Most of the Mountain West rowing the same boat

Normally, a Boise State men’s basketball team that labored to a 5-8 non-conference record would face a daunting task in opening the Mountain West season at Wyoming. But tonight in Laramie, the Broncos will be facing a team in the same boat, as the Cowboys are 4-9. So the question becomes: which of these teams can avoid really bad things in the league opener? Boise State is coming off its 62-50 loss to Oregon in which the Broncos didn’t make a field goal for the first 9:44 of the game. They only made 15 buckets all game. Of course, they essentially gave away 19 possessions through turnovers.

Wyoming has its own tales of woe, including a 1-for-26 first half in a 23-point loss to East Tennessee State last month. The 3.8 percent shooting from the field was the worst in a half in a college basketball game in 32 years. The Cowboys do have a win over South Carolina, but they needed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat Division II Dixie State in the Arena Auditorium last Saturday. Wyoming’s star performer is 6-7 junior Justin James, who’s averaging 22.4 points and 4.4 assists per game.

WHISPERS OF THE OLD WAC

Has anyone else noticed this in the Mountain West’s non-conference men’s basketball standings? It’s been almost six years since the last of the upper-echelon teams in the WAC were absorbed by the Mountain West. Going into league play tonight, No. 6 Nevada is first at 13-0, followed by Utah State at 10-3 and Fresno State at 9-3. All three are WAC expatriates. Aside from that trio, it’s been a downer of a season so far for the Mountain West. Starting with Boise State’s loss to Idaho State and right through San Diego State’s 82-61 home loss to Brown last Saturday, the end of 2018 was dotted by bad nights. The MW was just 74-64 in non-conference play. Bottom line: the Wolf Pack has probably hit a glass ceiling in the rankings, as nothing it faces in the conference is going to significantly help its RPI.

MATTISON DOUBLED DOWN AS A JUNIOR

Would he go or would he stay? When Alexander Mattison up and went last Friday, declaring early for the NFL Draft, it wrapped up a long and hard thought process about the decision. He’s an extremely smart guy. How can you not root for him? Mattison rolled his first two seasons at Boise State into one big finale. How about this? As a freshman and sophomore, Mattison combined for 1,414 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. As a junior, he totaled 1,415 yards and 17 TDs. Uncanny. Now, anything can happen at running back later this year. Andrew Van Buren just received cameos this season. Robert Mahone is still waiting for a breakout. We haven’t seen redshirt Danny Smith yet. Methinks true freshmen Keegan Duncan and George Holani will provide some intrigue in this process.

THE 1,000-YARD RUSHER STREAK IS ALL BOISE STATE’S

One footnote on Mattison’s 1,000-yard season. Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow ended the year with 787 yards rushing. What that means is Boise State now has the nation’s longest streak of 1,000-yard rushers—10 consecutive seasons—as Auburn’s nine-year run comes to an end. It’s not like Whitlow had a bad season; he had only 150 carries and averaged 5.2 yards per tote. Whitlow gained just 10 yards on the ground in the Tigers’ 63-14 rout of Purdue in the Music City Bowl last Friday, but he did contribute a 66-yard touchdown catch. Footnote to the footnote: Mattison is now second in the nation this season behind Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor with 302 carries.

SO IS THE STREAK OF WINNING SEASONS

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. Virginia Tech’s 35-31 loss to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on New Year’s Eve broke a run of 25 straight winning seasons for the Hokies, who finished 6-7. That means Boise State’s 21 consecutive winning seasons now represents the longest streak in the country. It’s a testament to the sustainability of the Bronco program and the continuity created by its coaching brotherhood, from Dirk Koetter to Dan Hawkins to Chris Petersen to Bryan Harsin. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do. It’s a good time to update Boise State’s overall record since 1998: 223 wins, 49 losses.

BROWNING’S JOURNEY, FROM BLUE TURF TO ROSES

It started with a 16-13 loss to Boise State in 2015, and it ended with a 28-23 loss to Ohio State on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl. Jake Browning’s career is over at Washington. Browning has been at times brilliant and maddeningly inconsistent, and that has brought scrutiny. According to the Seattle Times, Browning himself coined a term for it: “Jake-Lash.” Said Browning last week, “People are ready for the next thing. Sucks for them, because I’m still here.” Not anymore, following yesterday’s defeat that saw him help rally UW from a 28-3 third quarter deficit. Browning created his own monster in his sophomore year, when he tied the Pac-12 record with 43 touchdown passes and led the Huskies to the College Football Playoff. He hasn’t come close to that since, combining for 35 TD passes as a junior and senior.

YOU CAN’T KEEP THE ‘WOLF HUNTER’ DOWN

Leighton Vander Esch made only nine tackles against the New York Giants Sunday. Perish the thought. But that’s only because he left the 36-35 Dallas victory due to a shin injury with 11½ minutes remaining in the game. Tuesday’s Cowboys injury report, however, didn’t include Vander Esch, indicating the former Boise State star will be ready to go when the NFL Playoffs open against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday at AT&T Stadium. LVE officially has a staggering 140 tackles on the year as a rookie, third in the NFL, while the Dallas coaching staff’s count puts him closer to 170.

BRONCO WOMEN SEEK THE MOUNTAINTOP

Back to hoops: the Boise State women also open their Mountain West season—and defense of their Mountain West championship—tonight against Wyoming, only they’ll be home in Taco Bell Arena. This game will match the top two teams in the conference in shooting percentage. The Broncos are 9-2 and have won four straight since their humbling loss at Washington State a month ago, including a title at the Husky Classic. The Cowgirls are 7-2 and also have a four-game winning streak.

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January 2, 1982: San Diego defeats Miami, 41-38, in overtime in one of the classic knock-down and drag-out NFL playoff games of all time. The explosive Chargers jumped out to a 24-0 lead behind Dan Fouts, only to see the Dolphins roar back to tie in the fourth quarter. Rolf Benirsche won it on an overtime field goal, but the lasting memory of this one was San Diego’s exhausted star tight end Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by his teammates at the end of the game.

(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.)