A silver and gold chip on the shoulder

This is what Idaho fans had been hoping for, especially those who were staunchly opposed to the Vandals’ move to the Big Sky in 2018. Idaho is in a bowl game, the one that allows the greatest number of its fans to attend. And the Vandals, with emotion on their side, have a chance to make a statement against Colorado State this evening in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Rewind four years, when Paul Petrino took over a program that had been 3-21 over two seasons. Idaho would go 2-21 during Petrino’s first two years in Moscow. You can do the math—that’s four seasons of unprecedented futulity. There was major progress in 2015 when the Vandals finished 4-8. But they still had significant defensive liabilities. The defense has ruled down the stretch this season, though, and here’s Idaho at 8-4.

This is Colorado State’s first appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but Idaho is an indelible part of the game’s history as the winner of two of the event’s best games ever. In 1998, the 16½-point underdog Vandals rallied past Southern Miss 42-35 after trailing 21-7 early in the second quarter. Quarterback John Welsh caught fire at that point, throwing four touchdown passes the rest of the way, the last one a 28-yard connection to Ryan Prestimonico with 4:36 left in the game.

In 2009 came the classic, as an already high-scoring game went wild in the fourth quarter with Idaho and Bowling Green combining for five touchdowns. The Falcons took a 42-35 lead with 32 seconds remaining on a 51-yard pass from Tyler Sheehan to Freddie Barnes, upping Barnes’ yardage on the day to 217. But Vandal quarterback Nate Enderle would march his team 66 yards in three plays, punctuated by a desperation 50-yard completion to Preston Davis. Enderle hit Max Komar on the next play for a TD and followed by going to Davis for the all-or-nothing two-point conversion—and a 43-42 victory.

A contigent of 16 in-state Idaho Vandals is set to play Colorado State. None (outside of center Steven Matlock, who doesn’t really have stats) has been as productive as wide receiver Deon Watson out of Coeur d’Alene High. Watson is a go-to guy for quarterback Matt Linehan, coming into tonight’s game with 36 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns. Watson leads the Vandals in receiving yards, while Buck Cowan is tops in catches with 46 and TD grabs with six. How does that figure in tonight? The Rams’ pass defense has been middling, ranked 82nd in the country in pass efficiency rating at 136.04. But CSU still looks more vulnerable against the run, where it’s No. 99 in the nation, allowing 213 yards per game.

Baylor held a reception Tuesday night for departing coach Jim Grobe and his wife Holly to thank him for taking on the unenviable task of gluing together a fractured program this year. Grant Teaff, the esteemed former Bears coach who helped talked Grobe into the one-year job, was one of the attendees. “Somebody called me the other day, and said, ‘Would you vote for Coach Grobe for Coach of the Year?’ And I said, ‘No, it would be for Saint of the Year, much higher than Coach of the Year.’ I feel that way,” Teaff said.

“What he’s gone through, with the mentality and the attitude that he has, I actually called him after the TCU game (a 62-22 loss), and I said, ‘Jim, I’m sorry I got you into this. I had no idea it could end up like this.’ Then it only got worse,” said Teaff. “You know what he said to me? He said, ‘Coach, you asked for me to come here for the kids and the coaches and the university, and that’s why I came, and nothing has changed. I’m blessed to be here.’” Grobe’s grand finale, of course, is next Tuesday in Phoenix in the Cactus Bowl against Boise State, after which he and wife Holly will move back to Georgia and retire.

Just when it looked like Wyoming was going to rally in the final minute against BYU, Kai Nacua came up with a crushing interception of Josh Allen to preserve a 24-21 victory last night in the Poinsettia Bowl. You remember Nacua, he of the three picks against Boise State in Provo last year. Eagle’s Tanner Mangum scored BYU’s first touchdown on a three-yard run and followed with a lob of a TD pass that was tipped three times before being caught by Tanner Balderree. Magnum was just 8-of-15 for 96 yards and threw an interception, but the Cougars got the “W” to finish 9-4.

Boise State’s 79-62 win over Cal State Northridge last night looks like a nice one on the surface. But it was an odd one. The first half was all Broncos. They went on an early 15-0 run and led by 26 points at the half. But the second half turned into a foul fest. For the game, referees whistled 57 fouls, resulting in a whopping 78 free throws, 29 more than in any other Boise State game this season. Fun. The Broncos made 33 of their 43 attempts, offsetting 36 percent shooting. The positive was defense, as they held a Matadors team that was averaging 80.7 points to just 62 (and seven of them came in garbage time in the final minute).

Chandler Hutchison had another big night for Boise State, scoring 20 points with 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season and first since the Charleston Classic. Paris Austin also had 20 points, a career-high that was helped by an 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line. The concern for the Broncos now is true freshman Justinian Jessup, who tweaked an ankle early in the second half last night and did not return. Next up for Boise State is Mountain West play, beginning next Wednesday at Utah State.

Neil Graham will be behind the bench for the 100th time in the regular season as Idaho Steelheads coach tonight as the team opens a two-game series at Allen. The Steelheads are coming off a big finish against Rapid City last weekend, with a combined 11 goals in wins Friday and Saturday nights. One of the hottest Steelies right now is Anthony Luciani, the 26-year-old forward from Maple, Ontario, who has four goals and eight points in the last six games.

This Day In Sports…December 22, 2011, five years ago today:

Boise State’s Kellen Moore era ends with a dominating 56-24 win over Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. The Bronco senior class became the first in college football history to win 50 games in four years, sharing that number with Moore, the winningest college quarterback ever. The game started with a 100-yard kickoff return by Doug Martin, who was named the bowl’s Most Valuable Player in his final game with 301 all-purpose yards, the most in school history. Boise State also got a game-clinching 100-yard interception return from Jamar Taylor, setting another school record. Moore threw for 293 yards and the final two of his 142 career touchdown passes.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)