Never has the new reality of college football slapped Boise State upside the head like it did Sunday night when wide receiver Eric McAlister left the team with three games to go. McAlister is simply taking another job and getting a big, big raise.You just wish he would have given three weeks notice. This does not mean the floodgates are opening. The best players on the Broncos’ roster (McAlister, Ashton Jeanty, even Taylen Green) are going to have those opportunities. But the guys who are not superstars but are just plain good—and there’s nothing wrong with that—won’t have as many options. And if the culture can remain intact, there won’t be many of those guys entering the portal. That’s the key. The program has to make sure Boise State is a better place to be than any lateral move that the good players may consider making.
THE NEXT MEN UP
Boise State will not be able to replace McAlister’s production, but a committee approach may mitigate the pain. The obvious candidates for a ramp-up in reps are Austin Bolt and Prince Strachan. Bolt, the former two-sport dynamo at Borah High, has persevered through depth chart disadvantages and a devastating broken leg in the 2022 season opener to see a door open for him. Bolt almost made a catch in 2020, and he almost had a catch in 2021. He never had a chance in 2022. But at long last, Bolt made his first career catch at Fresno State. It was for 33 yards, and it was almost a touchdown. Strachan had a 22-yard reception against the Bulldogs, and it was the first time we’ve been able to see him run after the catch. He had beautiful, long loping strides. Potential is seeping from Prince’s pores.
IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE SPECIAL TEAMS
How the first half ends and how the second half begins can go a long way in deciding a football game. At Fresno State, the end of the half was supposed to be in Boise State’s favor after a 64-yard touchdown drive ended with seven seconds left. But then came the shocking 95-yard kickoff return that made a 13-10 deficit 20-10. And on the opening kickoff of the second half, special teams struck again—a block in the back penalty put the Broncos on their own 15. The offense couldn’t dig out, and it was three downs and a punt. That’s when the Bulldogs mounted a 7½-minute TD drive to make it 27-10. Credit to the Broncos for rallying from that and making it a three-point game with two minutes left in the fourth in the eventual 37-30 loss, but the special teams blunders made them more desperate than they needed to be.
THE SCENARIO, SUCH AS IT IS
Next up for Boise State is New Mexico, and the Broncos are heavily-favored. A win would get them to 5-5. There are three weeks to go, but after the loss at Fresno State, there’s some unfortunate clarity. The Broncos’ chances at a Mountain West championship are just about dead, as it’s hard to imagine them winning out, and having Air Force and Fresno State each lose two games. The other goal, the minimum standard at Boise State, is a 26th straight winning season. The Broncos would have to win out now to clinch one, or win two of their last three to become bowl-eligible—then win the bowl game. It’s really important they get there, but man is it dicey.
MW FOCUS SHIFTS TO SAN JOSE
Boise State is not mathematically-eliminated in the Mountain West race, but the math is extremely difficult. So the Broncos are left to watch other teams battle it out, including Fresno State, which is back into the Coaches Poll at No. 25 after last Saturday’s victory. The Game of the Week in the MW is the Battle for the Valley between the Bulldogs and San Jose State in the Silicon Valley. Don’t sleep on the Spartans—since losing on the blue turf last month, they’ve won three straight to to improve to 3-3 in league play. All three wins have come by 21 points or more, the first such streak for SJSU since 1990.
BIG SKY OVERVIEW
Idaho was a little flat at Northern Colorado last week, but that can happen when you play a team that’s 0-8. The Bears are 0-9 now after the Vandals’ 27-13 victory. Marcus Harris finally sealed it with a 70-yard pick-six. Idaho is back on the road this Saturday at Weber State, a 33-21 victor at Idaho State last Saturday. The Vandals are still tied with Montana and Montana State atop the Big Sky standings with 5-1 conference records—not forgetting that the Grizzlies and Bobcats still have to play each other. As for the Bengals, it’s time for what KTIK is affectionately calling “Hawk Bowl I.” ISU first-year coach Cody Hawkins will be facing his dad, Dan, and UC Davis in Holt Arena. The Aggies are 5-4 and the Bengals are 3-6, although both teams are 3-3 in the Big Sky.
BRONCOS BLAST VANGUARD
All eyes on the newcomers Tuesday night as Boise State men’s hoops opened the season with an 89-55 win over Vanguard in ExtraMile Arena. The inside guys, Cam Martin from Kansas and O’Mar Stanley from St. John’s, came on strong. Martin scored 12 points with 13 rebounds, and Stanley put up 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Two others were just getting their feet wet—Roddie Anderson III logged just two points, going 1-for-7 from the field, and true freshman Andrew Meadow scored eight points while being shut out on five attempts from three-point land. R.J. Keene, who’s waited a long time to get on the floor, had a good night with 11 points. And among the veterans, it was Chibuzo Agbo dominating with a game-high 19 points.
The next opponent will tell us a lot about where the Broncos are out of the gate. San Francisco comes to town Sunday afternoon after being picked to finish third in the West Coast Conference behind Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. There are some areas of focus for Boise State. One is three-point shooting, as the Broncos were just 3-for-26 from beyond the arc against Vanguard, an 11.5 percent clip. This is the first time Boise State has won a game with that low a three-point percentage in almost nine years. It is hoped that they’ll get Tyson Degenhart and his rearranged nose back to face the Dons. Boise State could use a dose of Degenhart for this one.
BATTLE OF CANYON COUNTY
College of Idaho basketball is what it is, which is pretty darn good. The Coyotes opened the season last Saturday by simply winning their 37th game in a row, routing Providence 82-53 in Great Falls, MT. Now the Yotes are set for their home debut, and it happens Thursday night against Northwest Nazarene in a rivalry that dates back to 1933. It’s listed as a counting game for both schools as they play the first of two games to decide who gets the United Heritage Mayor’s Cup. On the ol’ gridiron, C of I is on the cusp of its second-ever NAIA Playoff berth. With a win at Southern Oregon Saturday, the Yotes will win the Frontier Conference championship and get the league’s automatic berth in the NAIA Championships. C of I beat the Raiders 42-16 in Caldwell on Labor Day weekend.
THE STEELIES SCORING MACHINE
Seven games into the season, the Idaho Steelheads are playing about as well as they were last year at this time. But their offense sure is cookin’ going into a pair of games at Wheeling and one at Wichita this weekend. The Steelheads have tallied 36 goals, tops in the ECHL. Nine different players have scored more than one goal while 15 of the 23 non-goalies on the roster have scored at least once. We’ve talked about this guy’s role in the Steelheads attack—now he’s the ECHL Player of the Week. Mark Rassell has scored in six straight games and is tied for the league lead with eight goals. He also leads the league with three game-winning goals.
MERRITT WAY OUT IN THE ATLANTIC
Troy Merritt is piling up a lot of air miles this month. The former Boise State star tees off Thursday morning in the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in Southhampton, Bermuda. Last week wasn’t Merritt’s best, but he still improved to 4-for-4 in made cuts during the PGA Tour’s fall schedule. He tied for 65th, although he did card a seven-under 65 in the final round of the World Wide Technology Championship in Los Cabos, Mexico. So there’s momentum.
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November 8, 1970: One of the all-time NFL highlight clips. The disbelieving Detroit Lions watch New Orleans kicker Tom Dempsey, born without toes on the foot he uses for kicking, come in to attempt a 63-yard field goal. The boot sailed through the uprights as time expired, giving the Saints a 19-17 win. It was an NFL record—tied by Denver’s Jason Elam in 1998 and broken by the Broncos’ Matt Prater with a 64-yarder in 2013. Then in 2021, a new mark was established when the Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker booted a 66-yard field goal on the final play of the game to the Lions.
(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.)