On the way to season No. 50

Tomorrow is July 1, which is the unofficial start of the 2017-18 athletic year for college sports. It’s a good time to point out that this will be the 50th season of Boise State football. The Broncos are still a relatively young program, but so much has happened since that inaugural 1968 season. Lyle Smith had stepped down as head coach after his legendary run through the Boise Junior College years and had become Boise State’s first athletic director. Smith had a vision for football, and he entrusted it to Tony Knap, who he hired as his first coach. The Broncos debuted in the NAIA and lost their first-ever game as a four-year school, 17-7 to Linfield. But they would go 8-1 the rest of the way.

Let’s hit the 10-year checkpoints in this 50th season chain. By season No. 10 in 1977, Knap had left for UNLV, and Smith had hired Jim Criner as his second head coach. Boise State was in its eighth year as a member of the Big Sky and had won three championships. That season the Broncos won a fourth, capped by a 44-14 win at Idaho. In 1987, Skip Hall debuted as Boise State’s head coach. Lyle Setencich had been fired after the school’s first losing season, a 5-6 campaign in 1986. The Broncos were still formidable, but they were kind of stuck in neutral in those years, and Idaho was in the midst of its 12-game winning streak over Boise State (a run that would be matched by the Broncos when the rivalry ended in 2010).

In 1997, Boise State football was in unprecedented territory. Coach Pokey Allen had died of cancer the previous December, and Houston Nutt had taken over as head coach. Nutt lasted just one season before bolting for Arkansas, and the Broncos’ record was 4-7 (coming off the tumultuous 2-10 campaign of 1996), but in many ways Nutt healed a broken team. That was Boise State’s last losing season. Fast forward to 2007, the season after the Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. The Broncos were suddenly a regular resident of the Top 25 and a featured team on national TV. Now, Boise State enters 2017 with 43 winning seasons in 49 tries, including 22 seasons of 10 wins or more (14 of them coming since 1999). The Broncos have been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. Not even Lyle Smith ever envisioned that.

I mentioned Boise State season ticket sales last week, and how the Broncos would like to get back over the 20,000 threshold after being under last year for the first time in a decade. They want to position themselves for the future. How about some perspective? Colorado State is positioning itself for the future with the opening of its nice new $220 million on-campus stadium, seating 36,500 fans (with a capacity of 41,000 including standing-room). The Rams announced this week they have set a new record for season ticket sales at 13,600, expecting to reach 15,000 by the time the facility is inaugurated August 26 versus Oregon State.

No sooner do we talk about Troy Merritt rinsing and repeating at the Quicken Loans National than he does just that in the first round at TPC Potomac yesterday. After going five-under the week before to open the Travelers Championship, the Boise State product fired a bogey-free four-under 66 and is tied for second after the first 18 holes of this week’s event. Merritt is just one stroke behind leader David Lingmerth. To repeat a line from last week: “Let’s multiply this by four.” This, of course, is the site of Merritt’s first and only PGA Tour victory in August, 2015. Former Bronco Graham DeLaet didn’t fare as well yesterday, shooting a one-over 71.

Chandler Hutchison reacquainted himself with the media yesterday after dallying with the NBA this spring. Boise State’s first-team All-Mountain West shooting guard gleaned invaluable experience after declaring for the NBA Draft in April (but not signing with an agent). And it reaffirmed the importance of returning to the Broncos. “Just knowing the people around me and our coaching staff, I knew there were a lot of things I could continue to get better at,” Hutchison said. “Extend that shooting range, and getting stronger and playing through contact.” He averaged 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season. And the range? Although it may not seem like it, Hutchison shot 37.7 percent from three-point land. That’s not a bad number.

It was a perfect evening for baseball at Memorial Stadium. And while the Boise Hawks had an imperfect start against Spokane last night, they had a rousing finish in an 11-4 victory. Trailing 4-0 in the fifth inning, the Hawks scored 11 unanswered runs over the final four frames to climb back over .500 at 8-7. Ryan Metzler went 4-for-5 and and Steven Linkous 3-for-5, and each contributed a two-run single as Boise overcame the visitors. The long ball continues to factor in for Boise—Daniel Jipping crushed his third home run of the season (and I do mean crushed). On the mound, Ryan Luna a turned in one of the best Hawks relief performances in recent memory, getting the win by finishing the game with six scoreless innings.

Former Boise Hawk Kris Bryant missed the Chicago Cubs’ 5-4 win at Washington yesterday after rolling his right ankle in Wednesday night’s loss to the Nationals. X-rays showed no break, but Bryant left the field in a considerable amount of pain and is currently day-to-day. The reigning National League MVP is batting .264 this season with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs. Bryant was replaced at third base yesterday by another Hawks alum, Jeimer Candelario, who socked his first major league home run to help the Cubbies rally in the come-from-behind win. And as a capper, former Hawks pitcher Felix Pena earned his first big league victory.

Boise State’s collective visit to the US Swimming Championships is winding down in Indianapolis. Junior-to-be Ally Kleinsorgen finished second in her heat in the 50-meter backstroke, an event she seldom swims. Kleinsorgen turned in a career-best 29.85 seconds—she’ll compete again this morning in the 100 back. Teammate Emma Chard is also in the pool this morning as she’s entered in the 100 freestyle.

This Day In Sports…June 30, 2012, five years ago today:

With about two hours to spare, Boise State submits its formal resignation from the Mountain West Conference, effective June 30, 2013. The Broncos would have faced a penalty of at least $5 million had they withdrawn with less than one year’s notice. Boise State had announced a move of its football program to the Big East the previous December but still had to cement the Big West as a landing spot for its other sports, fueling speculation that the school would stay in the Mountain West. Lo and behold, the Broncos reneged on New Year’s Eve and remained in the Mountain West after the Big East had crumbled.

(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.)