Is there buzz for the Bulldogs?

The crowd for the Boise State-Fresno State game will tell us a lot about how the rest of the winter will go. The crowd for the Boise State-Fresno State game tomorrow afternoon will tell us a lot about how the rest of the winter will go. But indications are attendance is bouncing back in Taco Bell Arena. The Broncos drew 6,749 for their Mountain West opener against Colorado State last Saturday. There were 5,415 fans in the house for last year’s conference home opener. “I credit our fans; we have a great atmosphere now,” said coach Leon Rice after the game. “I can’t wait for our students to get back.” And many of them will be tomorrow, as the second semester starts Monday. The expectations from Bronco players are high. “We are still trying to build up our fan base here, said James Webb III following the win over CSU. “It’s good to have the fans that we have, we are just trying to get everyone else out here.”

Boise State averaged 5,774 last season after drawing 6,810 per game in 2013-14. The number sits at 5,309 right now, and that was helped by the 10,239 fans for the victory over Oregon. But it’s trending up already, and there’s a bunch of big Mountain West games to come. The Broncos can sell their home winning streak—they’ve won 16 straight in Taco Bell Arena, equaling the second-longest home streak in school history (the record is 19).

Because of the Mountain West rotation, this will be Boise State’s only game of the season against Fresno State. It’s well-chronicled that the Broncos won 15 of their last 16 games in the regular season a year ago. The one loss? About midway through, to the Bulldogs. Fresno State won 70-64 in the Save Mart Center on a night Webb and Chandler Hutchison, two of this season’s catalysts, would like to forget. Webb and Hutchison each went 1-for-7 from the field, and Derrick Marks’ 31 points weren’t enough to offset that. On the other side, Marvelle Harris canned five three-pointers and scored 24 points for the Bulldogs. Harris, the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, is on a roll again this season—he’s third in the Mountain West in scoring at 18.4 points per game.

It’s Wild Card Weekend in the NFL, and two Boise State alums will be suiting up. We’ve talked about Jeron Johnson, who represents Washington Sunday against Green Bay. Fellow former Bronco safety George Iloka will play for Cincinnati tomorrow against Pittsburgh. Iloka was seen as a Pro Bowl prospect before the season started, but a groin injury down the stretch helped drop his numbers slightly from a banner 2014 campaign. The fourth-year pro made 66 tackles, down from 74 the year before, and had just one interception versus three last season. It’ll be an interesting offseason for Iloka—he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

Let’s check out several guys whose NFL seasons are complete now. I wish I could say Jay Ajayi contributed to Miami’s season-ending upset of New England last Sunday, but Boise State’s Jay-Train logged all of two yards rushing on seven carries. Ajayi finished with 187 yards and a touchdown in nine games in his injury-delayed rookie season and caught seven passes for another 90 yards. Shea McClellin, in the walk year of his contract with Chicago, found a home at inside linebacker this season. The one-time Marsing Husky started 11 games for the Bears and made 81 tackles and forced a fumble. “I’d love to be back if they want me,” he said in the Chicago Sun-Times. “If not, I’ll move on.” Charles Leno Jr., meanwhile, has settled in nicely at offensive tackle for the Bears.

A pair of former Idaho Vandals drew paychecks in Oakland this season. Benson Mayowa logged 16 tackles, one for a safety, and had two fumble recoveries this season for the Raiders. The second recovery was a memorable one, coming in the fourth quarter on Christmas Eve against San Diego. Mayowa returned it 41 yards to the Chargers’ three-yard line, leading to a touchdown in a game the Raiders won 23-20 in overtime. Mayowa’s former teammate at U of I, Korey Toomer, totaled four tackles for Oakland on the season.

Troy Merritt freely admits he didn’t play much golf during the PGA Tour’s December break, thanks to the security of his new exempt status on the tour. The former Boise State standout earned that with his first career victory on the major circuit last summer. Well, it may take awhile to work out the kinks. Merritt returned to tournament golf on Maui yesterday in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, and he shot a two-over 75. He’s tied for 27th in the 32-player field.

After grinding through five games in eight days right after Christmas, the Idaho Steelheads are recharged for their two-game series at Utah this weekend. The Steelheads, who spent some uncomfortable time in last place in the ECHL West Division earlier this season, have won eight of their last 10 games and are now just three points behind the division-leading Grizzlies. The Steelies’ leading scorer currently is Rob Linsmayer, who’s tied for sixth in the ECHL with 32 points. Linsmayer has posted four goals and nine assists during Idaho’s recent run.

Back to hoops—and a bit more on Pierre Jackson as he preps for his season debut with the Idaho Stampede in their D-League Showcase finale tomorrow afternoon against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Jackson, who set a Stampede record in 2013-14 with a 29.1-point scoring average, would seemingly just be happy at this point with a long stretch of injury-free basketball as he gets back in the swing. His long but not-so-productve stay with the Philadelphia 76ers was plagued by ailments. Jackson was poised for a legit NBA shot until he tore his Achilles tendon in his first summer league game with the Sixers a year and a half ago. He’s tried to battle back, but now his route to the Show goes through the D-League again.

Optimism reigns supreme at Idaho. The Vandals are 2-0 in the Big Sky and, at 10-5 overall, are one of the conference’s only two teams with double-digit wins. The Big Sky victories came in gutty efforts far, far way last week—at North Dakota and Northern Colorado. And Idaho will be rested going into its only game of the week, a pivotal matchup at Eastern Washington tomorrow night. The Vandals went 0-3 versus the Eagles last season, with the regular season meetings each decided by three points. Then there was another tough loss in the Big Sky Tournament.

A couple other notes: Boise State’s men’s tennis coach Greg Patton is now a Hall of Famer four times over. Patton’s latest enshrinement is in the USTA Intermountain Region Hall of Fame. The Broncos, incidentally, open their season a week from tomorrow. And the Boise Hawks will have a new manager this summer. Last year’s skipper, Frank Gonzales, has been named manager of the Colorado Rockies’ rookie league affiliate in Grand Junction, CO. Gonzales guided the Hawks to a 30-46 record last season in their first year of affiliation with the Rockies.

This Day In Sports…January 8, 2009:

Tim Tebow does something he could never do in the NFL—he outduels a fellow Heisman Trophy winner in a title game. Tebow led Florida to a 24-14 victory over Sam Bradford and Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Tebow was 18-of-30 for 231 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 109 yards. Bradford finished 26-of-41 for 256 yards and two TDs. Each quarterback threw two interceptions. It was the Gators’ second national title in their fourth season under coach Urban Meyer.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)