Once upon a rivalry

Meandering thoughts on the Boise State football schedule released yesterday. We already knew the Broncos open against Troy on the blue turf on September 2. We did not know how the season would end. Five years ago this may have been outstanding—Boise State and Fresno State at Bulldog Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. But what once was a rivalry has turned into an ordinary interdivisional game. The Bulldogs are down, the Broncos are at a crossroads, and the two teams haven’t played each other since 2014. And why doesn’t the Mountain West schedule all divisional games in the final week? There’s a huge opportunity for some drama, and it is missed. And outside of Nevada-UNLV on the final day of the regular season, the Mountain West stayed away from any semblance of rivalries, for some reason.

The first half of the season will have plenty of buzz. After the Troy game, Boise State has a rematch with Washington State at Martin Stadium. Then the conference campaign opens early, with New Mexico coming to Albertsons Stadium September 16. Virginia becomes the first ACC team ever to face the Broncos on the blue turf one week later. That’s followed by a bye week—a little early, but not bad. Then comes a rugged three-game stretch to start October: at BYU, at San Diego State, and home against Wyoming. Senior Night will be November 18 against Air Force, just like it was two years ago. Uh, you know, the team with the three-game winning streak against the Broncos.

There are just two kickoff times listed on the schedule, both on Fridays: 6 p.m. versus Virginia and 8:15 p.m. at BYU (congratulations, Cougars fans). Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey has been tactfully appealing to the conference and to ESPN, etc., to throw the Broncos a bone after the endlessly late start times the past few years. Maybe he got one from ESPN with that kickoff against the Cavaliers. There’s nothing wrong with 6 p.m. on a Friday evening in September.

Jeremy McNichols did indeed skip the bench press yesterday at the NFL Combine due to his ailing shoulder. The former Boise State star was one of three players in the running backs group to take a pass on lifting, joining LSU’s Leonard Fournette and BYU’s Jamaal Williams. Today’s the big day for McNichols, as he’ll get his 40-yard dash time and go through the skill drills. Former Bronco linebacker Tanner Vallejo is also expected to skip the bench press tomorrow due to his still-rehabbing wrist. Vallejo’s on-field testing in Indianapolis will take place on Sunday.

The football schedule release has kind of overshadowed Boise State hoops. Not that it should. The Broncos face a must-win situation in their regular season finale tomorrow at Air Force. A loss, combined with an inevitable Fresno State win over UNLV, would bump Boise State down to the No. 4 seed in the Mountain West Tournament next week. Air Force looks lethargic right now, but the Broncos have had trouble at Clune Arena in the past. They’ll have to create their own energy in a facility that will be devoid of it—the Falcons are averaging 1,722 fans per game.

This is one place that depth really comes in handy for Boise State. The elevation at Air Force is 6,621 feet, just 600 feet below the legendary altitiude in Laramie. True freshmen Alex Hobbs and Marcus Dickinson have extended coach Leon Rice’s options down the Bronco bench during the stretch run of the Mountain West schedule. Tuesday night’s loss to Fresno State saw Dickinson get his chance at a breakthrough. He scored a career-high 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting while logging a career-high 22 minutes of floor time. Hobbs has scored 37 points over the last four games. The big picture for Boise State is taking care of the ball tomorrow. The Broncos committed 15 turnovers against the Bulldogs, their most in five weeks. And Fresno State cashed them in to the tune of 19 points.

The Boise State women are, let’s say, heavily favored to win their Senior Night game tonight against Air Force. The Broncos are 21-7 with a six-game winning streak, and the Falcons are 4-23. ‘Nuff said. Making their final appearances in Taco Bell Arena will be the Pahukoa sisters, Brooke and Brittney, and Yaiza Rodriguez. Brooke Pahukoa is Boise State’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. More on the men’s side—Idaho held on to win at Northern Arizona 77-75 last night after building a 20-point first half lead. The Vandals finish the regular season tomorrow night at Southern Utah; a victory will give them a first-round bye in the Big Sky Tournament. And still alive in the state boys basketball tournament championship brackets are Rocky Mountain, Centennial, Bishop Kelly, Vallivue and New Plymouth.

Going into the final two games of their road series at Rapid City tonight, the Idaho Steelheads are in good shape for the Kelly Cup Playoffs—and not in good shape for an ECHL Mountain Division title. The Steelheads have 69 points, third in the division and 13 behind the rampaging Colorado Eagles, who have won 16 games in a row and have scored 24 goals in their last four games. The Steelies have 16 games remaining in the regular season. But it’s all about getting to the playoffs. Once you’re there, anything can happen, and roster movement between the ECHL and AHL can help you or hurt you. Stay tuned.

On the campus cruise: the Boise State women’s gymnastics team started slowly but finished with a flourish in a 196.700-195.675 win over Utah State last night at Taco Bell Arena. And the Boise State women’s softball team has been quite a story so far this year as it opens the home schedule with the SpringHill Suites Classic today, tomorrow and Sunday (the event has been moved to NNU in Nampa due to field conditions at Dona Larsen Park). This season has been the polar opposite of the last one, when the Broncos finished 14-38 and 6-18 in the Mountain West. This edition of the Broncos is 11-2 and is riding a 10-game winning streak. Boise State plays Cal State Northridge and Santa Clara twice and Weber State once in the round robin tournament.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI…your business owner advocate.

March 3, 2007, 10 years ago today: Capital High graduate Jake Plummer abruptly announces his retirement from the NFL rather than accept a trade from the Denver Broncos to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The freewheeling quarterback out of Arizona State always had the ability to take fans—and coaches—from ecstasy to agony and back again. Plummer played 10 NFL seasons, the first six with the Arizona Cardinals. He had his best seasons in Denver, where he turned around his closely-scrutinized touchdown-to-interception ratio. So where did that number end up for Plummer’s career? Jake the Snake threw 161 TDs…and 161 picks.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)