Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Harsin’s away from it all in McCall

Former Boise State coach Bryan Harsin is vacationing in McCall right now. Hopefully that’s one place he can get away from the noise. It never stops at Auburn. Ari Wasserman of The Athletic notes that the Tigers’ recruiting is stuck in neutral right now, and fans have a right to be worried. “The program railroaded its head coach last year and nobody is expecting Bryan Harsin to be around a year from now, so it’s not the most attractive destination for a top-100 recruit,” writes Wasserman. “Auburn’s recruiting isn’t permanently dead because it is one stable situation away from being back in the top 25. Right now, though, things seem to be kind of like a dumpster fire, and the program’s administration has only itself to blame for putting its coach in an impossible situation to succeed.”

KEEPING EXPECTATIONS IN CHECK

On the DA Show recently on KTIK, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports was asked if we’re headed toward the superconference era. “It’s already here,” Dodd said. The Big Ten and SEC have already separated themselves. What remains to be seen is how the rest of the conferences will be divvied up. If there’s a merger of some combination of the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, they could become the sub-superconferences and shut the door behind them. Boise State’s best chance to catch the train before it leaves the station is to hope that Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff can be a miracle worker and keep his league intact—with Oregon and Washington—for the time being, anyway. And then hope that the Ducks and Huskies don’t squash expansion. It would be up to them.

I’m a broken record on this, I know. And the academic piece weighs heaver than this in Boise State’s realignment prospects. But there’s more data supporting the notion that Boise’s market size is secondary to the Bronco’s national appeal on TV. Andy Staples of The Athletic examined games from 2015-21 (excluding the COVID year) to see which teams drew the most million-viewer audiences, and he left out games against the four schools headed to the SEC or Big Ten. Boise State was tied with Arizona State at 13 games topping the million mark. That was tops among any Group of 5 school, including the four that are moving to the Big 12 next year—and better than three Pac-12 schools. The academic thing is always going to be there, but as Staples says, “It comes down to eyeballs.”

FRESNO STATE’S WISHFUL MARKET

I found this interesting. Here’s part of Fresno State’s pitch in the race to the Pac-12 (which may be no race at all). The Bulldogs are in media market No. 55 (while Boise is No. 101). But they’re trying to lump in the Sacramento and Bakersfield markets to make the Central Valley the equivalent of the 11th-biggest market in the country. Good luck with eyeballs in Sacramento. Fresno State also talks about three 10-win seasons in the past four non-COVID years (which happens to be the same as the Broncos, who have the nation’s longest streak of winning seasons at 24). And the Bulldogs are hoping upon hope that a proposed county sales tax increase designed to help upgrades at Fresno State, including crumbling Bulldog Stadium, makes the ballot in November. There appears to be a lot of local opposition to that tax.

HAPPIER ‘CONSTITUENT GROUPS’

It’s been 20 years since Mike Bohn was the athletic director at Idaho. What a different world Bohn is in now. Love the move or hate the move, Bohn is not getting enough credit for engineering USC’s stunning switch to the Big Ten and getting UCLA to come along. That comes seven months Bohn spirited Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma to become the Trojans’ head coach. What issues was Bohn dealing with when he was AD at Idaho from 1998-2003? He had to move the Vandals into the far-flung Sun Belt after the demise of Big West football as he watched Boise State jump to the WAC. He constantly called on what he termed as Idaho’s “constituent groups” to get on board in an effort to succeed as an FBS school. Just look at Bohn now.

GOODBYE TO AUSTIN SMITH

Boise State has lost another respected alum with word that former defensive back and kick returner Austin Smith has passed away. It reportedly happened over the weekend, although details are hard to come by. Smith was a Bronco from 2003-07—through the first Fiesta Bowl. He really made his mark on kickoff returns as a senior, averaging 30.3 yards per return that season. Smith capped it in his final game with an 89-yard runback for a touchdown against East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl. He logged 130 career tackles at Boise State.

PIERCE COMES FULL-CIRCLE

You can take Deandre Pierce out of the blue, but you can’t take the blue out of Deandre Pierce. Boise State hasn’t officially announced it yet, but the former Broncos safety did via Twitter: he is back in the program as a recruiting assistant. Pierce entered the transfer portal after the 2019 season and headed to Arizona State to play under his dad, former NFL linebacker Antonio, then the ASU linebackers coach. Deandre was injured for much of the ’18 and ’19 seasons at Boise State, but he was outstanding as a sophomore on the 2017 Mountain West and Las Vegas Bowl championship team, making 83 tackles and logging a 46-yard interception return. Pierce thrived when Andy Avalos was Broncos defensive coordinator—now he works for him.

THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS

What to make of Utah State this season? That’s what The Athletic’s Chris Vannini tried to do Monday, couching his profile with this: “the inaugural Steve Spurrier First-Year Coach Award should have gone to Blake Anderson.” The Aggies went from one victory to 11 under Anderson, with a Mountain West title and an L.A. Bowl win (despite a 27-3 home loss to Boise State). USU loses most of its wide receiver production and a good chunk of its front seven on defense. Vannini’s assessment: “The receiver turnover is a concern, but having Logan Bonner back under center should help. If the Aggies can stay healthy through the first half of the season, it could set up for a big second-half run toward another championship.” The finale is on the blue turf on Black Friday.

EX-BRONCOS SIMMER IN THE SUMMER LEAGUE

Tracking Boise State products in the NBA Summer League: Chandler Hutchison was just 1-for-7 from the field with five points in Atlanta’s debut in Las Vegas. Hutchison has been better in two games since, going 4-for-5 from the floor and scoring 14 points. The former first-round draft pick still isn’t playing much, though. Justinian Jessup scored seven points for Golden State in Game 1 but was scoreless in just 12 minutes in Game 2. Then Jessup didn’t play Tuesday. Derrick Alston Jr. put up six points in Denver’s opener but went off for 13 Monday night, eight of them in the final six minutes. Tuesday night Alston scored eight points on 1-for-6 shooting. Abu Kigab finally got in for Toronto Tuesday, playing four minutes without scoring.

STEFANIC’S GOING TO STICK

Timberline High grad Michael Stefanic has the look of an everyday second baseman for the L.A. Angels. Since making his debut on July 3, Stefanic has started seven of eight games and is hitting .318. He has certainly justified his call-up as an undrafted overachiever. Stefanic has also shown fearlessness in the batter’s box, being hit by two pitches in Saturday’s game in Baltimore. One put a visible dent in his batting helmet. Can’t wait for Stefanic’s first big league home run. It is coming. And when it does, he’ll be the first native Idahoan who also graduated from an Idaho high school to hit a homer in the majors since Harmon Killbrew. I’d say Stefanic’s journey is already the stuff of legend in the Gem State.

HAWKS AT HOME FOR A SPELL

A 13-game homestand for the Boise Hawks? Well, the Western Idaho Fair road trip will be here soon enough. The stretch began Tuesday night with an 8-6 victory over the Idaho Falls Chukars. The Hawks are still 16-26 on the season, though, and are last in the Pioneer League in batting with a .267 average. “We need timely hits, and we’re just not getting those,” manager Gary Van Tol said Tuesday on Idaho SportsTalk. But Van Tol is optimistic, as the second half of the season is less than a week away. It was in the second half last year that the Hawks surged into the playoffs and made the Pioneer League Championship Series.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI BOISE…payroll, process and prosperity for your business.

July 13, 2010: New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, one of the more polarizing figures in sports history, passes away at the age of 80. Steinbrenner bought a struggling Yankees franchise in 1973 and resurrected it. Under his reign, the team won 11 American League pennants and seven World Series championships. The sometimes tyrannical Steinbrenner was known for firings and hirings and more firings—and for the trouble he had with various baseball commissioners. But he was also known as a philanthropist and evolved into a revered figure in New York. Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees for less than $9 million and built them into an empire worth over $1.5 billion.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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