Al the goalpost-hanger returns to the Blue

Al Borges no doubt smiles at the thought from time to time. This is not one of them, as the team whose offense he coordinates, San Jose State, is all business preparing for Boise State tomorrow night at Albertsons Stadium. But the last time we saw Borges coaching on the blue turf, he was the Broncos’ O-coordinator, and he was climbing the goalpost in the north end zone after Boise State beat Idaho 27-24 in 1994 to win the Big Sky and end the Vandals’ 12-game winning streak in the series. Fans tried to give him a boost (in fact, his britches probably needed a boost), but it was one of the more memorable moments on that field.

Borges has never hidden his affection for the city of Boise and still has lots of friends here. After spending two years as Pokey Allen’s offensive coordinator and helping the Broncos make the 1994 Division I-AA national championship game, Borges embarked on a rather nomadic football life. Prior to landing with the Spartans, he had stints at Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Indiana, Auburn, San Diego State and Michigan. He was hoping to land the Boise State head coaching job in 1997 until Houston Nutt came in and swept it out from under him. Borges and San Jose State coach Ron Caragher were on the UCLA staff together for five years in the late 1990’s. “The most influential coach on me—X’s and O’s—was Al Borges,” Caragher told me this summer at Mountain West Media Days.

Capital High quarterback Bryan Harsin committed as a preferred walk-on at Boise State about the time Borges was leaving for Oregon, in early 1995. On the football side, I wonder if the tight end position may break out tomorrow night for one play-caller or the other. Of course, I wonder that about the Broncos every week. The gradually-healing Jake Roh has one catch this season after a combined 68 the previous two years. But there’s more to the position than that. “Jake was pretty good last week,” said Harsin, citing his run-blocking in particular. “I think he’s coming back to his old self.”

For Borges, it might be getting tight end Billy Freeman involved. Freeman pulled in a career-high seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown versus the Broncos last November. He finished the season with 48 receptions for 586 yards and six TDs and was a John Mackey Award semifinalist. But Freeman’s had just 12 receptions all this season. Certainly Borges has noticed the game Wyoming tight end Jacob Hollister had last Saturday—six grabs for 144 yards and two scores.

Did I mention that San Jose State has been taking care of the football? Despite Boise State’s status as a 29-point favorite tomorrow night (seriously?), there’s one thing that puts the Spartans on a pedestal leading into this one. “It’s no coincidence we’ve won the turnover battle the last three weeks and won two of those three games,” Caragher said Monday at his weekly news conference. San Jose State has been turnover-free during this stretch. “We always preach to our guys that we need to protect the football. I’ll take a sack any day over just throwing the football up for grabs. That’s a streak we’re going to look to build upon.” The thing about taking a sack has to sting for the Broncos, considering the way the game at Wyoming ended.

The message to Washington after the first College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday: just win out, and don’t worry about it. The Huskies were slotted by the CFP committee at No. 5 behind Texas A&M. Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times has a good take on it. “A&M has proven more at this point,” writes Calkins. “According to the Sagarin ratings, the Aggies, whose only loss is to Alabama, have had the 23rd toughest schedule in the nation. Washington, meanwhile, ranks 69th in that department. For context, Boise State had the 67th hardest schedule—and there’s no way the Broncos would have cracked the top four had they stayed unbeaten Saturday.” Chris Petersen is pretty good at ignoring this stuff. Furthermore, Calkins points out, “Going forward, the Huskies have the 14th toughest schedule in the country compared to Texas A&M’s 40th.” If UW keeps rolling, everything will fall into place.

Idaho State’s 11th losing season in the past 12 years is in the books now, and life doesn’t get any easier this week. The Bengals are on the road at perennial Big Sky power Montana, which is annually one of the leaders nationally in FCS attendance. Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with a capacity that has risen to 25,217, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season. Standing room only is the norm, though. Three times over the years, Montana has topped the 26,000-mark at a home game, and this season the Grizzlies are averaging 25,513. On the field, Montana is 5-3. Capital High grad Makena Simis, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver this year, has four catches for 46 yards on the season.

Troy Merritt is 2-for-2 in top 25 finishes in the new PGA Tour season, while Graham DeLaet is coming off a top 10 result last week. Both former Boise State Broncos are looking to sustain their early-season momentum as the Shriner Hospitals For Children Open tees off today in Las Vegas. It would be particularly important for DeLaet, who took more than a month off this summer due to anxiety over his short game. It’s a fresh start for the now-beardless Canadian.

ECHL scoring leader Lindsay Sparks didn’t find the back of the net last night, but five of his teammates did in a 5-3 win over the Idaho Steelheads in South Dakota. And Sparks did have two assists. The Rush tallied twice in the first period before the Steelheads knotted it up with two goals in the second. But Rapid City outscored Idaho 3-1 the rest of the way, capping it with an empty-netter toward the end. The Steelies’ Jefferson Dahl extended his point streak to five games with two goals. The Steelheads now head back West to visit the Colorado Eagles for a pair this weekend.

Game 7 of the World Series. A 5-1 Cubs lead that dwindled to 6-3 in the eighth inning. Then a game-changing hit from a former Boise Hawk, not a Cub, but a Cleveland Indian. Brandon Guyer doubled in a run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, and he scored on a dramatic game-tying home run by Rajai Davis. At the end of the ninth, a 17-minute rain delay. And new energy from the Cubs. Speaking of former Hawks (please indulge me), Kyle Schwarber singles. Albert Almora pinch-runs. He goes to second on a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant. And Almora scores the go-ahead run as the Cubs end 108 years of nothingness with an 8-7 win in 10 innings and and the world championship. Only a handful of times in your life do you see sports history like that.

This Day In Sports…November 3, 2001, 15 years ago today:

Eli Manning throws six touchdown passes, five of them in overtime, but it isn’t enough as Ole Miss falls to Arkansas in seven OT’s, 58-56. The game, the first in NCAA history to go seven overtimes, was tied 17-17 at the end of regulation. It lasted four hours, 14 minutes. Manning was a sophomore at the time; he’d go on to be the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. The Razorbacks were coached by Houston Nutt, in his fourth season after leaving Boise State.

(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.)