If there was one Boise State player poised for a senior explosion this fall, it was cornerback Jalen Walker. His steady rise as a junior was expected to morph him into an NFL prospect this year, and the schedule was favorable in showcasing his skills. Instead, these games of 2020 have been a blur, played in front of few, if any, fans. Walker must feel like he’s working the graveyard shift as he’s posted 26 tackles, one for loss, and one pass breakup. He was hungry for interceptions this year. Walker had his first pick of the season at Hawaii—until he was called for holding on the play. And just like that, there are just three regular season games left.
It’ll be interesting to see if Saturday’s Senior Day ceremony preceding the San Jose State game will be the only one for Walker. Maybe he wants to move on and test the NFL waters rather than take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. Or maybe he wants a real senior year, with all the energy of packed houses in Albertsons Stadium and the high-level production that would bring out in him—closure for his career. Not to be forgotten is the high-pressure situation he was thrown into at the end of his freshman year: starting for the injured Tyler Horton in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon. Let it come full circle in 2021?
HOPING FOR HOLANI
George Holani has missed three games and most of a fourth with the leg injury he suffered in the first quarter at Air Force. What a difference it would make to the Boise State offense if Holani could return to the lineup against San Jose State, as some suggest could happen. I’ve mentioned before his ability to turn two yards into six via his uncanny vision. That would really open up the Boise State offense. Holani had one of his best games of the season last year versus the Spartans, rushing for 126 yards and four touchdowns. If he can’t go, the Broncos need to provide Andrew Van Buren with a change of pace. A little more Khalil Shakir at tailback? Avery Williams on a fly sweep?
TOILING IN ANONYMITY
Has San Jose State’s red-hot start resonated in Silicon Valley? Only a little. It’s tough for the Spartans to get any coverage down there. The totem pole is tall in the Bay Area—49ers, Warriors, Sharks, Giants, A’s, Cal, Stanford, etc.—and San Jose State is at the bottom. SJSU is lucky to get a few paragraphs in its hometown paper. On the San Jose Mercury-News website, there are seven teams listed in the drop-down under “Sports,” including the Raiders and the San Jose Earthquakes. One of them is not the San Jose State Spartans. Makes that chip on the shoulder all the bigger for that program.
MYSTIQUE TAKES A HIT
Rocky Long was right. There’s no “mystique” surrounding the blue turf. It’s everything else: the winning that Boise State does on it—and the atmosphere created by the 30,000-plus fans that surround it. A major part of the Broncos’ homefield advantage has been taken away due to COVID-19, and on Saturday Albertsons Stadium will be at less than one one-thousandth of its capacity. The only fans premitted inside will be the parents of seniors, and they apparently won’t even be allowed on the field for the scaled-back Senior Day ceremony. The anticipated attendance is about 30.
CHERISHED HARDWARE STILL IN PLAY
This season has not been fun for Air Force, but the Falcons got some good news Wednesday. Their COVID-canceled game against Army last month is only a postponement, as it has been rescheduled to December 19. That’s the day of the Mountain West championship game, but with Air Force effectively eliminated from the title chase, why not? The Falcons can now win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy with a victory over Army; they defeated Navy 40-7 on October 3. In the Mountain West on Thanksgiving night, the battle of 0-4 teams ended with Utah State beating New Mexico 41-27. Wyoming plays at UNLV this afternoon, and San Diego State, with its game against Fresno State canceled and Colorado’s matchup with USC meeting the same fate, will face the Buffaloes in Boulder Saturday afternoon.
BRONCOS’ NEW CAMPERS VS. EXPERIENCED BUNCH
It’s Boise State’s season opener, but No. 17 Houston has one game under its belt as the Broncos and Cougars meet this afternoon. Kelvin Sampson coached his 200th game at Houston on Wednesday and won his 140th in an 89-45 rout of Lamar. We have our Cougars to watch now, as Marcus Sasser poured in 25 points and Tramon Mark added 22. The question is, will AAC Preseason Player of the Year Caleb Mills play today against the Broncos? Mills sat out the Lamar game with an injury, but Sampson said he could have played. Either way, Boise State’s highly-touted but untested lineup will have its hands full. The Broncos are 11½-point underdogs.
BOB & ABE FROM AFAR
Calling college basketball games remotely has become a thing the past few seasons, thanks in part to ESPN production budget cuts. We saw a college football example of it last Saturday when CBS Sports Network’s announcers were not in Honolulu for Boise State-Hawaii. Now it’s Bob Behler’s and Abe Jackson’s turn on KBOI, as logistics are keeping the duo from traveling to Houston for the Broncos’ game versus the Cougars this afternoon (Behler has to call the Boise State-San Jose State football game on Saturday). They’ll have to trust camera angles to get a feel for how special a day it will be for Broncos star Derrick Alston Jr., who will be playing in his hometown in front of his family. Alston, who returns after testing the NBA Draft waters, has scored 995 points in his past 65 games.
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November 27, 1958: Boise Junior College wins the national JC championship with a 22-0 win over Tyler, Texas, before 8,500 fans on Thanksgiving Day at old Bronco Stadium. The Broncos were coached by Lyle Smith, who recorded his fifth undefeated season with the win. Smith led BJC for 21 seasons, going 156-26-6. That included a 37-game winning streak from 1947-50. Smith retired from coaching after the 1967 season and became the first athletic director for Boise State College.
(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.)