There’s no drama on the top of the Boise State depth chart at running back during spring football, but there is beyond that. Boise State coach Leon Rice didn’t publicly withdraw his name from consideration for the Saint Louis job. It was kind of done for him last night, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Billikens have hired recently-fired Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford to take over their program (although SLU hasn’t confirmed it yet). Ford’s a pretty good coach, having taken the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament five times in eight years, but he only managed one win in the Dance. So Rice gets back to work with the Broncos, with about two months to go before he knows for sure if he has to forge ahead without James Webb III. We may never find out, but it’d be interesting to know someday what it was that spurred Rice to interview with Saint Louis.
Boise State gridders (remember when we used to call them “gridders?”) reconvened yesterday for their final two weeks of spring football. There’s no drama on the top of the depth chart at running back, as Jeremy McNichols settles in for his junior year. McNichols rushed for 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Broncos last season, and with six receiving TDs, he tied for second in the nation with his 26 total scores. It’s McNichols’ threat in the passing game that makes him especially difficult to defend. That speaks to his roots at Boise State, as receiving was a bigger role for him than rushing as a true freshman. McNichols made 51 catches for 460 yards and six touchdowns last year.
Identifying a No. 2 running back behind McNichols is one of the tasks facing Boise State during the spring session. Kelsey Young, the graduate transfer from Stanford, filled that role last year, rushing for a pedestrian 511 yards (although he did score eight touchdowns). Jack Fields was not a factor, kind of the story of his career. Devan Demas is the mystery man. Unlike Young and Fields, he is back this season. But Demas didn’t have a single carry in the final six games of the season. Young’s brother Cory looked promising during last year’s Blue & Orange Game, but he hasn’t had a carry since the win at Colorado State last October.
The natural man of emergence is Ryan Wolpin, who transferred to Boise State in 2014 after a redshirt year at Northern Colorado because of his desire to play FBS football. Then Wolpin had to redshirt again when he arrived because he was moving up a division. So he’s naturally hungry. Wolpin has looked that way every time he’s touched the ball since, and as the season progressed last fall, he got more meaningful touches. It was telling that he was the next man up after McNichols and Kelsey Young to put the finishing touches on the Poinsettia Bowl, as he rushed 14 times for 87 yards in the rout of Northern Illinois. There’s a lot of practice time to be chewed up and spit out between now and the end of fall camp, but right now, my money’s on Wolpin as McNichols primary backup.
It seems that every other day you see a story about who the Miami Dolphins might bring in to replace Lamar Miller, who left for Houston as a free agent. Former Boise State star Jay Ajayi, who’s already a Dolphin, wonders why that player can’t be him. As Miami’s options dwindle, Ajayi’s chances increase. “I’m excited for the opportunity on being the starter right now,” Ajayi told CBSSports.com’s Jamey Eisenberg. “I’m just preparing myself for the season. Right now I’m just really focused on attacking the offseason workouts and learning the new playbook and new system and proving to the coaches that I can be the guy that they’re looking for.” Ajayi didn’t have much time to prove himself last year, missing the first half of the season with broken ribs. He logged 49 carries for 187 yards and one touchdown and had seven catches for 90 yards.
The Dolphins have tried (and failed) to land Denver’s C.J. Anderson and Arizona’s Chris Johnson. Their latest flirtation is with Arian Foster, who’s out of a job in Houston. Maybe Miami still harbors doubts about the durability of Ajayi’s right knee, which caused him to fall to the fifth round in the NFL Draft last spring. But if that’s a concern, what about Foster’s torn Achilles tendon? Ajayi told Eisenberg he feels great physically right now. Standout NFL trainer Tony Villani, who’s working with Ajayi during the offseason, concurs. “I’m honestly happy because I haven’t seen any effects of it while we’re training,” Villani said. “First thing I’m looking for: is he favoring one side of the other. We haven’t treated him differently because of his knee. I’m happy about that.”
It’s big game night for the Idaho Steelheads. Utah is in town and can either tie the Steelheads or take the lead in the ECHL Pacific Division with a win in CenturyLink Arena. The big picture this season, of course, is what happens in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, but there’s pride at stake now. The Steelheads are 9-2-1 this season against Utah, but the Grizzlies have been beating everyone else lately. A positive for the Steelies: they have Emil Molin in their corner again. Upon his return, Molin tallied a power play goal and an assist in each game versus Colorado last weekend. Despite missing 15 games during his recall to the AHL’s Texas Stars, Molin’s 21st goal of the season last Saturday tied him for the Idaho team lead.
Every so often, San Diego State’s offense hits the skids, and man was that the case in the semifinals of the NIT in Madison Square Garden last night. The Aztecs shot just 29 percent, making only 17 baskets as George Washington ran away from them, 65-46. SDSU finishes the season with a 28-10 record. Nevada and Morehead State play Game 2 of the CBI Finals tonight in Reno. The Wolf Pack needs a win to force a deciding Game 3 at home on Friday night.
Also in hoops, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that former Borah High star Isaiah Wright is transferring from Utah in the apparent hope of getting more playing time elsewhere (no destination identified). The Utes have granted Wright his release. He averaged just 13 minutes and 2.2 points per game this season as a sophomore. And Mountain View’s Destiny Slocum suits up for the West tonight in the McDonalds All-American Game tonight in Chicago. Slocum is the first Idahoan ever selected for the prestigious event.
Are the Idaho Stampede about to play their final two games in Boise? Ever? The Utah Jazz have not signed a new lease yet for CenturyLink Arena, and everybody knew that when the group led by managing investor Bill Ilett sold the franchise to the NBA club a year ago there would be no guarantees beyond 2015-16. The Jazz are owned by Miller Sports Properties, which is an offshoot of the Larry H. Miller car dealerships. So there are ties to the market. But how strong are they? The Jazz may want to place the club closer to Salt Lake City. The Stampede host the Santa Cruz Warriors Friday and Saturday to end the season.
This Day In Sports…March 30, 1941, 75 years ago today:
The Cougs in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament? Yes, the Washington State Cougars. That’s the day Wisconsin won it all, beating Wazzu 39-34 for the 1941 national title. And, of course, today many are saying that the Badgers’ style hasn’t changed much in 75 years. How about Wyoming in the title game? On this day in 1943, the Cowboys won the NCAA championship in New York’s Madison Square Garden, taking down Georgetown 46-34 behind College Player of the Year Kenny Sailors.
(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.)