Regardless of what happens the next two weeks against Fresno State, how many people thought Boise State would be in this championship game position seven weeks ago? After the 42-23 home beatdown by Virginia, a good chunk of the fan base had thrown up its hands. At 2-2, could this team even get to seven wins? BYU, San Diego State and Wyoming were on the horizon after the Broncos’ bye week. But oh that bye week. Something happened inside the Bleymaier Football Center. And now we have one of those “if I had told you” moments. If I had told you then that Boise State would peel off seven wins in a row, re-enter the Top 25 in early November, and see Brett Rypien log back-to-back 300-yard games during a stretch that produced 12 touchdown passes against one interception, you would have said…what?
So the bar has been re-set going into Part I of Boise State’s series against Fresno State (only the second time in the past 82 years the same two college football teams have met in consecutive weeks). The Broncos moved from No. 25 to No. 23 last night in the new College Football Playoff rankings as they shoot for their 14th 10-win season of the new century. Even through mid-October, Boise State’s scoring average was stuck in the 20’s, and its total offense was in the 300’s. Now Alexander Mattison is on the verge of going over the thousand-yard mark. Mattison is 39 yards away from giving the Broncos a 1,000-yard rusher for the ninth consecutive season. Cedrick Wilson is already over the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight year. And Rypien is suddenly nine yards away from 2,000 yards passing this season.
The Milk Can lives! It’s the only regular season trophy Boise State plays for, and the Broncos will take it to Fresno State with them. Boise State has been in possession of the Milk Can since 2014, when the two teams last played. The trophy was created by dairymen in the Treasure Valley and San Joaquin Valley. It was introduced to the series in 2005, but was not ready in time for the Broncos-Bulldogs game, which was won by Fresno State. So the Milk Can made its first appearance in 2006, when the Broncos carried it off the blue turf. And they’ve reclaimed it in every ensuing year—except 2013, when Derek Carr was a senior and the Bulldogs won 41-40 in Fresno.
Fresno State, of course, is the Cinderella story of the year in college football, going from 1-11 to 8-3. When did the tide turn? It really started to happen for the Bulldogs on September 30, when Marcus McMaryion replaced Chason Virgil at quarterback and led the ‘Dogs to a 41-21 romp over Nevada. McMaryion was a summer transfer from Oregon State. Where would the Bulldogs be had McMaryion stayed at OSU? Doesn’t matter. He’s in Fresno, and he’s thrown for 1,880 yards and 12 touchdowns against three interceptions. The Bulldogs, behind an offensive line that has started the same five guys virtually all season, have also seen a three-headed running backs committee emerge after a woeful run game in 2016. Jordan Mims, Josh Hokit and Ronnie Rivers have combined for 1,460 rushing yards and 17 TDs.
Rivalry Week has become disjointed in college football this decade, with conference realignment and network meddling in schedules messing up tradition. Why in the world did the Cal-Stanford and USC-UCLA games have to be played last week, for example? The only true rivalry this week in the Mountain West will decide who gets, well, not the Milk Can, but the Fremont Cannon. Nevada and UNLV face off in Reno. A victory by the Rebels would make them bowl-eligible for just the third time as a member of the Mountain West. The key word is there is “eligible.” Even without UNLV, the conference has six bowl-eligible teams—and five guaranteed bowls. So the Rebels in particular would have to hope one of the league’s contingencies works out.
Washington is trying to upset Washington State’s apple cart, so to speak. That can only mean it’s Apple Cup week. The Huskies and Cougars are right next to each other in the polls, switching off at Nos. 14 and 15, but UW is of out of the Pac-12 race. Wazzu is very much in it—a win at Husky Stadium Saturday will put it into the Pac-12 championship game next week. According to the Seattle Times, this week marks the first time since the Apple Cup nickname was first conceived in 1962 that both teams enter the game ranked in the top 15. Washington coach Chris Petersen is 3-0 against the Cougars since arriving from Boise State in 2014, with his Huskies teams having outscored WSU 121-40.
Opposite the Boise State amigos on the Cowboys sideline in tomorrow’s traditional Thanksgiving game in Dallas will be former Idaho standout Korey Toomer of the L.A. Chargers. Toomer, the last Vandal drafted into the NFL in 2012, played his first game in the league with Dallas three years ago before bouncing to the Rams and Raiders. The past two seasons he’s found a home—and a significant role—with the Chargers. Toomer produced the biggest play of his NFL career last week in a 54-24 rout of the Buffalo Bills, making his first interception and returning it 59 yards for a touchdown. The 6-2, 235-pound linebacker has logged 39 tackles as an L.A. Charger this year. He had 75 as a San Diego Charger last season.
The Boise State men’s basketball squad faces a rematch of one of its dicier non-conference games from a year ago, as Loyola-Marymount comes to Taco Bell Arena Saturday night. Chandler Hutchison led the Broncos with 17 points in the 80-79 victory last year in Los Angeles. If the head injury Hutchison suffered last Sunday means he can’t play this week, sophomore guard Alex Hobbs will command a bigger spotlight. Hobbs didn’t even play at LMU last year, but now he’s becoming a Boise State centerpiece. After scoring 118 points all last season as a freshman, Hobbs already has 50 this season. He leads the Broncos in scoring at 14.0 points per game and is the only Bronco to score in double digits all five games.
Elsewhere in college hoops: the second leg of the United Heritage Mayors’ Cup flip-flopped from the first, with College of Idaho taking a 76-68 win over Northwest Nazarene in Caldwell. C of I clamped down on defense, holding NNU to 36 percent shooting from the field, including a 5-for-23 night from three-point land. Former Centennial High standout Talon Pinckney led the Coyotes with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And the University of Idaho is up in the Frozen North for the 40th and final installment of the Great Alaska Shootout. The Vandals open the tournament tonight versus Santa Clara.
The Idaho Steelheads, riding a season-high four-game winning streak, make a return to CenturyLink Arena tonight to open a three-game Thanksgiving weekend series against the Allen Americans. The netminder’s job, at least tonight, will belong to Ryan Faragher, who has won each of his first two games with the Steelheads. The club’s primary starter, Philippe Desrosiers, was recalled to Texas of the AHL on Monday. The feature skater for Idaho right now is forward Justin Parizek, who carries a six-game points streak into the Allen series, with four goals and seven points. Parizek ranks second in the ECHL among rookies in goals and points—nine and 17, respectively.
This Day In Sports…November 22, 1997, 20 years ago today:
Boise State snaps a seven-game Kibbie Dome losing streak with a 30-23 win in the first overtime game in the history of the Bronco-Vandal rivalry. Freshman quarterback Bart Hendricks had his first 300-yard game, throwing for 378, the final five being the winning touchdown pass to Eron Hurley in OT. It would be the final game of Houston Nutt’s one-year stay at Boise State. Less than three weeks later Nutt was off to Arkansas.
(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.)