Broncos still need help, inside and out

Strength of schedule is the difference-maker for Boise State right now. As Washington State continues to steamroll Pac-12 opponents, the Broncos creep upward in the College Football Playoff rankings, jumping Western Michigan by one spot last night to No. 20 to become the top-ranked Group of 5 team. The 31-28 win over the Cougars in September separates Boise State from those other Broncos, as well as San Diego State, which is still not on the CFP list despite ripping through the Mountain West schedule. And that September victory on the blue turf is keeping the Broncos ahead of the rampaging Cougs, although Wazzu’s season-opening loss to Eastern Washington continues to be an albatross. Washington State is No. 22.

Of course, it’s Western Michigan that controls its own destiny. WMU just needs to win out and hope Boise State’s situation doesn’t change in order to be the top-ranked Group of 5 champion two weeks from Sunday. With San Diego State left out of the CFP rankings, it’s increasingly unlikely the Aztecs would be able to leapfrog Western. BSU needs to win Friday night against UNLV, win the day after Thanksgiving at Air Force, and hope Wyoming loses to either SDSU or New Mexico the next two weeks. And that just gets them to the Mountain West championship game against the Aztecs. So the Rebels are the only team on the schedule—that’s the way it has to be, and the Broncos sure know it.

Coach Bryan Harsin announced his internal players of the week yesterday, and two long-snappers shared the “Hard Hat” award. With long-snapper Kevin Cota not making the trip to Hawaii, Boise State went to the committee concept to handle punt and placekicking snaps—plays that can go terribly wrong when in inexperienced hands. Wide receiver Brock Barr hiked on punts, and true freshman Nikolai Pitman, who had never taken the field before, snapped on extra points and field goals. The committee did just fine. Turns out Pitman, a Timberline High grad, is the son of Bronco strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman. (I didn’t know that, either, but I wondered—I had to look it up.)

We’ll hit Boise State’s Senior Day a bit harder tomorrow, but Jonathan Moxey is worth an early mention as he seeks a big finish to his four-year career. Moxey played perhaps his best all-around game in the rout of Hawaii last Saturday. He only had three tackles, but they stood out as the Broncos drew a line in the sand early. Moxey also broke up four passes and was a key figure in Dru Brown’s bad day for the Rainbow Warriors. Tellingly, when Cedrick Wilson left the game after tweaking his ankle, he was replaced as punt returner not by Akilian Butler, but by Moxey (who has also become Boise State’s primary kickoff return man). Moxey has come a long way since he was a brash true freshman taking the field in the 2013 opener at Washington. He still likes to talk, but as a senior he picks his spots.

Idaho has a bye week before its final two games of the regular season in the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals’ status as a bowl-eligible team is only one of the reasons each of them has appeal. The game versus South Alabama a week from Saturday pits Idaho against the team that stunned San Diego State in September, giving the Aztecs their only loss of the season. The finale on December 3 is against Georgia State, currently 2-8. However, the Panthers bring with them interim coach Tim Lappano, who was installed Sunday at GSU after the firing of head coach Trent Miles. Lappano played for Idaho in the late 1970’s, a feature running back when the team was operating the “Vandal Veer” offense. If he’s interested in the job full-time, a good performance against his alma mater would be a nice resume-builder.

College of Idaho’s Nate Moore capped his college football career with a third Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor this season. The Mountain View High grad logged 14 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in the Coyotes’ 31-13 season-ending win at Montana State-Northern last Saturday. Moore finished the year with a school-record 119 tackles, the top mark in the Frontier Conference and No. 9 in the NAIA. He also ended his C of I career with nine interceptions. The Yotes notched a 4-7 record for the third straight season since reviving the football program in 2014.

Here’s more NFL wrap from Week 10. Former Bronco Shea McClellin blocked a Seahawks extra point Sunday night for New England—and for a long time, it looked like it would have a bearing on the game before Seattle put it to rest in a 31-24 upset. McClellin also had a tackle in a backup role at linebacker. And Demarcus Lawrence had a big game for Dallas in the thrilling 35-30 win at Pittsburgh, contributing four tackles, two of them for loss, with a sack and a forced fumble. But Lawrence received the most TV time when he was fooled in the final minute of the game by Ben Roethlisberger’s fake spike. Lawrence stood up while Roethlisberger reared up and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Fortunately for Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott saved the day for the Cowboys.

Boise State swingman Chandler Hutchison appears to be in midseason form after his performance against Northwest University in last Saturday’s season opener. Hutchison put up a career-high 23 points to go with 11 rebounds for his third-career double-double. He was a torrid 9-for-10 from the field and nailed both of his three-point attempts. Hutchison, who looks bigger now as a junior, has to be a catalyst for the Broncos this season, filling the role of the departed James Webb III as much as anyone else’s. We’ll see if he’s up to the task as Boise State now heads for a major early-season tournament in South Carolina, the Gildan Charleston Classic. The Broncos open against host College of Charleston tomorrow night.

The Idaho Steelheads began the season with two bad road losses at Utah. Now the Steelheads have won six of their last eight games going into tonight’s first-ever meeting with the Norfolk Admirals. So it’s a good time to check the early-season standings in the ECHL’s Mountain Division—and we find that the Steelies are in a three-way tie for first place with 15 points. Idaho and the aforementioned Grizzlies are 7-5-1, while the Colorado Eagles are 6-4-2. The Steeleads have been particularly strong in shootouts, winning all three so far and not allowing a shootout goal yet.

It could be the biggest home match in Boise State women’s volleyball history. Well, let’s just say it is. The Broncos host perennial Mountain West power Colorado State with sole possession of first place on the line. Boise State has won 11 matches in a row, 10 of them in sweeps. But the Rams, the defending conference champions after going 18-0 in league last year, have never lost to the Broncos (12-0 all-time). Across the way tonight, the Boise State women’s basketball team hosts Portland State in Taco Bell Arena.

This Day In Sports…November 16, 1996, 20 years ago today:

In one of the most emotional games in Boise State history, cancer-stricken Pokey Allen returns to the sidelines to coach the Broncos against New Mexico State in Las Cruces. Allen had been away all season undergoing treatment, and Boise State had struggled with a 1-9 record that included a school record eight-game losing streak at that point. But three Tony Hilde-to-Ryan Ikebe touchdown passes—the last with less than a minute left—gave Pokey his first and only victory as a Division I-A football coach, 33-32. The cancer would claim his life a month and a half later.

(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.)