With fall camps convening left and right, it’s a good time to not only mark the 50th anniversary of Boise State football (which we have already), but the 20th season of Mountain West football. Of the eight schools that broke away from the WAC in 1999, six remain (Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming). But the conference has stabilized, entering its sixth straight season with the same membership. “We continue to compete with the means and the resources that we have,” said commissioner Craig Thompson. The Mountain West has survived. The same can’t be said for the WAC, which dropped football five years ago after a failed coup attempt to swipe BYU when Fresno State and Nevada left. The WAC, of course, bears no resemblance to the league we once knew.
Boise State has benefitted twice by Mountain West moves, first joining the WAC in 2001 when that conference was still trying to fill in the post-mutiny blanks. Then 10 years later, the Broncos came aboard in the MW during the conference-changing chaos that ended with the departure of Utah, BYU and TCU from the league. There was the craziness of 2012, when Boise State and San Diego State were set to move to the Big East in football—and the Big West in other sports. Thankfully, that never happened. In the meantime, the Broncos maintain the special home game TV rights arrangement that convinced them to stay.
With Boise State fall camp beginning tomorrow, the process of “depth chart churn” begins, although there may not be major changes to the two-deep the Broncos released at Mountain West Media Days. The offensive side could be impacted by newcomers not yet listed at the backup spots, with guys like John Hightower and Khalil Shakir expected to contribute at wide receiver. One name missing from the chart is offensive lineman John Ojukwu, the Boise High grad who got in a lot of work (with accompanying props) during spring football. And the two-deep at running back could become a five-deep if true freshmen Andrew Van Buren and Danny Smith are inserted, along with wild-card senior Skyler Seibold.
I talked after Mountain West Media Days about coach Bryan Harsin’s concern with the tight end position. Drilling a little deeper there, Harsin wondered last week in Las Vegas how Boise State will scheme things up. “We played a lot of two and three tight end sets (last season),” he said. “Can we do that this year? Tyneil Hopper, he can step in and play? Cole Ramsmeyer, can he do some things? We’ve got to have one of those guys step in and play.” Harsin’s restlessness extends to the wide receivers corps. “Who’s going to be that go-to guy?” he asked. “I didn’t see it in spring.” At the spring game, we saw Octavius Evans and A.J. Richardson, in particular, make big plays. But we didn’t see the flow of practice on a day-to-day basis or what happened in closed scrimmages.
Depth is everywhere on Boise State’s defense, magnified by the fact that Curtis Weaver, a Preseason All-Mountain West pick and the returning conference leader in sacks, is listed as the backup to Jabril Frazier at STUD end. Weaver and Frazier are interchangeable parts, though. There could be movement at linebacker in fall camp, as Blake Whitlock is tabbed ahead of Riley Whimpey at the weakside spot. Whitlock sat out last season with an injury after being a surprise contributor in 2016. And at middle ‘backer, Tyson Maeva is the listed starter ahead of Tony Lashley, the graduate transfer from Idaho. Maeva may very well hold onto that spot, but Lashley will figure in to the Broncos’ plans significantly this year.
Outside of personnel, there are situational issues to tackle in fall camp, like fourth down conversions. “We were last in the country,” Harsin pointed out before anybody else could at Mountain West Media Days. He’s right. Boise State was No. 129, converting only three of their 17 fourth-down tries. “We were trying some different things at different times, and we didn’t get it done,” said Harsin. “As time went on, we thought we were better off playing field position and letting our defense go out and play.” But he did point out his program’s knack for bouncing back from things like this, going from only nine turnovers forced in all of 2016 to 26 last year. “We’re going to fix it,” Harsin said. “We’ll find a way.”
It was going to be intriguing to follow Cedrick Wilson in his quest to make the Dallas roster as a sixth-round draft pick. But alas, we won’t hear much about the former Boise State star for the next six months now that he’s been placed on injured reserve by the Cowboys after suffering a shoulder injury in practice last weekend. Wilson had been making a strong bid in a crowded Cowboys wide receiver group. He was at the very least a good bet to make the practice squad. This is a real setback for Wilson, though. Players on IR cannot practice, and he’ll have to start over during offseason workouts if Dallas keeps him around.
It won’t be until August 15 until the State Board of Education takes up the matter of Idaho athletic director Rob Spear again. By then, it will have been almost 4½ months since the university placed Spear on administrative leave while Idaho investigated “process failures” related to sexual assault complaints against Vandals athletes. The investigation’s report released Tuesday indicates there were plenty of process failures. It’s hard to imagine Spear being able to resume leadership of the UI athletic department, which is in the midst of its transition to the FCS and Big Sky football and is trying to mend fences with fans. President Chuck Staben’s lame duck status doesn’t help, and his comments to the Statesman yesterday about the Jahrie Level case possibly being preventable do not bode well for Spear.
This Day In Sports…August 2, 2015:
Troy Merritt becomes the first former Boise State golfer to win a PGA Tour event, charging to a three-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler in the Quicken Loans National in Gainesville, VA. It was Merritt’s first victory in 96 PGA Tour starts and qualified him for his first two majors, the PGA Championship that month and the Masters the following April. It also earned him more than $1.2 million. As a Bronco, Merritt was the WAC individual champion and conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2008. He won seven tournaments that season, the most in NCAA Division I.
(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.)