Boise State football: Road trip, anyone?

The journey across the desert to Reno used to be a rite of passage for Boise State fans. In my mind, the tradition dates back to 1979, when the Broncos were rolling on a quest to go undefeated in the Big Sky during their probation year. About 4,000 fans made the trip—and they made a racket as Boise State edged the Wolf Pack 28-27. The scene repeated itself for more than 30 years, to the extent that Bronco fans would take over Mackay Stadium and make it more akin to a home game. Then came the 2010 contest, when the Pack stunned the Boise State 34-31 in overtime, and Nevada fans (using the term loosely) taunted, cursed and harassed the crowd from Boise. Many in the clan swore they’d never attend another game in Reno. Turnout was decent in 2012 and 2014, though. We’ll see what the stands look like late Saturday night.

Nevada needs Boise State faithful in Mackay Stadium, because the Wolf Pack is lacking it own. Last Saturday, with a Fresno State team that should be a rival in town, the crowd on a damp night was extremely disappointing, just 15,367. There’s been a precipitous fall in football attendance in Reno. It has dropped each of the past four seasons—from 24,939 fans per game in 2013 to 16,722 fans per game last season. Nevada’s season ticket base has plunged by more than 5,000 during that same time period (are they putting all their money into the Wolf Pack’s elite hoops program?). This season the Mackay average is 17,785, less than half of Boise State’s number. That includes a home date against Oregon State that attracted that barely cracked 20,000.

Fourth down conversions was a focus of Boise State this season after the Broncos finished last in the FBS in 2017 with a 3-for-17 ledger. They’ve already doubled their number of conversions this year, going 6-for-9 on fourth down (the percentage is tied for 24th in the country). Nevada is the team to watch Saturday night, though. Coach Jay Norvell loves going for it on fourth down. The Wolf Pack was ninth out of 129 FBS teams in percentage of fourth downs attempted last year, shunning kicks almost 30 percent of the time. The Pack tried 28 times for the season. This year they’re halfway there—6-of-14 on fourth down conversions. There could be a lot of “two-down territory” Saturday night.

I noticed B.J. Rains’ tweet last night: “Thanks to Brad Bedell for answering our questions this evening. Didn’t hide, didn’t make excuses and was honest about the struggles of his group.” Bedell, of course, is Boise State’s offensive line coach, the unit at the core of the Broncos’ offensive struggles. Bedell stood in the pocket with the media. What’s the main issue, you ask? “Play more consistent as a whole,” said Bedell. “And not have the one-guy breakdown on this play, and then on this play, and this play. Next thing you know you’ve got 10 plays, and three tackles-for-loss.” One spot Bedell doesn’t worry about is left tackle. “Ezra Cleveland—he’s unbelievable right now,” Bedell said, praising the sophomore’s athletic ability. “He gets himself out of trouble in a heartbeat, and not many have the luxury of doing that.”

Cole McDonald, who threw for 24 touchdowns against two interceptions in Hawaii’s first six games, was a full participant in the Rainbow Warriors’ practice Tuesday. And he was taking all the first-team reps yesterday. That presumably means he’ll be back under center for a big measuring stick of a game Saturday night at BYU after missing last week’s win over Wyoming. Utah State, which is playing as well as anybody in the Mountain West, went into Provo last Friday and won 45-20. Now Hawaii goes into the same venue, sporting a 6-1 record. Is UH a serious contender in the West Division? This will be enlightening. BYU has beaten Arizona and Wisconsin on the road this year. But the rest of their season looks a lot like 2017, and a loss to the Rainbow Warriors could send them careening in that direction.

The Mountain West week begins tomorrow night with Air Force at San Diego State. The home team is favored by 10 points. The way the SDSU defense is playing, I don’t think that’s enough. As much as we hear about Boise State and Oklahoma being the first two programs to reach 200 wins in the new century, here’s what the Aztecs hang their hats on. In the last three seasons, San Diego State has racked up 36 victories, which is the most among the Group of 5 and sixth-best nationally, trailing only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. The Aztecs point to the “what have you done for me lately” approach.

It’s been just over 21 months since Jeremy McNichols’ final game for Boise State, and he’s already on his fourth NFL squad. Plus, McNichols is a Bronco again. The well-traveled running back was signed to Denver’s practice squad yesterday, a week after being waived by Indianapolis. Before that it was a release by San Francisco, and by the team that drafted him in the fifth round last year, Tampa Bay. The only team he carried the ball for was the Colts—two attempts for four yards a week and a half ago. USA Today calls McNichols a “former Hard Knocks star” from his days with Buccaneers. That’s probably not the right word. He was more of a tragic figure on the HBO series.

We go across the International Dateline, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the first round of the CIMB Classic is in the books. Former Boise State star Troy Merritt, coming off a tie for fourth last week in the PGA Tour season opener at the Safeway Oopen, shot an even-par 72 today. Merritt was cruising nicely at the turn until three back-nine bogeys bogged him down.

While the season still seems far off to the Boise State men’s basketball team, College of Idaho ventures into its earliest season-opening weekend ever, facing New Hope Christian and Salish-Kootenai at the Quinn Classic, hosted by Eastern Oregon. The Broncos’ first exhibition game isn’t until November 5 versus Vanguard. These contests in LaGrande are counters for the Yotes. C of I, coming off a 30-7 season and an appearance in the NAIA Division II semifinals last March, are picked to win the Cascade Conference this season. Side note: former Timberline High star Gibby Berryhill won the three-point shooting contest the other night at “Meet The Yotes Night”—for the fourth consecutive year.

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October 11, 1975: The University of Idaho dedicates the Kibbie Dome with a game against rival Boise State. The arena had functioned for several years as “New Idaho Stadium” before the roof was added—it came about thanks to a donation from William Kibbie and contributions from student fees. On the field that day, the Broncos and Vandals tied, 31-31. Then on this day in 1980, Cedric Minter went over the 4,000-yard mark in career rushing and scored four touchdowns in a 44-21 Boise State win over Idaho at Bronco Stadium.

(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.)