One of the most important figures on Bryan Harsin’s coaching staff at Boise State will have to be replaced, if—that’s if—a Little Rock sports-talk radio report (KABZ 103.7 “The Buzz”) that Steve Caldwell is headed for Arkansas is true. It says Caldwell’s hiring will be announced after Texas A&M plays Wake Forest today in the Belk Bowl—Aggies defensive coordinator John Chavis is said to be headed to Arkansas and would have Caldwell as his defensive line coach. Caldwell has been D-line coach for the Broncos since coming West with Harsin from Arkansas State four years ago. Caldwell has been a Razorback before, coaching the defensive ends at Arkansas from 2010-12. He coached at Tennessee from 1995-2008 and was part of the Volunteers’ 1998 national championship team. So he’s an SEC kinda guy.
You know who’s back at the Fiesta Bowl for the third time this year. The circumstances are entirely different than the first two, though. Chris Petersen is not a BCS-busting Boise State coach this time. He presides over a Power 5 program that he has elevated to elite status, as he leads Washington against Penn State tomorrow in Glendale. Coach Pete famously said before the Oklahoma game on New Year’s Day 11 years ago that the Broncos were representing all the little guys out there. Now the Huskies are one season removed from a trip to the CFP Playoffs. UW is 10-2, having finished second in the Pac-12 North. The Nittany Lions are also 10-2 after finishing second in the Big Ten East. Did you know Penn State is 6-0 in the Fiesta Bowl?
I’ve been saving an Adam Jude story from earlier this fall in the Seattle Times on Washington’s top-ranked defense. Because this is a perfect Fiesta Bowl setup for another Boise State coach who was part of the first two wins over Oklahoma and TCU. “Chris Petersen has conveniently forgotten his first meeting with his defensive coordinator,” wrote Jude. “It happened in 1985, before a crowd of 17,654 at Bronco Stadium, a year before that stadium would be decorated with its infamous blue turf. Petersen was the standout junior quarterback at UC Davis then, and his Aggies were going up against a Boise State defense that featured an undersized sophomore defensive lineman named Pete Kwiatkowski.”
Here’s where the story takes its ironic turn. Jude continues: “Kwiatkowski hasn’t forgotten what happened next. His first sack of the season was a takedown of Petersen, and it aided Boise State in its 13-9 takedown of Davis. More than three decades later, Petersen laughed at the memory. That is, at Kwiatkowski’s memory. Petersen doesn’t remember the ‘alleged’ play—only that Kwiatkowski likes to rub it in every once in a while. ‘I’d like to see him find the film on that,’ Petersen cracked.” Well, we might be able to.
When you tune in to the Sun Bowl today, the first thing to remember is that former Boise State quarterback Ryan Finley hails from Phoenix. That’s where he was not offered a scholarship from his hometown university, Arizona State, despite a stellar career at Paradise Valley High School. Today Finley leads North Carolina State against the Sun Devils in El Paso after throwing for 3,200 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions this year. And how about this—Finley’s high school coach, Donnie Yantis, is now the outgoing recruiting coordinator at ASU (he’s unlikely to be retained by new coach Herm Edwards).
Believe it or not, Finley still has one season to go (although there’s a slight chance he’d depart early for the NFL Draft). He landed at North Carolina State a year and a half ago as an extremely rare sophomore graduate transfer after getting his degree from Boise State. The key to his journey to the South was one-time Bronco offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who had left for the same post with the Wolfpack. “I wouldn’t have come if he had not been at N.C. State,” Finley said in the Charlotte News & Observer. “I don’t think I would have ever gotten the opportunity to come if it wasn’t for him.” Finley’s been the Wolfpack starter ever since.
The final Mountain West bowl, the Arizona Bowl, kicks off today in Tucson with Utah State taking on New Mexico State. Both teams are Aggies. New Mexico State fans must be saying, “Hey, give us somebody new to play!” This is a rematch of the 1960 Sun Bowl, which may seem an out-there bit of trivia. But that was the last bowl New Mexico State played in. And in that game, NMSU lost 20-13. USU is back in the postseason after a year away as coach Matt Wells tries to work himself off the hot seat. The survivor today will finish with a winning season, and the other team will end up wth a losing one. And if Utah State wins, the Mountain West will have a winning bowl season.
Coming off its largest margin of victory ever over Colorado State (by a good 10 points), Boise State ventures into Thomas & Mack Center to take on UNLV tomorrow night. The Broncos hope to get Justinian Jessup going again, but they have come to realize that if one guy doesn’t have it on a given night, there’s a good chance the rest of the team will. Jessup, a sophomore from Longmont, CO, may have been pressing against a CSU program he knows well. He went an icy 1-for-9 from the field (11 percent) and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc (12.5 percent). The rest of the team shot 61 percent from the floor and 55 percent from three-point land against the Rams. Jessup did dish out five assists and five rebounds, though, and he turned the ball over only once in 30 minutes.
UNLV is a Mountain West haven for one-and-dones, and the latest appears to be Brandon McCoy, a true freshman and McDonald’s All-American in high school who leads the conference in scoring at 18.9 points per game. McCoy is a 7-footer. Have fun, Zach Haney. There are new faces everywhere on a Rebels team that went 11-21 last season. Another is forward Shakur Juiston, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Week. Juiston, a junior college transfer, scored a career-high 30 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as UNLV defeated Northern Colorado 94-91 last Friday in its final non-conference game. It doesn’t sound good for Boise State, but the Broncos are a chemistry-infused, disciplined team. This will be a contrast in styles.
The Idaho Steelheads’ final two games of 2017 happen this weekend on the road against familiar foe Utah. The Grizzlies have won only 10 of 30 games this season, but three of the victories have come against the Steelheads (Idaho has won four versus Utah). The Steelies have been pretty good away from Boise. They just had an eight-game road winning streak—their longest in eight years—snapped at Rapid City last Saturday. Goalie Philippe Desrosiers continues to shine, as he has surrendered two goals or fewer in six straight starts and in eight of his last nine appearances.
This Day In Sports…December 29, 1997, 20 years ago today:
The first Humanitarian Bowl is played before 16,289 fans in Bronco Stadium, with Cincinnati beating Utah State, 35-19. The Bearcats virtually bid their way into the game out of Conference USA with ticket guarantees and the promise of a future trip of their nationally-ranked basketball team to the BSU Pavilion (which would happen two years later). The Aggies, meanwhile, were being coached for the final time by John L. Smith, the former Idaho Vandal head man who had taken the head coaching job at Louisville. USU would not make another bowl game until the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
(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.)