Talkin’ ACC-level talent in the First Responder Bowl

As we get to know the Boston College Eagles ahead of the First Responder Bowl, we can start with their Senior Bowl representatives. On that scoreboard, it’s BC 4, Boise State 0. The four Senior Bowlers are led by offensive guard Chris Lindstrom, who was also a first-team All-ACC selection and was named a third-team AP All-American. Lindstrom’s Twitter handle is Big Fish—he’s 6-4, 310 pounds. Another All-ACC pick, tight end Tommy Sweeney, is also Senior Bowl-bound. Sweeney has 32 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns this season. Defensive end Zach Allen, Boston College’s top NFL Draft prospect, and strong safety Will Harris round out the Eagles’ contingent in the Mobile, AL, clash on January 26.

Hamp Cheevers would be on that list if he was old enough. But Cheevers isn’t a senior. He isn’t even a junior. Cheevers is a sophomore cornerback who leads Boston College and is tied for the national lead in interceptions with seven this season, his first as a starter. He could be a handful for Boise State’s Brett Rypien next week. According to Pro Football Focus, which really drills down stats, opposing quarterbacks have a pass efficiency rating of just 40 when targeting Cheevers (keeping in mind that 110 is considered poor). Like Lindstrom, Cheevers was a first-team All-ACC pick and a third-team AP All-American.

The Boise State defense will have to deal with Boston College running back AJ Dillon in Dallas. Dillon has fought through injuries this year to rush for 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. But he did have to leave the Eagle’s regular season finale, a 42-21 loss to Syracuse, with a right ankle injury. A lot of pundits have tried to use the Broncos’ performance against Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill as a measuring stick for this game. Because Hill’s a Power 5 running back, of course. The reality: he rushed for 123 yards in the Cowboys’ 44-21 win in September. But take away a 53-yard burst late in the game, and Boise State held Hill to 70 yards on 14 carries—and as a team, OSU averaged 3.3 yards per tote without Hill’s run.

WESTERN MICHIGAN’S GOT TALENT

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl participants arrived in Boise Monday to prep for Friday’s game on the blue turf. It struck me that there’s been hardly anything out there about those “other” Broncos from Western Michigan. WMU has a serious one-two punch at running back with LeVante Bellamy, with 1,172 yards on the ground this year, and Jamauri Bogan, who has rushed for 702 yards and is over 3,000 for his career. The key to Western’s hopes, however, might be how quarterback Kaleb Eleby plays. Eleby, a true freshman, chucked his redshirt year for the final four games of the season and threw for 917 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions.

ANOTHER FORMER BRONCO QUARTERBACK AS A COACH

As for Western Michigan coach Tim Lester, well, he has something in common with Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. Like Harsin, Lester was a quarterback from 1996-99 for a team called the Broncos. Lester started for Western Micgigan, winning the MAC Freshman of the Year award in 1996 and All-MAC honors in 1999, when he led WMU to the MAC championship game. He threw for 11,299 yards and 87 touchdowns in his career (86 TDs more than Harsin). Lester took over at his alma mater when P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota after Western Michigan’s undefeated regular season and its run to the Cotton Bowl in 2016.

ONE PLAYER’S ANSWER TO THE ‘WOLF HUNTER’

Well, we know who Leighton Vander Esch’s primary competition is for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard made sure of it on Sunday. Leonard produced a team-high 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a blocked field goal recovery in the Colts’ 23-0 stunner over Dallas. After a fourth quarter pass deflection, he turned skyward and mocked LVE’s “Wolf Hunter” howl. Leonard was drafted 36th overall last spring out of South Carolina State, 17 spots later than Vander Esch. The former Boise State star’s popularity has made him a marked man. What did he think of Leonard’s howl? “It’s whatever,” said Vander Esch after the game. “Don’t really care.”

LOOKING FOR THAT LEADER

Can Alex Hobbs be a “glue guy” on the floor for Boise State? The Broncos don’t have one right now, but Hobbs has been the team’s most consistent player since returning from an ankle injury. He scored 16 points over Boise State’s first seven games (he played in four), and 49 in the last three (he put up 21 Saturday night at Oregon). The struggles of RJ Williams and Justinian Jessup in the loss to the Ducks are well-chronicled, but if you’re talking about all the pieces having to work together for the Broncos to have success this season, you can throw Derrick Alston in there, too. The sophomore guard was in double-figures in four of Boise State’s first five games but only one since. Alston was 0-for-3 and scored just one point in Eugene. The Broncos visit 10-1 Loyola Marymount tomorrow night in L.A.

NO DREW IN RENO

Nevada jumped back up to No. 6 Monday in both polls after edging South Dakota State 72-68 Saturday in its only game of the week. The Wolf Pack announced last week that veteran point guard Lindsey Drew has had right hip surgery and will not play this season. The hip injury appears to stem from Drew compensating for a torn Achilles suffered against Boise State last season on Valentine’s Day in Taco Bell Arena. He’s still in line for surgery on his left hip. Drew was a third-year starter at the time of the Achilles tear. He was coach Eric Musselman’s first recruit in 2015. Pack star Cody Martin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, is now starting at point guard.

THAT CRAZY HUSKY CLASSIC FINISH

Local accounts of the Boise State women’s 73-69 win over Washington in the title game of the Husky Classic Sunday night are rather matter-of-fact. But the Seattle Times saw it as robbery, as in a charging foul called on UW star Amber Melgoza with 12 seconds left that the Huskies contend should have been a foul on the Broncos. Washington coach Jody Wynn, going after the officials, had to be restrained by her assistants as one of her shoes flew off. She threw the other one. Elsewhere, the College of Idaho men return home tonight following their first Cascade Conference loss of the season. The Yotes meet I-84 rival Eastern Oregon in the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BIG BUN DRIVE-IN…old-time goodness you can grab on the go!

December 18, 1932: The Chicago Bears beat the Portsmouth Spartans, 9-0, in the NFL’s first playoff game. It was also the first NFL game ever played indoors, moved from Wrigley Field to Chicago Stadium because of a huge blizzard in the Windy City. The floor was covered with dirt because a circus had just appeared there, and the field was only 80 yards long. The Bears’ deciding touchdown came on a scoring pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange.

(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.)