Bears, Broncos try to salvage something in Phoenix

Given the disappointing end to the season, a Cactus Bowl matchup on December 27 with Baylor is a pretty good result for Boise State. It’s a Power 5 team, even with its on-field and off-field warts. The on-field blemishes consist of a six-game losing streak after a 6-0 start. Off the field, the Bears have been through the gauntlet because of the sexual abuse scandal that has enveloped the team the past couple of years. No doubt the Sam Ukwuachu card will be played by the media the next three weeks. The fifth-year seniors on this year’s Bronco squad were teammates of Ukwuachu’s in 2012 before he was booted off the team—and subsequently became a focal point of the Baylor scandal. The Bears have gotten back to football this season, and it was good, at least for awhile.

Boise State is kind of in the same spot it was a year ago, trying to put a bow on a package that was damaged in shipment. The Broncos sure responded in 2015, holding Northern Illinois to 33 yards of offense in the 55-7 rout in the Poinsettia Bowl. Do they have that rallying point in them this year? Who is the 2016 Boise State football team? The Broncos are 10-2 and have a 1,500-yard rusher who leads the nation in touchdowns, two 1,000-yard receivers, and a quarterback who’s thrown for more than 3,300 yards and is in the top 10 in the country in pass efficiency. Yet there seems to be this “What have you done for me lately?” thing going around. If that’s the chip-on-the-shoulder that drives this team, so be it.

The Las Vegas Bowl rolled the dice that San Diego State would travel, but the bowl helped its cause immensely by drawing Houston for the December 17 tilt. It’s a just reward for the Aztecs, who ran past Wyoming in the cold of Laramie 27-24 Saturday night in the Mountain West championship game. The Cowboys earned a spot in the Poinsettia Bowl against old conference rival BYU, and Wyo fans will travel well. New Mexico plays in its hometown New Mexico Bowl for the second straight year, facing UTSA, who has never played in a bowl. Air Force takes on South Alabama, who takes Idaho’s presumed spot in the Arizona Bowl. And Hawaii, at 6-7, got a waiver to appear in the Hawaii Bowl for the first time in six years. The Rainbow Warriors face Middle Tennessee.

The Famous Idaho Potato maneuvered itself into the best of all worlds—Idaho will return to the scene of its thrilling 2009 victory over Bowling Green to face a team that was as hot as any in the Mountain West at the end of the regular season, Colorado State. With bowl affiliations so rigid these days, chances of pulling this off were not good. But there was a trickle-down effect after Western Michigan was bumped up to the Cotton Bowl, and the MAC’s spot in Boise became available. CSU has the numbers in its favor, but Idaho has the intangibles. The Vandals will have a home-state advantage with legions of fans. They’re hungry, as this is only their third bowl game ever. And, they want to prove that they’re an FBS-level program. The team that wants to be in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the most is often the one that wins.

Idaho has eight regular season wins for the first time in 18 years after dispatching Georgia State 37-12 Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals gained only 287 yards in total offense, but who needs it when your reborn defense forces six turnovers and puts you in excellent field poisition? And when your special teams are scoring points? Idaho recovered two fumbles and picked off four interceptions. The perfect exclamation point was Lloyd Hightower’s blocked punt, which he corralled himself and ran in for a 25-yard touchdown. Matt Linehan threw for only 138 yards, but he had three TD passes against no picks. That was about all that was required of him on this day. The Vandal defense has held three of its last four opponents under 20 points.

There was drama ahead of the College Football Playoff selection show yesterday, as some clamored for Penn State to jump Washington for the fourth playoff spot. But it was finally revealed that the Huskies made it, and they’ll face No. 1 Alabama in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. A smiling, relaxed Coach Pete appeared on the ESPN show and was asked if opportunities like this are why he left Boise State for UW three years ago. “Not really,” he said, while professing love for Boise and saying the Broncos were (and are) still capable of big things. It was just time, he said, for a new challenge. He’s got one on New Year’s Eve.

Is fatigue getting to Boise State hoops now? If it is, Evansville certainly didn’t feel sorry for them in a 72-67 victory in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge Saturday in Indiana. The previous three outings had seen BSU get out to big leads. The Broncos were up by 22 at halftime against Presbyterian, held a 14-point advantage in the first half against Oregon and led by 22 at the break against SMU. The margin was a precarious two points at the half against the Purple Aces and slipped away midway through the second half, although the Broncos did roar back from a 65-55 deficit with 3:40 left to tie it 66-66 with a minute and a half remaining.

Beginning with its trip to the Charleston Classic, Boise State will have logged 9,138 miles over three weeks by the time it returns from tonight’s game in Los Angeles. The stretch includes eight games in all four time zones in the continental U.S., with no two consecutive games in the same time zone (save for the Charleston Classic). As for Loyola-Marymount, the Lions are 2-2 and will have the fresh legs the Broncos may be lacking. Their last game was the day after Thanksgiving, a 78-62 win over Portland State. LMU has played one Mountain West team, falling 79-64 at Nevada last month. The Lions’ other loss was by just three to UConn. They lost to the Boise State 67-66 a year ago in Taco Bell Arena.

The Idaho Steelheads and rival Alaska Aces went beyond regulation twice over the weekend, with the Steelheads victorious each time. Goaltending came up big in Friday night’s 2-1 overtime victory and Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win. Philippe Desosiers, who won 15 games for Idaho last season, was stellar in the Friday OT and notched his first since being assigned from AHL Texas. In Saturday’s contest, Branden Komm stopped all Alaska skaters in the shootout—he has now rejected all 11 shots he’s faced in shootouts this season. The Steelheads now hit the road for a three-game series against fellow Mountain Division contender Colorado beginning Wednesday.

Other campus things: The Boise State women’s volleyball team didn’t survive to see the Sweet 16 of its first NCAA Tournament, but the Broncos made their mark by sweeping Western Kentucky in the first round Friday night. The Lady Toppers, who had their 21-match winning streak snapped, had not trailed 0-2 in any outing in 2016 until running into Boise State. The Broncos then ran into the real deal, as seventh-ranked Stanford swept ‘em back on Saturday. Still, there’s no reason to believe this program is going to do anything but climb from here.

The Boise State women’s hoops team ran into its former head coach, June Daugherty, and came away with a 77-73 overtime win yesterday in Pullman to improve to 7-0. Brooke Pahukoa led the Broncos with 24 points and eight rebounds. That’s the first time Boise State has beaten a Pac-12 team on the road since December, 2007, early in Daugherty’s first season with the Cougars (she left the Broncos 20 years ago to become head coach at Washington).

This Day In Sports…December 5, 1998:

Senior Roberto Bergersen produces one of the best big-game performances in Boise State basketball history, scoring 32 points to lead the Broncos past No. 15 Washington in the BSU Pavilion, 69-61. Bergersen, who originally signed with UW out of high school, connected on 13 field goals while going up, over and around the Huskies. Washington was the highest-ranked team Boise State had ever defeated—and would remain so until the Broncos stunned No. 11 Creighton in November, 2012.

(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.)