tuesday. “I just respect him so much—the way he treats people, the type of teacher he was and is.”

Idaho’s overtime win at South Alabama two weeks ago essentially offset the disappointing loss to UNLV in Week 2, and bowl eligibility remains solidly on the table for the Vandals. They’re in the Kibbie Dome for Homecoming tomorrow against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns are on a three-game losing streak and are coming off a 56-50 double-overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe in their Sun Belt opener. ULL was picked fifth in the conference, though, just ahead of Idaho. The Vandals are 1-0 in conference play for the first time in five years. Elsewhere, College of Idaho challenges Carroll College in Helena, MT, tomorrow. The Coyotes’ chances hinge on hanging onto the football, as they’ve turned it over 18 times and have a turnover margin of minus-six, last in the Frontier Conference on both counts.

Marwin Gonzalez lent his bat to the cause yesterday for the Houston Astros. The former Boise Hawk contributed a two-run double in the fourth inning, providing the eventual winning runs in an 8-2 victory over Boston to open the American League Divisional Series. Gonzalez was, of course, overshadowed by Jose Altuve’s three home runs. The two National League series open today. Former Hawk Rich Hill is slated to start Game 2 for the L.A. Dodgers tomorrow against Arizona. The Cubs begin their test against the Washington Nationals this evening. By my count, there are six Boise alums on the Chicago roster: Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., John Lackey and Willson Contreras.

Other Friday nuggets—a five-week layoff did not faze Graham DeLaet yesterday as the 2017-18 PGA Tour season teed off with the Safeway Open. DeLaet fired a three-under 69 at Napa Valley’s Silverado Resort and is tied for 12th after the first round. Fellow former Boise State star Troy Merritt came in at one-over 73 and will need a big performance today to make the cut. And the Boise State women’s volleyball team was set up for a sweep of Colorado State last night in Bronco Gym after routing the Rams 25-11 in the second set. But CSU showed why it’s No. 23 in the country, rallying for a pivotal five-set Mountain West win over the Broncos, snapping Boise State’s 18-match conference winning streak.

This Day In Sports…October 6, 2010:

Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay becomes only the second major leaguer ever to throw a no-hitter in postseason play. The only other one was the legendary perfect game by the Yankees’ Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Halladay, making his first playoff appearance in 13 years as a big leaguer, allowed just one batter to reach base (on a walk) in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Reds in the first game of the National League Divisional Series. It was quite a year for Halladay—he had thrown a perfect game earlier in the season against the Florida Marlins.

(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.)