Handicapping the Group of 5 race

“Who will be this year’s Central Florida?” USA Today’s Paul Myerberg has his answer, anyway. He tabs Boise State as the Group of 5’s top contender for a New Year’s Six bowl in the upcoming season. “In terms of pure talent and experience—not just on offense but on both sides of the ball—Boise State is the class of the Group of 5, and a team that could more than holds its own against almost every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision,” writes Myerberg. “The schedule is also good: Boise gets Oklahoma State early and Brigham Young, San Diego State and Fresno State at home. This could be a team that ends up battling for a spot in the top 10 come December and January.” Way too early for that, of course. Coincidentally, Myerberg has UCF as the No. 2 candidate to succeed itself.

Myerberg is high on the Mountain West this year. He tabs San Diego State as the No. 3 possibility to represent the Group of 5. “Don’t sleep on SDSU taking down Fresno State and getting past the Broncos to win the Mountain West Conference,” he writes. Then you scroll to No. 6, and there’s Fresno State. “The Bulldogs need to prove they’re not a flash in the pan after a wildly successful debut season under Jeff Tedford,” writes Myerberg. “For the first time in several years, no shortage of confidence. But navigating through the Mountain West won’t be easy.”

Thomas Sperbeck is back where he was a year ago, occupying a roster spot with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have signed the former Boise State star to a free agent contract, as they did after he went undrafted in 2017. Sperbeck, the Broncos’ career receiving yards leader, was released very publicly by Bucs and one-time Boise State coach Dirk Koetter last August on “Hard Knocks.” So, of the three former Broncos to be signed as free agents this spring, only tight end Jake Roh (Atlanta) is new. Sperbeck joins Marcus Henry (Seattle) as an old-timer of sorts getting another NFL chance.

All I can say is, I know there were lots of people hoping it would go this way. The State Board of Education is essentially starting over in the search to replace Bob Kustra as president at Boise State. The first order of business is an RFP for a new search firm, as the previous one did not produce people that made sense. “We really need to find the right fit for Boise State,” board president Linda Clark told KTIK’s Mike Prater yesterday. It’s especially important considering how high Kustra has set the bar. He understood the relationship between athletics and academics, taking advantage of—in particular—the success of Bronco football to strike while the iron is hot on the academic side with new programs and new buildings. Major university experience, or an understanding of that dynamic, is really, really important.

So does Chandler Hutchison really have a “promise” from a team drafting between Nos. 20-30 next month in the NBA Draft? Amidst all the talk of Portland’s pursuit of the Boise State great comes the latest mock draft from USA Today. There, you see Hutchison being scooped up by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 20 overall pick. The narrative won’t surprise anyone who has watched him play: “Hutchison made marked strides throughout his career at Boise State, each year becoming a more invaluable piece on offense. He excels in transition, is a ballhawk on the glass, can hit from outside and can guard multiple positions. He’ll need to get stronger, but his length is intriguing.” So is this discussion.

Troy Merritt got out of the gate nicely yesterday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas, but so did lots of other guys. Riding birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, Merritt shot a four-under 67 and is in a tie for 23rd after the first round—make that a 21-way tie. Of the 156 players in the field, 103 were under par. Marc Leishman led the way with a 10-under 61.

About four weeks ago I did an update on former Idaho Steelhead Jay Beagle in the postseason. At that time, the Washington Capitals trailed their first-round playoff series against Columbus two games-to-none, so I figured I’d better get ‘er done. Well, since then, the Capitals have eliminated the Blue Jackets and the defending NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins and are in an Eastern Conference Finals battle with Tampa Bay. Now, Beagle has two goals and three assists in 14 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had the game-winning goal for the Caps in Game 1 last Friday, tallying early in the second period in the 4-2 win over the Lightning. The series is now tied at two games apiece.

Cindy Ball was 26-80 in her first two seasons as women’s softball coach at Boise State. She is 73-34 in the past two campaigns, and tonight she leads the Broncos into what is, for her, familiar territory. Ball was an assistant at Washington in 2011-12, and it’s the Huskies who provide the opposition tonight on ESPNU in Boise State’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Ball can explain the level of competition the Broncos will face in the Pac-12 and the mindset the Huskies will bring into this game. At least Boise State didn’t get the same brutal seeding treatment it did two months ago in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, when it was a No. 16 seed against top-seeded Louisville. The NCAA seeds just the top 16 overall in softball—UW is No. 5.

More campus stuff: Boise State has drawn from the Greg Patton coaching tree to replace the General in leading the Bronco men’s tennis program, as Director of Tennis Beck Roghaar has named Kristian Widen as the new coach. Widen was a star player and three-year captain for Patton in the mid-1990’s and has assisted Roghaar with the women’s program the past three years. And, two men and a program-record 12 women will represent Boise State at the NCAA West Preliminary Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento beginning next Thursday. The Broncos’ Allie Ostrander and Yusuke Uchikoshi take the top times in the field into the women’s and men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, respectively.

This Day In Sports…May 18, 2013, five years ago today:

Fifty-year-old Gary Stevens, the Caldwell native who got his horse racing start at Les Bois Park, becomes the oldest jockey ever to win the Preakness Stakes. Stevens was also the first grandfather to win a Triple Crown race, as he and Oxbow led wire-to-wire at Pimlico in a stunning upset over Orb, the heavily-favored Triple Crown hopeful. Stevens had ended a seven-year retirement that January. The victory was his first in a Triple Crown event since 2001 and his ninth overall—he has three wins in each leg of horse racing’s trilogy.

(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.)