We drift into Boise State-Air Force week. Hopefully not aimlessly. That’s what the series feels like in the Bryan Harsin era. The Falcons, of course have won three straight over the Broncos, sucking the air out of the program each time. Air Force is the first team to beat Boise State in three consecutive seasons since Nevada from 1996-98. It has happened in a variety of ways. In 2014, there was the offensive implosion that saw the Broncos threw five interceptions in a 28-14 loss at the Academy. The Falcons pulled off a 37-30 shocker on the blue turf in 2015 by ambushing Boise State with their passing game, averaging an eye-popping 31 yards per completion. Last November came Brett Rypien’s inexplicable 9-for-26 day through the air in a 27-20 loss that ended with four failed attempts at the end zone after a first-and-goal at the five.
There are differences this year, or so it appears. One is the Boise State offensive line, whose 2016 season ended on a sour note due in large part to that Air Force goal-line stand. The O-line could not spring eventual NFL Draft pick Jeremy McNichols on three consecutive carries before Rypien’s failed quarterback sneak on fourth down. This season started much the same way, with the running game stuck in quicksand and far too many sacks of Rypien and Montell Cozart. But since the bye week at the end of September, the offensive line has been a strength and one of the catalysts during the Broncos’ six-game winning streak, spurring the emergence of Alexander Mattison in the running game.
Boise State received six votes in this week’s AP Poll, down from 14 last week. I figure that voters in the East turned off their TVs late Saturday night when Colorado State led the Broncos 35-10, filled out their ballots, and went to bed. When they woke up Sunday morning to see that Boise State had rallied to beat CSU 59-52, they didn’t feel like revising their ballots, and they sent ‘em in. Well, the College Football Playoff committee must have been wide awake, because it voted the Broncos No. 25 in the new CFP Poll last night. Something like that certainly wasn’t on my radar—how about you? But what seemed unfathomable after the deflating loss to Virginia has come to pass.
While the Broncos doggedly pursue their dream of a Mountain West championship, Air Force is backed into a corner in its quest for bowl eligibility. The Falcons have to win Saturday night on the blue turf and again at home next week against Utah State to reach their 10th bowl game in 11 seasons under coach Troy Calhoun. Air Force has had some wild peaks and valleys this year. Three weeks ago the Falcons ran roughshod over Colorado State in a 45-28 win in Fort Collins. One week later they were shut out 21-0 on their home field by rival Army, the first time Air Force had been blanked in 306 games dating back to 1992. Something about the Broncos always brings out the best in the Falcons, though.
Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan will walk onto the Kibbie Dome turf Saturday to be honored during Senior Day. Whether he’s one the field when the game starts against Coastal Carolina is still to be determined. Linehan suffered an injury to the hand or wrist of his throwing arm near the end of the Vandals’ 24-21 loss to Troy on November 4 and has had a bye week to try to heal. Linehan, who just celebrated his birthday Monday, had been on a roll before being hurt. He has gone six consecutive games without throwing an interception, the longest streak of his four-year career. Linehan has 2,056 passing yards this season with 16 touchdowns against just four picks.
Two weeks ago Jay Ajayi got a new team. This week he’s got new shoes. The former Boise State star has had a custom pair of shoes designed for him by adidas, with his “Jay Train” emoji spotted all over the outside. Ajayi will debut the shoes on Sunday Night Football when he and the Philadelphia Eagles go to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. In regular shoes 10 days ago, Ajayi played his first game for Philly and rushed for 77 yards on eight carries, including a 46-yard touchdown run.
With Boise State experiencing what most mid-majors experience—difficulty in convincing marquee opponents to travel to their home courts—the spotlight is on the 11th annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off for the Broncos. If they’re going to build a resume for the 2017-18 season, this is a key week. The tournament, moved to Myrtle Beach, SC, because of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, marks Boise State’s fourth appearance in a major early-season event in five years. The Broncos open against UTEP tomorrow at noon on ESPNU, with South Carolina and Illinois State also on their side of the bracket. The Gamecocks reached the NCAA Final Four last season, while the Redbirds, like Boise State, made the second round of the NIT.
Two other campus notes: new Northwest Nazarene coach Paul Rush made a distinguished debut in the United Heritage Insurance Mayors’ Cup last night, as the Nighthawks held off College of Idaho 76-70 at the Johnson Sports Center in Nampa. Maurice Jones led NNU with 24 points. The second Mayors’ Cup matchup will be played next Tuesday in Caldwell. And Boise State women’s volleyball celebrates Senior Night tonight with the home finale against San Jose State in Bronco Gym. The most prominent senior is Sierra Nobley, one of the program’s all-time greats. Nobley’s in the top 10 in the nation among active players in four different career stat categories.
The Idaho Steelheads’ mid-November road trip takes them to Rapid City tonight for the first of a three-game series against the Rush, who have won four games in a row. Idaho will try to shore up its normally prolific penalty kill this week. In their 5-4 shootout win at Allen last Saturday, the Steelies allowed four power play goals, their most in a game in almost five years. On the other hand, the Steelheads’ penalty-kill unit has been able to go on the offensive this season, scoring three shorthanded goals, tied for third in the ECHL.
This Day In Sports…November 15, 2011:
In his 37th season overall and 32nd year at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski becomes the winningest coach in Division I basketball history, notching his 903rd victory in a 74-69 win over Michigan State in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Krzyzewski passed Bobby Knight, for whom he played as an undergrad at Army in the late 1960’s. Knight was across the floor at the ESPN broadcast table, and Krzyzewski made a beeline for his mentor at the final buzzer.
(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.)