This will be an interesting week in Bronco land as the Arizona Bowl approaches Friday. First, did holiday flights affect Boise State’s plans to gather for drills leading into the game against Central Michigan in Tucson? There were almost 1,000 flights canceled Christmas Day, and more than 7,000 canceled or delayed on Sunday. Can everybody make it back to Boise? Second, did the Broncos bring anything back with them beyond Christmas gifts, if you know what I mean? Third, is Arizona really the destination? How credible are reports that Boise State could be a replacement team for Miami in Friday’s Sun Bowl against Washington State? I’m told it’s just somebody’s stab in the dark. (After Hawaii backed out of the Hawaii Bowl less than 24 hours before the Christmas Eve kickoff, two more bowl games were canceled over the weekend.)
ONE MORE GO-ROUND FOR CHL?
Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who announced on Christmas Eve that he won’t take a super-senior year at Boise State and instead test the NFL Draft, appears to be set for one final game this Friday in the Arizona Bowl. Relatives of Habibi-Likio later responded that he is going to play against Central Michigan, and he is indeed still listed as George Holani’s backup at running back on the Broncos’ new depth chart released Sunday. He is Boise State’s second-leading rusher this season with 374 yards and two touchdowns, and he’s been valuable out of the backfield, adding 23 receptions for 213 yards. Habibi-Likio was famous for TDs at Oregon—he rushed for 21 of them as a Duck.
It may be dated, but there is some history between Boise State and Central Michigan. The Chippewas lead the series 3-2, and there have been some notable checkpoints. The first game between the two teams was in the 1974 Division II Playoffs, and the 20-6 CMU victory marked the final game in the career of Broncos star quarterback Jim McMillan. The 1996 game, a 42-21 Chippewas win, was Boise State’s first-ever as a Division I-A school. In 2001, the game was originally scheduled for the Saturday after 9/11 but was postponed, as all games were. It was delayed until Thanksgiving weekend, when the Broncos won 26-10 behind running back Brock Forsey’s first 200-yard game. Without beating a dead horse, this game on New Year’s Eve has its own idiosyncrasies.
NEVADA FACES MORE BRONCOS
The Mountain West bowl season rolls on this morning, as Nevada takes on Western Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. The Wolf Pack already has one victory over a set of Broncos this year with their 41-31 win over Boise State on the blue turf in October. To beat the MAC’s version of the Broncos, the Pack must circle the wagons after a hole was blown in their roster following the departure of coach Jay Norvell. Nate Cox, the tallest quarterback in the FBS at 6-9, will start for Nevada in place of Carson Strong, who has declared for the NFL Draft. The Wolf Pack offense was last in the conference this season in rushing, but they’ll have to get something out of Toa Taua and Devontae Lee in this one. The Nevada defense has been largely unaffected by the team’s wave of opt-outs and transfer portal entries.
BRONCOS HOOPS STAT CHECK
With its clutch free throw shooting performance in the win at Washington State last Wednesday—18-for-21, 86 percent—Boise State has climbed out of the basement nationally in free throw percentage. All the way to…344th? But it’s trending in the right direction, anyway. Three-point shooting, which was abominable at the beginning of the season, has settled down as well, despite a 25 percent shooting night against the Cougars. It’s approaching the middle of the NCAA rankings at 33 percent. Here’s the big number for the Broncos right now: they’re allowing an average of just 58.5 points per game, 18th in the country. That is why they go into Mountain West play against Fresno State tomorrow night at 9-4.
If Boise State’s shooting woes are less of a concern now, depth is not. Naje Smith may be the only fully healthy option off the bench right now. Smith, like Tyson Degenhart, had a homecoming at Spokane Arena against Wazzu. He logged six points, four rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. The Broncos like to go nine deep—and Max Rice, Pavle Kuzmanovic and Lukas Milner all played against the Cougars as well. But all three have been limited. Rice, in particular, has not been himself. One of his biggest contributions is three-point shooting, and he’s 1-for-18 from beyond the arc this season.
TANK’S PICK ON THE FLANK
There was a DeMarcus milestone Sunday night: DeMarcus Lawrence’s first career NFL touchdown, a 40-yard pick-six in Dallas’ 56-14 rout of Washington. The former Boise State standout batted a Taylor Heineke pass attempt in the air, caught it, broke a couple tackles, and glided down the sideline into the end zone late in the first quarter. Also, do you think Kellen Moore watched his alma mater’s win at Utah State in September? The Dallas offensive coordinator called a play almost identical to the touchdown catch by defensive tackle Scott Matlock versus the Aggies. Matlock had been in as a blocking tight end—Kellen’s play was a tackle-eligible TD throw from Dak Prescott to Terence Steele. On the other side, former Bronco tight end John Bates scored his first NFL touchdown for the WFT.
A GREAT NFL PERFORMANCE FROM A FORMER BRONCO
Former Boise State star Charles Leno Jr. has long been known for giving back during his NFL career. Now that Leno is a mainstay with the Washington Football Team, he has touched hundreds more lives in the D.C. area with his ‘Leno Claus’ initiative through his non-profit organization, Beyond the Entertainer. According to WUSA-TV in Washington, “’Leno Claus’ has helped 20 different organizations this month. Some include giving the residents at the Ronald McDonald House in Virginia supplies, giving a shopping spree to those at Covenant House Greater Washington, gifting STEM students with LEGOs through Athletes for Charity, partnering with the Hogfarmers to purchase a truckload of toys for kids and hosting a bingo night at Bailey’s Shelter, a homeless facility.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
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December 27, 2016, five years ago today: Boise State suffers what is at the time the worst postseason loss in school history, falling 31-12 to Baylor at the Cactus Bowl. The scandal-plagued Bears came in with a six-game losing streak but had nothing to lose, playing their final game under interim coach Jim Grobe. The Broncos had no answer on defense for Baylor wideout KD Cannon, who had 226 receiving yards and two touchdowns. And the Boise State offense got only two field goals out of four trips inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. The Broncos didn’t score a TD until 1:20 remained in the game, on a 28-yard pass from Brett Rypien to Cedrick Wilson.
(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.)