Second time around is tricky in the MW

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice after the win over UNLV Saturday night. Boy howdy. The Broncos now embark on a testy stretch of the season, beginning with New Mexico tonight in The Pit, a place where Boise State has been victorious only once. The Lobos bear no resemblance to the team that lost by 28 points last month in Taco Bell Arena. Since that 90-62 loss, UNM has gone 6-2 and has won four straight games in Albuquerque. In that time, Paul Weir has become the first New Mexico coach in the Mountain West era (19 seasons) to beat both UNLV and San Diego State in his first tries against both. The Lobos were embarrassed by their performance in Boise. Humiliated even. They’ve now found their footing, and they’ll be a motivated bunch tonight.

If Boise State takes care of two facets of its game tonight, it’ll probably be okay. One is taking care of the ball. That was the only blemish during the Broncos’ first game against New Mexico—they turned the ball over 17 times. The Lobos lead the Mountain West and are sixth in the nation in turnover margin at plus-5.3 per game, and they lead the conference in steals at 7.4 per game. The other key is rebounding. Boise State had an unfathomable 45-25 advantage on the glass against UNM in January. But it’s tough to duplicate performances like that. The Broncos out-boarded UNLV by 19 in the first game between those two teams. In Saturday night’s win, the margin was plus-three. Significant, though, was the fact the Rebels managed only five offensive rebounds in the game (four of them by Brandon McCoy).

Here’s one cool followup on the Saturday night visit to Taco Bell Arena by Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers. It wasn’t the first time Myers had been there. Myers made the UCLA hoops team as a walk-on in 1993, and he earned a scholarship for the 1994-95 season. The Bruins won the national championship that year, and you may remember their journey. Myers averaged only 0.3 points per game, but he did end up on Sports Illustrated’s commemorative cover saluting UCLA’s title—lifting teammate Tyus Edney in the air after his legendary coast-to-coast drive with 4.8 seconds left to beat Missouri in what was then the BSU Pavilion.

With a third appearance in the Top 25 this season, the challenge for Nevada is to stay there for more than a week. The Wolf Pack is back in at No. 23 in both polls after winning their 20th game of the season Saturday in a 76-67 grinder against Larry Eustachy-less Colorado State. The Pack lost their first games immediately following their previous two national rankings. Boise State, at 19-4, is getting some notice from coaches, but none from the media. The Broncos have nine votes in the Coaches Poll and are ninth in line in the “others receiving votes” category.

A nod to Boise State football’s Iron Men for Week 3 of winter conditioning. One is an established force hitting the reset button, and the other is an emerging mainstay of the wide receiver corps. David Moa’s numbers slipped last season while those of Curtis Weaver were taking off. Moa recorded two sacks as a junior after 8.5 during his All-Mountain West sophomore year. He’s bent on getting back to business as a senior. The Broncos go into 2018 with a blank canvas at wide receiver with Cedrick Wilson gone. A.J. Richardson came on strong late last season, highlighted by his 87-yard touchdown catch against Air Force, the longest at Boise State in 15 years. Of course, the essence of the Ironman designation in the winter is leadership—by example at the very least. It’s big for Richardson in particular.

Not that the event was overrun with NFL scouts, but this certainly can’t hurt. Wilson won the Hands Competition at the State Farm All-Star Football Challenge on ESPN2 from Dallas last Friday night. And there had to be some modicum of satisfaction when his Wild Card Group of 5 team, which also included Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside, UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport, and UTEP guard Will Hernandez, won the competition over teams from each of the Power 5 conferences. Wilson is projected to go in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft this spring.

Good on that Wild Card squad at AT&T Stadium last Friday, because the gap continues to widen between the Power 5 and Group of 5. Ferd Lewis of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser notes that the SEC said last Thursday “it will pay its 14 members an average of approximately $41 million each for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Since the fiscal year concluded last summer, the totals only figure to escalate when the SEC gets its College Football Playoff checks for the current fiscal year. This is just conference distributions and does not include what schools rake in from their own substantial ticket and sponsorship revenues or donations. To put the announced payout in perspective, the Mountain West distributed $40 million—total—for its most recent reporting year, 2015, according to its IRS 990 form.”

Jay Ajayi and fellow Eagles running back Corey Clement were guests on Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC last night to celebrate Super Bowl LII. The duo followed Clint Eastwood (who’s still got it at the age of 87). Kimmel asked them how they really felt when quarterback Carson Wentz was lost for the season in December. “I had just been traded, and I was enjoying playing with him,” said Ajayi. “I thought, ‘Man, I just lost my buddy.’” Kimmel mentioned how fortunate Ajayi was to be traded by the Dolphins. “Let’s give a shout-out to Miami,” grinned Ajayi. Matt Damon was scheduled to appear right after Ajayi and Clement—and with the show running long, they ran out of time for him. Wow.

This Day In Sports…February 6, 1990:

Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues scores on a third period breakaway in a 6-4 win over Toronto, giving him 50 goals on the season. That made Hull the first son of a former NHL 50-goal scorer to reach the milestone. Brett’s legendary father, Bobby, was in the stands to welcome his son to the exclusive club. Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet, reached that milestone five times with the Chicago Black Hawks. Meanwhile, Brett’s brother Bart was getting ready for his junior season as a Boise State football player.

(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.)