Danger of being a double-digit favorite—the sequel

This came from Nevada’s Twitter feed the other night: “There’s been many great games in the history of the Nevada and Boise State rivalry. Saturday, we leave our own mark.” Beyond its bulletin board value, the “many great games” claim would seem to be a stretch in a series that has seen the Broncos win 15 of the last 16 games. But it’s really not when you consider the clashes at Mackay Stadium. There was a time that Boise State would regularly rout Nevada in Reno, with victory margins of 37, 37 and 31 points in the first three games there this century. But since then, beginning with Kellen Moore’s freshman year, the average margin in four games between the teams has been four points, with no victory by more than a touchdown.

Boise State tries to treat every opponent the same. That’s the way the Broncos approach their test at Nevada tomorrow night. Not that they don’t know how important this game is. On the other side, Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell isn’t shy about setting this game apart. “Yes, it’s a lot different to be honest with you,” said Norvell Monday. “We’re getting ready for a game and it’s a big game. It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to. It’s different. I heard Jack Nicklaus talk about playing in majors and he just said they’re different the way you prepare. They’re different. And he won a lot of them. It’s different. We’re getting ready for a big game and we know it’s a big game and we’re looking forward to it.” Did Norvell mention this game is different? We do know his Wolf Pack will be fired up.

The expectation is that Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi will play tomorrow against Boise State—and the expectation is that Bronco quarterback Brett Rypien will play better versus the Wolf Pack than he did versus San Diego State. Gangi had started 19 of the Pack’s previous 21 games before missing last week’s 21-3 loss to Fresno State with a thigh contusion. In his last appearance at Air Force two weeks ago, Gangi was 24-of-33 for 259 yards and four touchdowns against one pick. Rypien, coming off a nightmarish day against the Aztecs, should see a better effort from his offensive line tomorrow night, which should help him be at least closer to the QB we saw the first four games of the season. Both Gangi and Rypien are semifinalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Flags on special teams continue to be disconcerting for Boise State. They affect field position—and for a team struggling to run the ball, field position is huge. There were two penalties on punt returns last Saturday versus San Diego State, both blocks in the back, and one of them coming in the third quarter when Khalil Shakir had set up shop nicely for the Broncos. Also affecting field position is Boise State’s punting. The Broncos just aren’t pinning ‘em deep very often. Look at Mountain West stats and you might be startled to find that they’re last in the conference in net punting (after returns) with an average of just 32.2 yards. And Nevada leads the conference in punt return average.

Utah State is looking for (and is heavily-favored to get) its first 5-1 start since 1978 when it hosts UNLV Saturday. The point spread has exploded for this game—it opened at 17 points and is up to a whopping 27½. USU throttled BYU last Friday, while the Rebels were blindsided by New Mexico. Here’s the deal. The Aggies don’t have to play San Diego State nor Fresno State this year. The only game that looks like a threat to USU between now and the trip to the blue turf Thanksgiving weekend is at Hawaii on November 3.

Bozeman’s a tough place to play these days. Since Idaho last played there, Montana State’s facility, formerly known as Reno H. Sales Stadium, is now called Bobcat Stadium. It was expanded in 2011 to a standing-room capacity of 20,767, and MSU draws well there. So Idaho has a tough task ahead in tomorrow’s Big Sky clash. The Vandals hope their special teams are a neutralizer, because who knows what’ll happen with the UI defense? Idaho has scored three special teams touchdowns, blocked three kicks and leads the Big Sky in the three major punting categories. Sophomore Cade Coffey is averaging 47.1 yards per punt, the second-best average in the FCS. Of course, field position didn’t matter in Pocatello last week, as Idaho State regularly drove the length of the field on the Vandals.

Speaking of Idaho State, a win at UC Davis tomorrow would propel the Bengals into the FCS Top 25. In fact, at 4-1, they should already be there. Dan Hawkins’ Aggies, who are also 4-1, sit at No. 14 this week. Also, College of Idaho is on the road at Montana Tech tomorrow. The Coyotes turned the ball over five times while grabbing their first win of the season against Carroll College last week. The Yotes had best not go that route in Butte if they want a two-game winning streak. On the plus side for C of I, quarterback Darius-James Peterson missed the first game against the Orediggers this season with an injury and is anxious to test them tomorrow.

It’s Opening Night for the Idaho Steelheads, as they begin on the road against the Wichita Thunder. The Steelheads generally got great goaltending last season, finishing fourth in the ECHL in goals-against average, allowing just 2.61 per game. And they have Tomas Sholl and Ryan Faragher back. Sholl joined Idaho late last season and rolled off nine straight victories, four of which were shutouts. In fact, Sholl recorded three shutouts in a row, going 210 minutes between the pipes without allowing a goal. The Steelies split their exhibition games with Utah last week, winning the first 5-1 and losing the second 2-1 in a shootout.

There’s no cut line at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Good thing—that would be a long way to go just to pack your bags after two rounds. Troy Merritt would be in that boat. The former Boise State star carded a three-over 75 today and is third-to-last in the event. The back nine got Merritt again, as he absorbed three bogeys and a double-bogey.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BIZPRINT…your business printing partner!

October 12, 2015: A bizarre day in college coaching circles. A day after placing coach Steve Sarkisian on indefinite leave for showing up intoxicated at a team meeting, USC fires the second-year coach after new allegations arise. That came four days after Washington and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen had upset the Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum, 17-12. Petersen had replaced Sarkisian at UW the year before. And on the other side of the country, the other USC (South Carolina) found out that 70-year-old coach Steve Spurrier was abruptly retiring. Spurrier won 228 games in 26 seasons as a college head coach at South Carolina, Florida and Duke, winning a national championship with the Gators in 1996.

(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.)