Looking for a new train in the backfield

In this final week of Boise State spring football, let’s turn our attention to the race for playing time in the post-Jay Ajayi era. The numbers are stark. Gone are Ajayi and his 678 career carries, 3,796 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns (not to mention Charles Bertoli’s 139 yards). Returnees Jack Fields, Devan Demas and Jeremy McNichols have 762 career yards and five touchdowns combined. Redshirt freshman Cory Young is going to be one to watch in the Blue & Orange game Saturday. Coach Bryan Harsin says McNichols, who has been out all spring, will finally get reps in practice this week but will be held out of contact Saturday evening.

You can’t go over the backfield situation without pointing out something else the Broncos lose with Ajayi gone. The Jay-Train was a huge weapon in the passing game, especially his senior year. Ajayi had 50 receptions last season, the most ever by a Bronco running back, breaking the record of 45 set by John Smith back in 1974. Ajayi leaves the program with 73 career catches and an average of more than 10 yards per reception. That’s where McNichols comes in. He debuted as a true freshman last year with 15 grabs and a touchdown while playing a little wide receiver and a little running back. Fields has just three career catches, and Demas is still looking for his first.

The spring game Saturday will start with the ceremony honoring Boise State great Kellen Moore. Now it’s been revealed that the evening will end with a live concert by 2007 “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks. If you have a ticket to the game, you can stay for the concert, and you’ll be able to go onto the blue turf to enjoy it. Sparks was 17 when she won “American Idol,” the youngest champion in the show’s history. Harsin really wants a big crowd in Albertsons Stadium Saturday, do ya think?

Idaho is in its second week of spring football, with one scrimmage under its belt. As is usually the case with the Vandals, it was a marathon session last Saturday—165 plays. Incumbent quarterback Matt Linehan got high marks from coach Paul Petrino, going 19-of-35 for 239 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Redshirt freshman Jake Luton made his first bid to be Linehan’s backup with a 12-of-16 performance for 170 yards and a TD. Petrino really liked what he saw in the scrimmage, but don’t ask him what’s changed since the 1-11 season that ended in November. “We are not going to compare ourselves to what we were in the past, ever,” said Petrino. “We are going to compare ourselves to where we need to be to beat everybody in our conference.”

Hawaii started spring football Saturday with its new offensive and defensive coordinators in place, one-time Boise State assistants Don Bailey and Tom Mason, respectively. There’s a lot of hype on the Islands surrounding Bailey in particular. He came from Idaho State, where he helped resurrect a program that produced 64 touchdowns in 12 games last year. The Bengals also had the FCS’s top passer, Justin Arias, who threw for 4,076 yards. Not to forget the ISU running game—Xavier Finney was the No. 11 rusher in the FCS with 1,495 yards. The Bengals were second nationally with an average of 562 yards per game of total offense, a number that is tantalizing to the struggling Warriors.

Finney will be back for his senior year at Idaho State—and a trip to the blue turf to challenge Boise State in September—but Arias will not. ISU spring football is in its second week, and the quarterback spot is a rather major focus for coach Mike Kramer. The three guys competing for the job are James Delacenserie, Tanner Gueller and Trae Pilster, under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Sheldon Cross. Only Delancenserie, a sophomore form Park City, UT, has thrown a pass in a collegiate game. He was 6-of-10 for 66 yards last season.

The end of the regular season is already here for the Idaho Steelheads, who host Utah tonight in CenturyLink Arena. The Grizzlies’ motivation is immense. A win tonight all but ensures the elimination of the Alaska Aces from postseason contention and gets Utah into the Kelly Cup Playoffs—where the Steelheads await in the first round. For the Steelies, it’s a chance to tie their ECHL era high of 48 wins in a season. The Steelies are 16-2-2 in their past 20 games, helped greatly by Wade MacLeod, the league’s second-leading scorer. MacLeod has a six-game point streak going and has scored 21 goals in his past 26 games dating back to February 1.

Three former Boise Hawks pitchers are slated to make their first starts of 2015 today. Or at least they were. John Lackey was to take the mound for St. Louis against the Cubs in Chicago until a rainout yesterday at Wrigley Field pushed the order back a day. Lackey, the 36-year-old right-hander who dates back to the Hawks’ affiliation with the Angels, is entering his 12th major league season. He’s the Cardinals’ middle-of-the-rotation guy after coming over from Boston last summer. Lackey’s numbers with the Cards were so-so: 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA.

Ricky Nolasco starts for Minnesota at Detroit today. Nolasco had a horrible season in his first year with the Twins, going 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA. He was better at the end than the beginning, though. And Andrew Cashner throws for San Diego tonight at Dodger Stadium, hoping he’s more durable than in 2014. Cashner was great when healthy, recording a 2.55 ERA. But his record was only 5-7. That’s expected to improve now that the Padres have surrounded him with so many high-priced free agents.

Boise State’s Genevieve Ling rallied from a one-stroke deficit yesterday to win the Cowgirl Classic in Maricopa, AZ. Long fired a one-under 71 to outdistance Wenny Chang of Lamar by two strokes. Long, a sophomore from Malaysia, is the third-straight Bronco to earn at least a share of medalist honors at the Cowgirl Classic. Hayley Young won the event as a senior in 2013, and Samantha Martin, now a junior, tied for first place at last year’s edition.

This Day In Sports…April 8, 1975, 40 years ago today:

Baseball’s first black manager, Frank Robinson, makes his debut a winning one. The Cleveland Indians’ player-manager hit a first-inning home run in a 7-5 win over the New York Yankees. Robinson would continue the dual role through 1976, ending up with 586 career homers, ninth on the all-time list. As a manager, he’d go on to skipper the Giants and Orioles—and the lame-duck Expos during their final season in Montreal.

(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.)