“BYU vs. USU should be a conference game”

Brad Rock of the Deseret News is down on BYU’s independent status and thinks the Cougars would be much better off in a conference. They have no interest in that, as Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson can attest. “As a football independent, BYU considers itself a notch above Group of 5 programs,” wrote Rock in his Wednesday column. “It’s not hard to see what joining its former conference would do for the Cougars. They would be in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl invitation, as a G5 member. Don’t scoff. Boise State has been to three Fiesta Bowls using that formula.” The Cougars play in-state foe Utah State tomorrow night in Logan. I say “foe,” because BYU won’t acknowledge the Aggies as a rival. And that’s why a move back to the Mountain West will never happen. Too much losing of face.

Other highlights of the Mountain West schedule this week—Northern Illinois visits San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium for the first time since its 55-7 annihilation at the hands of Boise State in the 2015 Poinsettia Bowl. This is a different Huskies team, though, sporting a 2-1 record that includes an upset of Nebraska. San Diego State comes in at No. 19 in the AP Poll, equal to its highest ranking in the past 39 years. Also, the battle of the triple-option is set for Albuquerque. Both Air Force and New Mexico have one Mountain West loss, so the loser will be in a world of hurt in the league race. And Fresno State looks for its first victory over an FBS opponent in 683 days when it hosts Nevada. And the Bulldogs should get it.

What do we do during a bye week? We get a checkup on the season to date—for example, stats at the quarterback position. Before the season it was all about Wyoming’s Josh Allen, the preseason All-Mountain West QB ahead of Boise State’s Brett Rypien. So who leads the conference in passing a third of the way through the season? Colorado State’s Nick Stevens is throwing for 306.8 yards per game and is tied with Hawaii’s Dru Brown with eight touchdown passes. But none other than the Broncos’ Montell Cozart is tops in pass efficiency rating among those who have thrown more than 50 passes at 152.1 (he’s only passed 59 times). Rypien’s rating is only 114.7, but Allen’s is even worse at 106.2.

Which gets us to thinking. Since it’s Idaho’s bye week, too, how is Vandals quarterback Matt Linehan stacking up in the Sun Belt? Linehan is third in the conference in pass efficiency rating at 143.5. He’s averaging 231.5 passing yards per game and has thrown seven touchdowns against four interceptions. Linehan is completing 64 percent of his throws—the one downer is that he’s been sacked 12 times.

Boise State needs something uplifting this week, and center Mason Hampton provides it. The senior from Meridian has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded by the National Football Foundation to the best scholar-athlete in the nation. If Hampton is among the 12-14 finalists to be announced November 1, he’ll earn an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. The one-time walk-on took over as the Broncos’ starting center in 2016 and has now started his past 15 games. Last December Hampton was named a first-team CoSIDA Academic All-American.

Rocky Mountain safety Khalil Oliver was Boise State’s first commitment of the 2014 recruiting class, giving his verbal to Chris Petersen on March 19, 2013. But Petersen didn’t make it to 2014, and consequently, neither did Oliver. After Coach Pete departed for Washington, Oliver flipped to Oregon, and he eventually worked himself into a role in the Ducks’ secondary. But he has been sidelined since being injured in Oregon’s opener versus Southern Utah, and now he has decided to leave the Ducks and has requested a release from the program. Oliver hopes to get this season of eligibility back so he has two remaining. Either way, he plans to graduate from Oregon in the spring and play at a new to-be-determined school as a graduate transfer.

Former Boise State star Charles Leno Jr. is established now as an NFL mainstay at left tackle, and he gets a Thursday Night Football appearance tonight when he and the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Leno delivered a nice seal block on the play that delivered the Bears a 23-17 upset victory in overtime at Pittsburgh last Sunday. Jordan Howard scampered 19 yards around Leno’s interference on the left side to score the winning touchdown. Leno was one of only 34 NFL players to play every snap—offense or defense—for his team last season (Denver’s Matt Paradis was one of the others). Leno joins Daryn Colledge, Ryan Clady, Nate Potter, and Rees Odhiambo as left tackles out of Boise State who have started in the NFL in the new century.

The pressure’s off Troy Merritt as the Web.com Tour Championship tees off today in Atlantic Beach, FL. Merritt has already secured his PGA Tour card for the 2017-18 season, thanks to top 10 finishes two weeks ago at the Albertsons Boise Open and last week at the DAP Championship. The former Boise State standout will be playing his seventh PGA Tour season when the new schedule begins next month.

USA Today came up with a list of “MLB’s hidden MVPs: 12 standouts who deserve more love.” And a former Boise Hawk we never think of is on it: Marwin Gonzalez of the AL West champion Houston Astros. “In his sixth season, Gonzalez has evolved into the latest version of Ben Zobrist, the utility player who becomes indispensable,” writes Jorge Ortiz. “Gonzalez has started more than 10 games at each of the infield positions, plus 34 more in left field. All the while, he has taken off offensively, setting career highs with 23 homers and 85 RBI. ‘Whenever I have a question on what I should do,’ manager A.J. Hinch says, ‘the answer is usually, Marwin can do it.’’’ Gonzalez batted .279 and knocked in 43 runs for the Hawks in 2008.

This Day In Sports…September 28, 1941:

Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams goes 6-for-8 in a doubleheader on the final day of the season to finish with a .406 batting average—the last time a major leaguer has topped .400. The closest anyone has come since is San Diego’s Tony Gwynn, who batted .394 in 1994. The last player to so much as top .370 was Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .372 in 2004. Also, on this day in 1960, Williams played the last game of his career and hit a home run in his final at-bat.

(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.)