Ajayi’s rebound of the year: Pro Bowl

In September, the Jay-Train didn’t even leave the station. Jay Ajayi, coming off a rookie year that produced just 187 rushing yards, was left at home by Miami coach Adam Gase for the opener in Seattle for not reacting so well to competition from Arian Foster for the starting running back spot. Then Foster retired in October, Ajayi was back in the good graces, and he finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,272 yards. The former Boise State star also became only fourth player in NFL history to log three 200-yard rushing games in the same season. And yesterday Ajayi was added to the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster. Quite a bookend.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus has ranked the top NFL breakout players of the season, and Boise State grad Matt Paradis of Denver was ranked No. 3, one ahead of Ajayi. You would have thought 2015 would be the breakout year for Paradis, who surprisingly worked his way into the starting lineup and took every snap during the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship season. But Monson called the one-time Council Lumberjack “one of the league’s most-improved performers overall” after allowing just three sacks or quarterback hits this season and becoming one of the NFL’s top centers.

USA Today has issued its final re-rank of teams for the 2016 season. It pretty much follows the script. San Diego State is the Mountain West leader at No. 19, followed by Boise State at No. 27. Air Force, Wyoming and New Mexico are 35th, 49th and 51st, respectively. Then it Falls all the way down to No. 72, where Colorado State sits. The Rams fell 20 spots after losing 61-50 to Idaho in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. That finish takes some momentum away from the sparkling new stadium CSU will open later this year. The Vandals, on the other hand, rose to No. 65 after their memorable 9-4 season. Here’s something that no one would have ever believed even three years ago. No. 128 in the FBS—dead last—was Fresno State after a miserable 1-11 campaign.

Every true freshman is bound to hit a rough patch, and that’s where Boise State’s Justinian Jessup has been the past two games. In the Broncos’ wins at UNLV and at home over San Diego State, Jessup combined to go 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-8 from three-point range and scored just seven points. If Colorado’s 2015 4A Player of the Year can find his way again, and Boise State can keep doing what it has been doing—sharing on offense and playing some of its best defense of the Leon Rice era—the Broncos can keep building on this 4-0 start in Mountain West play. Fresno State is their next foe, Saturday night in Save Mart Center.

Fresno State is licking its wounds today after being upset 81-72 at Air Force last night. This is the same Falcons team that lost by 27 points at Colorado State last Saturday. Surprisingly, the taller Bulldogs were out-rebounded by 16. Also in the Mountain West, Wyoming downed Utah State 95-87 in Laramie. The Aggies couldn’t dig out of an 18-point halftime hole. Boise State leads the conference by one game over Nevada and Colorado State, both 3-1.

There’s no Idaho Stampede news this season for obvious reasons. But one of the team’s former players is worth noting right now (a former Boise State Bronco to boot). While his dad’s new book roils waters throughout the NBA, Coby Karl has quietly led the L.A. D-Fenders to the D-League’s best record in his first season as a head coach. The D-Fenders are 17-5 with a five-game lead atop the Pacific Division. Karl’s team also leads the league in scoring at 120 points per game. The team formerly known as the Stampede? The Salt Lake City Stars are in last place in the division with a 5-16 record.

The Idaho Steelheads roared out to a 4-0 first-period lead over Colorado last night, with two of the goals coming from Kellan Lain and one from newly-arrived Mike McMurtry. From there, things got dicey as the Eagles pulled to within 4-3 midway through the third. But the Steelheads’ Will Merchant put it away when he tallied with 4:15 left. It was Philippe Desrosiers all the way in goal for the Steelheads, as Branden Komm has been loaned to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. With the victory, the Steelies moved into a first-place tie with Colorado and Allen in the ECHL Mountain Division.

It probably won’t surprise you that I like this idea. As part of their 20th year celebration, the Idaho Steelheads will host a 20th Anniversary Steelheads Reunion Game, benefiting Camp Rainbow Gold on March 25 in CenturyLink Arena. Scheduled to lace ‘em up are old fan favorites like Cal Ingraham and Jeremy Mylymok, both of whom have had their numbers retired by the Steelheads. The other player with a retired number, Marty Flichel, will be on hand for pictures and autographs.

Troy Merritt’s season resumes today at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The former Boise State.star tees off this morning with McKenzie Hughes and Stewart Cink at Wailaea Country Club. When we left off with Merritt in November, he had made three of four cuts during the fall portion of the 2016-17season and had two top 15 finishes. He has made more than $209,000 so far and is 69th in FedExCup standings. The other ex-Bronco with a current PGA Tour card, Graham DeLaet, is not entered in the Sony.

This Day In Sports…January 12, 2015:

In the first College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State runs over Oregon 42-20 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The Buckeyes’ Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns and OSU quarterback Cardale Jones, who began the season as the third-stringer, outdueled the Ducks’ Heisman Trophy QB, Marcus Mariota. Ohio State was the fourth and final seed in the playoffs and wouldn’t have had a shot at the title game under the old BCS system. Later that night the final polls for the 2014 season were released, and Boise State, fresh off a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona, finished No. 16 in both.

(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.)