First things first this morning, before we get to the Las Vegas Bowl. In baseball, batting .400 is the pinnacle. In college football championships, it doesn’t get much better than that. And after the convincing 31-10 win over Hawaii Saturday for the Mountain West championship, Boise State is batting .400. The Broncos won six titles during the Big Sky era, two in their five seasons in the Big West, eight in the WAC in the 2000’s, and now four in the Mountain West. That’s a total of 20 championships in 50 seasons of conference affiliation. There’s your .400 average, math majors. Coach Bryan Harsin said after the game this one was special. I moderated the Mountain West postgame press conference, and it was evident in how tightly Sonatane Lui and Jaylon Henderson were clutching their MVP trophies.
I didn’t see the vote, of course, but Lui’s trophy had to be no contest. Man did No. 98 come up big. There was the fourth-down stop in the second quarter, when Lui teamed with Riley Whimpey to stuff Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald at the Boise State one-yard line. There was the strip-sack of McDonald near the end of the third quarter, with Lui forcing a fumble on the play and Demitri Washington recovering. Henderson scored the clinching touchdown two plays later. And for good measure, there was Lui’s fourth-down sack of McDonald in the fourth quarter. He tweeted a 16-second video Sunday of him walking off the blue turf for the final time, long after the celebration ended. It meant something.
HENDERSON PART OF BRONCO LORE
The offensive MVP award was likely a competition between Henderson and wide receiver Khalil Shakir. The fact that it went to Henderson is a great story: a one-time third-team quarterback starting four straight games at the end of the season and leading his team to the Mountain West championship. There’s never been anything quite like this in Boise State history. Henderson threw for 212 yards and two gigantic touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the first half. Shakir caught the first one, part of another solid game by the sophomore. He caught seven passes for 89 yards, rushed for a touchdown, and even completed a pass for eight yards. Unlike Henderson, Shakir came to Boise State with high expectations a year and a half ago, and he has more than lived up to them.
AWKWARD BUT ATTRACTIVE
Now, about that Las Vegas Bowl matchup with Washington. It’s not some ESPN/ABC made-for-TV event, it’s just the way the chips fell. Some wondered if Chris Petersen might just hang it up early and skip a UW finale against Boise State. Well, Petersen didn’t shy away from playing the Broncos in 2015. The Huskies could have bought their way out of that game at Albertsons Stadium, but Coach Pete said that was what was on the schedule, and the show must go on. He survived the 16-13 loss to the Broncos nicely. To those who don’t like things turning out this way, well, Washington is the best bowl opponent Boise State could hope for under its Group of 5 circumstances. Cal would have been fun with Harsin against Justin Wilcox, but the Huskies are far more high-profile. And they’re better than their 7-5 record.
MW HOLIDAY SPOTLIGHT
The Mountain West placed all seven of its bowl-eligible teams in the postseason on Sunday. The most intriguing matchup outside Vegas is in the Cheez-It Bowl (formerly the Cactus Bowl) in Phoenix. Air Force, who ended up 10-2 with its only losses to Boise State and Navy, is matched against Washington State, still dangerous despite a 6-6 mark. I saw somebody call this “Air Force vs. Air Raid.” I like it. I also like the Hawaii Bowl pairing of Hawaii and BYU. Can the Rainbow Warriors, who were just smacked by the Broncos, take down the only team that beat Boise State?
PACK BACK ON THE BLUE
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has a Nevada-Ohio matchup set for Friday, January 3, in Albertsons Stadium. This will be the Wolf Pack’s first time in Boise’s bowl game since it lost to Maryland 42-35 in 2008, Colin Kaepernick’s sophomore year. The Bobcats played here the first year the game was known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, in 2011. Ohio rallied in the final minute to beat Utah State 24-23 for the school’s first-ever bowl victory. Nevada is 7-5 but has had a bizarre season that included a 71-point loss to Oregon, a 51-point loss to Hawaii, and a stunning upset of San Diego State.
JESSUP’S JUMP-START AFTER HALFTIME
When Boise State shot 2-for-14 from three-point range in the first half against Colorado State Saturday, it looked like it might be one of those nights. But that was put to rest when the Broncos started the second half with seven consecutive three-pointers to take command in a 75-64 victory. Justinian Jessup hit five of the treys during the run, on his way to career-highs with seven three-pointers and 27 points. And how about Robin Jorch? The 6-11 senior made his first start in 2½ years and scored Boise State’s first six points of the game. There’s still time for Jorch to be a force this season. The Broncos got out of the earlybird week of Mountain West play with a 1-1 record.
FENDING THEM OFF IN FORT COLLINS
The Boise State women emerged from the weird conference week spotless at 2-0 after overcoming a furious rally by Colorado State Sunday in Moby Arena. The Broncos built a 14-point lead in the third quarter, only to see CSU come all the way back and take a two-point lead with less than two minutes left in the game. It was then that senior star Braydey Hodgins scored six straight points, and the Broncos survived 72-69. Hodgins scored 11 points for the game, while A’Shanti Coleman led Boise State with 17.
THE STEELIES’ TEETER-TOTTER
It was two ends of the rally spectrum for the Idaho Steelheads over the weekend in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads came back twice from two-goal deficits Friday night in beating Allen 6-5 in overtime. The unsung Steelies hero was A.J. White, who assisted on the Steelies’ last two goals of regulation, as well as Max Coatta’s OT game-winner. Saturday night was another story, as the Steelheads let a 3-1 lead get away in the third period. This time it was the Americans notching a 4-3 victory in overtime.
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December 9, 1961: In one of college football’s forgotten bowl games, Baylor upsets No. 10 Utah State 24-9 in the first Gotham Bowl in New York. The Aggies were led by future Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, but he couldn’t draw a crowd all by himself—only about 15,000 fans showed up at the iconic Polo Grounds. The second and final Gotham Bowl was played a year later in Yankee Stadium. Utah State wouldn’t make another postseason game until the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl. Since then, the Aggies have played three bowls in Boise, the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in 1997 and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2011 and 2012.
(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.)