Bronco point spreads are an adventure

The money appears to be pouring in for Virginia. The point spread for tonight’s game on the blue turf opened at 14½ points, but the number is down more than a touchdown to seven points (in Boise State’s favor), if you go by two of USA Today’s three prognosticators. The other, however, has it at 13 points. Those in the Cavaliers’ corner are not booking there. The service the Statesman uses pegs it at 12 ½. This is kind of wild. Oddsmakers can’t figure the Broncos out this season, while they’re just trying to figure out themselves. I say it comes down to the Boise State offensive line. If the O-line the coaching staff expected to see this season suddenly rises up, 13 will be closer to the truth. If not, all bets are off. Maybe Archie Lewis gets into a rhythm at right tackle. Same for Eric Quevedo at right guard (even though John Molchon is still ahead of him on the depth chart).

The struggles of the Broncos’ running game—outside of Montell Cozart’s long dashes, both designed and improvised—are well-chronicled. “We need to be more physical,” said coach Bryan Harsin. “All 11 guys, every single guy, we need to do a better job. Those four and five-yard physical runs; we need to do a better job.” Boise State needs those runs on first down, as second-and-long has been a far too frequent occurrence. Robert Mahone had the first two carries of the game against New Mexico, gaining seven yards. He did not see the ball again. “Rob’s going to see more playing time this week,” Harsin said. We’ll see if Mahone is the wild card.

The Boise State pass defense has certainly shored itself up this year. The Broncos have faced two top-shelf quarterbacks, Troy’s Brandon Silvers and Washington State’s Luke Falk, and have acquitted themselves well. Now it’s on to Virginia’s Kurt Benkert tonight. Benkert threw for a school-record 455 yards last week against UConn, notching 11.4 yards per attempt with a 75 percent completion rate and three touchdowns to one interception. Three Cavaliers receivers logged 100-yard games. For the season, Boise State has allowed 217 yards passing per game and 5½ yards per attempt, with four TDs and four picks. Something’s gotta give.

More than 31,000 tickets were out for tonight’s game as of Wednesday. That’s the best advance number of Boise State’s three home games so far. So with the Bronco offense not lighting the world on fire, why is that? Well, it’s a Friday night this week instead of a Thursday. Even with the more convenient 6 p.m. kickoff last week versus New Mexico, a school night/work night is tough. And the fact that Virginia is the first ACC school ever to play at Albertsons Stadium in the regular season counts for something. How about this theory? You know the old adage “offense sells tickets—defense wins championships?” Maybe this Boise State defense is selling tickets.

Boise State can strike a note for the Mountain West with a victory tonight. That would give the MW one more win over the Power 5 than it had last year, although it longs for more than that (the conference is currently 3-14). San Diego State has defeated Arizona State and Stanford, and Colorado State has beaten Oregon State. The Broncos would like to contribute as they have in the past. Last season, Boise State topped Washington State and Oregon State, and the Aztecs defeated Cal. The rest of the conference went 0-13. Also this week versus the Power 5, UNLV plays at Ohio State (nope), and Nevada is at Washington State (nope). The feature conference game tomorrow is San Diego State at Air Force. The Aztecs are No. 22 in the AP Poll, but they’re only favored by 3½ points in Colorado Springs.

All eyes on the running game as Idaho opens the Sun Belt schedule tomorrow at South Alabama. It should be “advantage: Vandals.” Idaho has rushed for seven total touchdowns against USA the last two seasons and has a running back go for at least 135 yards on the ground each of the last two meetings. Isaiah Saunders rushed for a career-high 142 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-31 win over the Jaguars on Thanksgiving weekend last year. Aaron Duckworth is the leading rusher this season, though, and he’s the explosive threat. Duckworth has the two longest plays fom scrimmage this season for the Vandals—a 74-yard run and a 60-yard reception in last week’s 37-28 loss at Western Michigan.

For the second straight year, former Boise State star Kimo von Oelhoffen is one of 18 finalists for induction into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The inductees will be announced in a couple weeks and will be enshrined in January in Honolulu. von Oelhoffen had the longest NFL career of any former Bronco, playing 14 seasons from 1994-2007. He earned a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh in 2005. Von Oelhoffen played two seasons at Boise State as a junior college transfer in 1992-93. He was drafted in the sixth round by Cincinnati in 1994.

Idaho State gets to see what last week’s stunning upset of Nevada really means. The Bengals visit Northern Colorado tomorrow to open Big Sky play. The Bears gave Colorado a good shot in Boulder last week before falling 41-21. ISU rolled with its old 3-4 defense from the Mike Kramer days last Saturday in Reno. Defensive coordinator Spencer Toone indicates the Bengals are going back to it full-time now. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Billings, MT, College of Idaho guns for its second straight win when it takes on Rocky Mountain College. Coyotes linebacker Forrest Rivers is the reigning Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week, but he got a big assist last week from defensive end Jordan Vielma, who had four tackles-for-loss after halftime and a forced fumble in the win over Eastern Oregon.

Troy Merritt is teetering after the first round of the DAP Championship, the third leg of the Tour Finals. The former Boise State star was saddled with a three-over 73 yesterday in Beachwood, OH, after double-bogeying the 18th hole. We’ll see if Merritt can rebound today and at least make a dent as he tries to retain his PGA Tour card. Just ahead of Merritt is Albertsons Boise Open champion Chesson Hadley, who came in at one-over 71. He’s kind of on cruise control now. After winning for the second time in 2017 at Hillcrest, Hadley has a big lead on the Tour’s combined money list with just two events left.

This Day In Sports…September 22, 1950:

The inaugural game is played in old Bronco Stadium (then new Bronco Stadium), the wooden structure that sat parallel to the Boise River overlapping the land on which the current stadium stands. A capacity crowd of over 10,000 fans watched coach Lyle Smith and Boise Junior College beat Modesto City College on their way to a berth in the Junior Rose Bowl. The stadium was torn down after the 1969 season and replaced by the facility now known as Albertsons 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.)