BYU’s independence rollercoaster

It all goes back to that wild June of 2010, when Utah left the Mountain West for the Pac-12 and the MW invited Boise State to join the conference. BYU thought it over, and—not wanting to be totally left behind by the Utes—decided later that summer to become an independent in football. Well, independence has produced wild mood swings in Provo, and 2019 is a prime example. The season started with an attractive four-pack of Power 5 schools. After a loss to the rival Utes, BYU delivered thrilling upsets of Tennessee and USC. A 26-point home defeat to Washington took the bloom off the rose—then the bloom wilted with losses at Toledo and South Florida. And now the Cougars, injury-depleted, are trying to preserve a bowl resume. Independence is hard to recruit to, and it appears to show in the team’s depth.

THE PERILS OF PROVO

It’s too early to call BYU’s game against Boise State tomorrow night a potential season-saver, but with the Cougars considering the Broncos a true rival, they’ll reach back for a little extra in this one. In the current 22-games-in-23-years series between the two schools, this is the fourth game played at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and Boise State is 1-2 so far. In 2013, the Broncos were riding a 50-game winning streak in the month of October before the Cougars and Taysom Hill brought it crashing down in a 37-20 victory. And in 2015, Boise State had the game in hand and was chasing down BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum in the backfield with 45 seconds left. One Hail Mary and a pick-six later, it was Cougars 35, Broncos 24.

CAN THE BRONCOS RUN – CAN THE COUGARS PASS?

When Boise State has the ball tonight, Broncos fans will be watching their team’s offense, and BYU fans will be watching the Cougars defense. Boise State’s run game showed signs last week but is still averaging a modest 166 yards per game on the ground—65th in the country (right smack in the middle)—and 4.3 yards per carry. BYU is 123rd in the nation in rush defense, allowing 224 yards per game.

When BYU has the ball, Cougars fans will nervously monitor the sudden unknown in the passing game. The “Y” is averaging 265 yards through the air, but that’s mostly thanks to injured quarterback Zach Wilson. The Cougars’ pass efficiency rating is 86th in the country at 128.9. Bronco Nation will cast a hopeful eye on the Boise State secondary. The Broncos, even after facing Hawaii, are allowing just 203 yards per game and have a defensive pass efficiency rating of 119.8. That’s 38th in the nation.

HARSIN A HARDWARE CANDIDATE

Coach Bryan Harsin has been named to the Dodd Trophy Midseason Watch List again. Harsin is one of 22 head coaches on the docket and is he the only Group of 5 coach listed. With the Broncos’ 6-0 start this season, Harsin is now 58-15 in his sixth year at his alma mater. He was also a candidate for the Dodd Trophy, named after legendary former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, in each of his first three seasons at Boise State. The Broncos’ Chris Petersen won the award in 2010. Incidentally, Harsin tweeted his familiar “Go Broncos” Thursday. That means a commit, and the latest is LaTrell Capers, a wide receiver from Lancaster, TX, home of CT Thomas. According to 247 Sports, the 6-0, 185-pound Capers had offers from 13 Power 5 schools, including Missouri, Ole Miss, Colorado and Nebraska.

TRAP GAME WEEK IN THE MW

Two prominent West Division teams best have their wagons circled in Mountain West play this weekend. Fresno State’s offense has struggled to the point that if it lets UNLV hang around tonight at Bulldog Stadium, danger could lurk. And San Diego State is in the same boat at San Jose State Saturday. The Aztecs struggle to score points. Their defense is solid, but the Spartans’ pass-happy attack could find enough cracks for an upset. Not predictin’, just sayin’. For entertainment purposes, the Air Force-Hawaii game at Aloha Stadium will be worth a check during timeouts late Saturday night. Which of the divergent offensive personalities will prevail?

BATTLE OF THE DOMES

The aforementioned Boise State-BYU rivalry will never be as bitter as the Broncos and Vandals in the old days. But that’s been gone for nine years now. Does Idaho now look at Idaho State as its modern rival? Maybe it should, because it looked like the Bengals felt that way a year ago when they rocked Holt Arena with a 62-28 beatdown of the Vandals. ISU had lost 11 of its previous 12 games against Idaho dating back to 1987. The Bengals haven’t won in the Kibbie Dome since 1981, they year they won the Division I-AA national championship. This season, Idaho State is 2-1 in the Big Sky and trying to remain in contention for the title. The Vandals are 0-3 and are effectively out of it.

FIVE WEEKS LATER IN SIMPLOT STADIUM

When College of Idaho last played in Caldwell, it was September 14, a toasty 91-degree day that saw the Coyotes beat Southern Oregon 41-38. There have been lots of scores like that since football was revived at C of I five years ago. But now we’re getting into late October, and that’s the only game this season that has seen the undefeated Yotes give up more than 14 points. Defense has been the story going into Saturday afternoon’s game against Montana Tech in Simplot Stadium. Opponents have converted just 26 percent of their third downs. C of I has allowed just one pass play of 40 or more yards—and that was on a hook-and-lateral. The Yotes have allowed only 87 yards per game through the air through their past two road wins. And they’re averaging almost four sacks per game.

MOJO, MOXIE, KARMA – DO THE STEELIES HAVE SOME?

The Idaho Steelheads play their 23rd home opener in franchise history tonight in CenturyLink Arena, hosting the Wichita Thunder. Maybe some early-season Steelheads mojo will create some Kelly Cup karma next spring. After all, hockey players are extraordinarily superstitious, so why not go down that road? The Steelheads are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2009, when the team began with six straight wins to start the campaign. And last weekend’s two wins at Utah was the first time since 2006-07 that the Steelies swept an opening weekend series on the road. That season was the last time Idaho won an ECHL championship. You heard it here first.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by MAZ-TECH AUTOMOTIVE…your car says, “Take me to Maz-Tech!”

October 18, 1999, 20 years ago today: The Western Athletic Conference extends invitations to Boise State and Louisiana Tech to join the conference effective with the 2001 football season. It would be the final nail in the coffin for football as a sponsored sport in the Big West. Nevada had been invited to the WAC four months earlier, and BSU’s departure would leave only five football-playing schools in the Big West. Idaho, New Mexico State, North Texas and Arkansas State would land in the Sun Belt Conference, while Utah State decided to make a go of it as an independent.

(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.)

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