Now, aiming at the right fork in the road

One of my takeaways from the Mountain West Football Media Summit was Brett Rypien’s take on the 2016 Boise State football season. The junior quarterback worked it in reverse order. “That Baylor game was not the team we want to be at all,” said Rypien of the 31-12 loss to the Bears in the Cactus Bowl. “After the Air Force game, you could kind of feel the team deflate.” Rypien seemed to indicate the Broncos played tight down the stretch after their loss at Wyoming. “Late in the season, it became ‘just don’t lose,’” he said. Rypien maintains the mindset will be different this year. “Everybody in our program feels pressure to win. Now, instead of ‘we have to win,’ it’s ‘let’s go win.’”

The dynamic changed for the Boise State contingent at media days yesterday morning when it learned that the Father of Bronco Football, Lyle Smith, had passed away at the age of 101. We thought he’d live forever. Smith was an indelible part of Idaho history, from his days coaching Boise Junior College to incredible heights from 1947-67, to his days as full-time Boise State athletic director from 1968-81. But he never went away. Every Bronco football coach from Tony Knap through Bryan Harsin took time to honor him. “He was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever been around,” said Harsin. For a long time to come, we will celebrate his life.

Smith was part of Bronco football until the very end, attending the annual Gridiron Social in April the night before the Blue & Orange Game. Harsin’s favorite memory of Lyle is his speech to the team the day before the Washington game in 2015, one that apparently ignited the Broncos in their 16-13 victory over the Huskies on the night Chris Petersen returned to Albertsons Stadium. I’m so glad Smith was properly honored in his final years with the statue in front of the Allen Noble Hall of Fame Gallery, unveiled last September. Every time you pass by it this fall, you should gently tap his clipboard. Now we just need a commemorative patch on Boise State’s uniforms this season—maybe an outline of a fedora with an “L” inside it.

A recap of Mountain West media days would not be complete without a followup on the NFL chatter surrounding Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. He said he started hearing it after the upset of Boise State in late October—then things really exploded “January 1st or 2nd when Matt Miller (of the Bleacher Report) came out with his mock draft that had me No. 3 overall.” Allen talked to guys like Carson Wentz and Brock Osweiler but, of course, elected to return to the Cowboys for his junior year. He acknowledges that task No. 1 is to cut down on the 15 interceptions he threw last year, but there was a reason for that. “I’m a competitive guy; it’s hard for me to give up on plays,” Allen said. “I’ve found out what I can do and I can’t do.” One of his gambles resulted in the amazing tying touchdown pass against the Broncos.

The excitement of Colorado State players over the opening of their new on-campus stadium was apparent in Las Vegas. They moved in a week and a half ago, and they can’t get enough of it. “They spared no expense,” said quarterback Nick Stevens. When he mentioned that the facility is completely sold out for its inaugural game versus Oregon State August 26, teammate Deonte Clyburn put his head on the table and laughed out loud. The elated Clyburn looked up and said, “our first game in the new stadium—it is sold out!” Clyburn’s over-the-top reaction is understandable. The senior linebacker missed the entire 2016 season with a blood clot condition and didn’t know if he was going to be able to come back. Reality is happily setting in.

You can be forgiven if you took Tuesday morning’s Mountain West preseason poll with a grain of salt. Yes, Boise State was picked to win the Mountain Division, but Rypien and Cedrick Wilson were left off the all-conference team. Last July, Wyoming only received 31 total points in the media poll, the fewest not only in the Mountain Division but in the entire 12-team conference. It was also the lowest total in the preseason predictions since 2004. Since the league’s inception in 1999-2000, no team that was picked last in the preseason poll has gone on to win the Mountain West championship. But the Cowboys came close, of course, upsetting then-undefeated Boise State’s apple cart in October and charging into the conference title game before falling to San Diego State.

One thing Mountain West commisssioner Craig Thompson mentioned at his roundtable talk Tuesday was the new emphasis on road and neutral court victories in men’s basketball when the NCAA Tournament committee makes its selections. So the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November will be big for the Broncos. ESPN Events has announced that Boise State will open against UTEP—its first game versus the Miners since the 2005 WAC Tournament championship game. The Broncos’ second game will be against South Carolina or Illinois State. Either team will be a positive for their RPI. The Gamecocks made the Final Four this spring, and the Redbirds went 28-7 and, like Boise State, made the second round of the NIT.

Graham DeLaet tees off in his most important personal tournament of the year this morning—the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario. It’s a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that is among the most famous in Canada, and the former Boise State star hopes to make a mark in his homeland. DeLaet is coming off a top 20 finish in his last outing three weeks ago at the Greenbrier Classic. Troy Merritt is also in the field. Merritt seems to be doomed by one bad round every tournament. He’ll try to shake that this week as crunch time hits in his effort to retain his PGA Tour card for next season.

The Boise Hawks are in an epic tailspin, dropping their eighth game in a row last night in a 6-1 loss to the Hillsboro Hops at Memorial Stadium. The Hawks had at least continued to hit home runs during the losing streak, but they came up empty on that count, too. Two Boise Hawks, Daniel Jipping and Steven Linkous, have been selected for the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game next Tuesday in Hillsboro. Jipping leads the NWL with nine home runs, and Linkous is the league leader with 26 stolen bases.

This Day In Sports…July 27, 1946:

Rudy York drives in 10 runs and becomes the third major leaguer to belt two grand slams in one game as the Boston Red Sox chewed up the St. Louis Browns, 13-6. There are still only 13 players to accomplish that—the last was the Washington Nationals’ Josh Willingham in 2009. The most amazing such feat is still Tony Cloninger’s two grand slams in a game against the San Francisco Giants in 1966. Cloninger was a…pitcher…for the Atlanta Braves. I listened to that game on the radio.

(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.)