C’mon back, Cougars

BYU’s game against Boise State Saturday night marks the Cougars’ 100th game as an independent program. Here’s the positive spin: “BYU has compiled a 60-39 record since going independent in 2011 and has played teams from more than two dozen states. The Cougars have also defeated at least one team from each of the Power 5 conferences. Of the 100 games, 38 have been against Power 5 opponents.” That comes from BYU’s game notes this week. But it is just not a good existence. With no red carpet rolled out from the Power 5, the Cougars need to return to the Mountain West. As it is now, they have no conference championships or all-league honors to play for. They have no realistic route to a New Year’s Six bowl, other than going undefeated and winning every game by 30 points.

In that first year of independence, BYU went 10-3—and the best it could do in the postseason was the Armed Forces Bowl and a win over Tulsa. The Cougars’ best bowl bid since 2011? That would be the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl, when officials created a made-for-ESPN matchup against Utah. BYU’s schedule these days is always front-loaded, with few schools available to break away from conference commitments in November. This game against the Broncos has been set on the schedule for a long time and is an exception. But take Boise State, for example. There’s a ton of buzz going into November with crucial Mountain West games looming on the blue turf against Fresno State and Utah State. No such electricity in Provo. Attendance is dropping there, although that’s as much a matter of the Cougars’ on-field record as anything.

Now that I’ve made my case, let me say that I don’t think BYU will ever return to the Mountain West. The West Coast Conference is not a good fit for the Cougars’ other sports, but it’s preferable to them to feel like they have some control. Pride will keep BYU from going back, and Utah’s status as a Pac-12 school is a primary reason. The Cougars feel they can be more on par with the Utes as a football independent than as a member of the Mountain West. That’s too bad. They already have rivalries with the Broncos and Utah State. There was nothing wrong with BYU’s adventures versus Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force and San Diego State. C’mon back, Cougars.

BYU is the “life is like a box of chocolates” team, because you never know what you’re gonna to get from this year’s Cougars. They opened the season impressively with a win at Arizona. Then BYU fell by three points at home to Cal—no shame in that. And Week 3 produced a shocking 24-21 win at No. 6 Wisconsin and a spot in the Top 25. Then the script flipped, with a lopsided loss at Washington and another one at Lavell Edwards Stadium to Utah State. The Cougars caught Hawaii when the Rainbow Warriors’ warts were starting to show and routed UH, and then came the agonizing 7-6 loss to Northern Illinois last week. Saturday night’s game on the blue turf, incidentally, is BYU’s first on the road since September 29.

The first College Football Playoffs rankings of the season were released late yesterday afternoon. And the Central Florida Knights are in prime position for the Group of 5’s spot in the New Year’s Six bowls if they keep winning. UCF debuts at No. 12, which is where it finished last year going into bowl season. The Mountain West can be none too happy about the initial list. Utah State, the top-ranked MW team in the polls, is nowhere to be found. And Fresno State languishes at No. 23. Both the Aggies and Bulldogs are 7-1 and are undervalued. But lest you think it’s bias in favor of the American conference, Houston isn’t in the CFP rankings, either. The ‘Dogs are the only other Group of 5 team on the list. In the meantime, how about Washington State at No. 8?

A very unusual conference game awaits Idaho Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. North Dakota visits in the midst of a transition from the Big Sky to the Missouri Valley Conference, and the Fighting Hawks are playing the 2018 and 2019 seasons as an FCS independent before their membership in the MVC is official. So UND is playing a Big Sky schedule this season and next. The Fighting Hawks will not factor into the Big Sky standings, but the games they play against league opponents count as a conference game for those teams. North Dakota is 3-2 against Big Sky teams this season, including a 41-14 rout of Montana and a 25-21 loss to Idaho State. ISU is the only common opponent between Idaho and UND. The Vandals hope that’s not relevant.

College of Idaho faces its fourth straight NAIA top 25 opponent Saturday when it visits No. 20 Montana Western. As preposterous as it would have seemed a month ago, the Coyotes still have their sights set on a second straight winning season. They’ve won four in a row after their 0-5 start, with two games to go. This is the Yotes’ only meeting with the Bulldogs this season, and a victory would be saying something. C of I did win 59-27 last year in Caldwell but is winless in five tries at Vigilante Field in Dillon. And this year’s Bulldogs are 6-2.

Boise State takes newly-named Mountain West Women’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Year Raimee Sherle and Coach of the Year Jim Thomas into the conference tournament in San Jose tonight. It’s Sherle’s second straight Player of the Year honor after her Mountain West record 20 goals this season. The Broncos, the MW co-champions in the regular season, are looking for a renewed sense of purpose after being denied the outright title last Friday. They play San Jose State in the MW semifinals tonight. Boise State and the Spartans battled to a 0-0 draw 10 days ago.

Two other notes: the Idaho Steelheads continue their six-game, 12-day road trip with their first-ever game against the Indy Fuel tonight. Then it’s on to Toledo and Kalamazoo for three more games this weekend. The Steelies are 3-3-1 and are in fourth place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division. But they’re only three points behind first-place Utah. Also, the Boise Hawks announced their 2019 schedule yesterday. They open on the road at Salem-Keizer on June 14—and at home versus Everett June 17. But, selflishly, the best piece of news is that games will be broadcast again next season on KOOL 101.5 FM.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by LOUIE’S PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT…an Idaho tradition for more than 50 years!

October 31, 2004: The longest winning streak in NFL history comes to an end at 21 games when Pittsburgh brings down New England, 34-20. Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two first quarter touchdown passes as the Steelers built an 18-point lead, and the game was never in doubt. The Patriots’ run had encompassed their Super Bowl XXXVIII championship—they’d recover from this setback to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

(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.)