(TOM SCOTT’S COLUMN WILL RETURN MONDAY.)
Leighton Vander Esch will be back in town this coming weekend, attending an autograph session and getting some R&R. The NFL Draft is a month from today, and the closer we get to it, the more the former Boise State star is looking like a first round pick. Vander Esch was a guest on NFL Network’s “Up To The Minute” at the end of last week and was asked where he thinks he’s going. “Everybody’s talking about Pittsburgh right now,” said Vander Esch. “I feel like I could land anywhere.” Ironically, last week’s release of Shea McClellin by New England might make the Patriots a possibility. The Pats choose at No. 31, and with McClellin gone, linebacker is a position of need.
It’s spring break week at Boise State—same for spring football. Bronco coaches will be reviewing the first volume of video out of last Thursday’s scrimmage as they start to identify Vander Esch’s replacement at linebacker. The odds-on favorite might be sophomore Riley Whimpey. He doesn’t have the raw physical skills of Vander Esch—Whimpey is 6-1, 207 pounds, for example—but he has the mentality. The forgotten man is Blake Whitlock, the one-time walk-on who came out of nowhere in 2016 to record 36 tackles and two sacks. Whitlock used a redshirt year last fall as he rehabbed a shoulder injury suffered in fall camp. The wild card is redshirt freshman Zeke Noa, a two-time CIF San Diego Section Defensive Player of the Year from perennial power Helix High. Noa has a very high ceiling.
Once upon a time, K.J. Carta-Samuels’ first game on the blue turf was going to be in a Boise State uniform. Then there was a cameo in 2015 in the purple and gold of Washington. Now there’ll likely be a finale as a Colorado State Ram on October 19. Carta-Samuels, a Bronco commit in late 2013 who followed Chris Petersen to UW, left the Huskies in search of one last shot at playing time. He’s set to find it at CSU, where he officially landed on Sunday as a graduate transfer after toying with joining Chip Kelly’s program at UCLA. Coach Mike Bobo has been looking for another quarterback since presumed starter Connor Hill’s ACL tear earlier this month. In three season of limited duty at Washington, Carta-Samuels was 27-of-47 for 319 yards an three touchdowns.
Gonzaga has its counter-offer from the West Coast Conference. Will it be enough to keep the Zags from moving to the Mountain West (or somewhere else)? The WCC Presidents’ Council announced yesterday that the 10-team league will go to a 16-game hoops schedule next season instead of an 18-game double round-robin slate, essentially freeing the Bulldogs to add two more RPI-building non-conference foes. Gonzaga has been very open about the fact it is handcuffed once conference play starts as far as resume-building is concerned. There are also “financial adjustments to postseason revenue distribution,” although those aren’t spelled out. Other changes include the requirement that WCC teams “schedule and play no more than two non-Division I opponents per season.” Advantage Zags—if it’s not too late.
Back on the Boise State hoops front, attention focuses not only on replacing not only Chandler Hutchison, but also Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder. The Broncos will have to spread their scoring more evenly next season, as there’s no one on the roster who has the look at a regular 20-point scorer like Hutchison. They have quite a few potential contributors—Justinian Jessup and Alex Hobbs, for example. Jessup was Boise State’s third-leading scorer this season at 11.6 points per game, and Hobbs showed flashes of the ability that made him one of the most prolific scorers in the state of Texas two seasons ago. But nobody has the complete skill set of Hutchison.
Marcus Dickinson could slide into Williams’ starting spot at point guard. The most difficult role to fill may be that of Sengfelder, a relentless rebounding force and a three-point threat. Casdon Jardine is a candidate. I was surprised Jardine didn’t play more this season after transferring from College of Southern Idaho. But right off the top, the former Twin Falls High star is two inches shorter and almost 30 pounds lighter than Sengfelder. Jardine averaged just four minutes per game this season, averaging 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds. Can Zach Haney help fill the void left by Sengfelder? Haney separated himself from Robin Jorch and David Wacker among Boise State post players this season and is said to be embracing some high expectations for his senior year.
As for Nevada’s prospects for 2018-19 after its Sweet 16 run, the Wolf Pack will be ready for any Mountain West challengers, even if one of them is named Gonzaga. The Pack returns all of its centerpieces: twins Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew (who will be coming off rehab of the torn Achilles he suffered at Boise State in January). Nevada also has four more transfers waiting in the wings after sitting out this season. Now the Wolf Pack has to hang on to coach Eric Musselman, one of the more celebrated coaches of March Madness. There are, however, no prevailing rumors out there yet about a Musselman move. Right now there are only two power conference jobs available (Pittsburgh and Louisville).
Now we’ll see which team got the best former Tim Miles assistant—Colorado State or Utah State. CSU hired Nico Medved, who 10 years ago was on Miles’ Rams staff, last week. Now USU has gone with South Dakota’s Craig Smith to replace Tim Duryea, who was fired two weeks ago. Smith was also with Miles at Colorado State and Nebraska before taking over at South Dakota, where he was 79-55 overall and 26-9 this season. It’s new territory for the Aggies as they venture outside the Stew Morrill coaching tree. It must be painful for Fresno State to watch its Mountain West colleagues fill these spots and move on. The Bulldogs don’t have a replacement for Rodney Terry yet—hey, they’ve been without an athletic director since November.
Now it’s on to the annual pins and needles for the Boise State women’s gymnastics team. The Broncos have come oh-so-close to making nationals as a team, but they’ve never done it. The road goes through NCAA Regionals, and this year Boise State heads for Ohio State a week from Saturday. The Broncos will be third-seeded in the Columbus Regional behind No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Arkansas. The Buckeyes are the fourth seed, followed by Pitt and Kent State. The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) from each regional will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA cChampionships in St. Louis April 20-21.
This Day In Sports…March 27, 2013, five years ago today:
The second-longest same-season winning streak in NBA history ends at 27 games as the Miami Heat fall to the Chicago Bulls, 101-97. The Heat came within six victories of the L.A. Lakers’ record 33-game streak in 1971-72. LeBron James scored 26.9 points per game and Dwayne Wade 23.5 during Miami’s run, which had started February 1 and featured an average margin of victory of 11.3 points.
(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.)