MW football: New Group of 5 leader

I don’t think it’s too early to declare the Mountain West the new Group of 5 flagbearer—even before Cincinnati, UCF and Houston leave the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12. The MW was vastly improved this season from top to (almost) bottom. While there really wasn’t a dominant team, there was a lot of strength bubbling under the top. Six teams were lumped together at the upper end of the standings: Utah State, San Diego State, Fresno State, Nevada, Air Force and Boise State. The result was evident during the postseason, as the Mountain West has clinched the Bowl Challenge Cup with a 5-1 record. Two of the wins were over Power 5 schools, with Utah State dropping Oregon State in the LA Bowl and Air Force beating Louisville in the First Responder Bowl. Now, if New Mexico and UNLV can evolve…

IT WAS AN INTERESTING 7-5

With that said, it’s a good time to dig a little deeper into Boise State’s five losses. One was to UCF when it still had Dillon Gabriel. One was by one point to Fiesta Bowl champion Oklahoma State. One was by seven to a 10-win Air Force team. One was to by 10 points to Nevada, which was (20/20 hindsight) the worst one. And one was to a 12-win San Diego State team—that was the biggest margin at 11 points. Biggest pre-bowl season losses by those three Mountain West foes? Nevada: 21 points at Kansas State. San Diego State: 33 points to Utah State. Air Force: seven points in overtime at Army. The biggest loss for Mountain West champion Utah State was not 24 points to Boise State, but 27 to Wyoming.

ALWAYS THE HIGH ROAD WITH HARRINGTON

We can’t let this week go by without a salute to Donte Harrington, the Boise State center who has officially ended his football career. Hopefully a few bad snaps this season don’t cloud the immense good Harrington did in the community. In the summer of 2020, he initiated a voter registration drive with his fellow Broncos, many of whom wanted to vote but didn’t know where to start. Harrington teamed up with the League of Women Voters of Idaho, and he ultimately helped 46 Boise State players register to vote in Idaho and additional teammates register in their home states. Harrington’s tweet this week: “Thank you for the support! Football has truly been a blessing and now I’ll strive to pay it forward. I am excited for the future and truly believe the best is yet to come!” That says it all for Harrington, especially the “pay it forward” part.

LENO EARNS HIS KEEP, LONG-TERM

The Washington Football Team has had lots of ups and downs this season—all downs recently as it deals with a four-game losing streak. But one constant has been Charles Leno Jr., who signed a one-year deal as a free agent last spring after being released by the Chicago Bears, for whom he played his first seven NFL seasons. The former Boise State star has played 1,062 snaps this season, 99.4 percent of WFT’s total, and has committed just one false start and one holding penalty. The change of scenery has worked out rather well, as Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reports that Leno and the WFT have agreed to a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension.

BRONCOS STAY ON HIATUS

We made it all the way ’til Wednesday afternoon before Friday night’s much-anticipated Boise State-Colorado State was postponed. But, it has been postponed due to COVID concerns within the Broncos program, as has Nevada’s game at San Diego State on Saturday. So the Mountain West has pivoted, and will send CSU to Viejas Arena Saturday to face the Aztecs for an early January showdown. Make no mistake—the Broncos wanted to play this one. They’re now top 50 for the first time this season in the KenPom computer ratings at No. 49. Despite being ranked 20th in the AP Poll, the Rams are only No. 38 in KenPom. Boise State’s next scheduled matchup is next Wednesday night at Nevada.

THIRD PERIOD SINKS STEELIES AGAIN

The Idaho Steelheads lost their fourth straight game Wednesday night, falling to Utah 2-1 in Idaho Central Arena. Since the NHL instituted taxi squads to deal with COVID-caused roster shortages, the Steelheads have had to shift on the fly. But all ECHL teams are in that boat. This combo of Steelies has struggled in the final 20 minutes in each of the four losses. They saw the Grizzlies tally an unanswered third period goal, the game-winner with 1.7 seconds remaining, on Wednesday. Last week at Allen, the Steelheads had leads in all three games but ended up losing all three after being outscored a stunning 8-0 combined in the third period.

OFFENSIVE OPTIMISM UP NORTH

New Idaho head coach Jason Eck is building on his FCS pedigree, hiring Luke Schleusner as the Vandals offensive coordinator. Schleusner worked under Eck as wide receivers coach at South Dakota State and has been on the Jackrabbits staff for eight years overall, spending the first six as tight ends coach. One of Schleusner’s prize pupils was Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, who went from a walk-on to a second-round NFL Draft pick. This season, Schleusner coached twin wide receivers Jaxon and Jadon Janke, who combined for 113 catches, 1,806 yards and 14 touchdowns. This is a key hire for Eck as he tries to shift the Idaho offense out of neutral.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by TRI-STATE ELECTRIC…let us bring the power to you!

January 6, 1994: One of the most infamous incidents in Olympics history takes place a month before the Winter Games. Figure skater Tonya Harding and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly had her bodyguard hire hitmen to whack rival Nancy Kerrigan on the knee after practice at the U.S. Olympic trials, hoping to keep Kerrigan off the American team in Lillehammer. Kerrigan was given a spot on the U.S. team anyway, and Harding got one, too, before pleading guilty to obstruction in March of that year and being banned from competitive figure skating for life in June.

(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.)

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