Baylor will still play with a purpose

It’s been a wild three years since Baylor last played a bowl game in Phoenix. In 2013, the sixth-ranked Bears were Big 12 champions at 11-1 and were expecting to roll over an upstart Central Florida team. But the 15th-ranked Knights had other ideas, and won a 52-42 track meet behind Blake Bortles. A number of current Baylor seniors were freshmen that night, and their college experience has run the gamut since as the Bears program was rocked by the sexual abuse scandal. “This game is strictly for the seniors,” said Baylor junior nickelback Travon Blanchard in the Waco Tribune. “It’s about sending the seniors out on a correct note. We’ve earned this moment, but there’s a purpose why we’re out in Arizona.” The Bears are playing in their school-record seventh straight bowl and have gone 3-3 in the previous six.

Baylor running back Shock Linwood has elected to pass on the Cactus Bowl to begin training for the NFL Draft. On the surface, you’d say, “Wow, the school’s career rushing leader with 4,213 yards and 36 touchdowns. But the bloom has been off Linwood’s rose this season, as he’s rushed for just 751 yards and two TDs. And the Bears have two other backs who have shared the load all season. Maybe the other two guys are happy—more carries for them. Terence Wlliams is actually the Bears’ leading rusher with 945 yards and 11 touchdowns, while JaMycal Hasty has added 591 yards. Furthermore, Linwood was suspended for the Oklahoma game last month due to an “attitude issue.” This could be a positive for the Baylor locker room.

It’s well-documented that Idaho’s defensive numbers are much-improved this year going into tomorrow’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Vandals’ yards allowed are down by 73 per game to an average of 414. Junior defensive end Aikeem Coleman, the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year, keyed the remarkable surge as he posted eight sacks, seven quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. It’s when opposing quarterbacks get the ball out before Coleman gets to them that’s the issue. Idaho is 112th in the country in pass defense, yielding 270 yards a game.

The run-happy Rams of Colorado State have a weapon for that. Rashard Higgins, who amassed 239 receptions in just three years for the Rams, is gone to the Cleveland Browns. But Michael Gallup, a junior college transfer in his first season with CSU, has compensated nicely with 70 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other CSU receiver has more than 21 catches. Gallup has averaged 130 yards per game over the past seven games.

Eagle’s Tanner Mangum will be back on stage in San Diego tonight at the Poinsettia Bowl. With Taysom Hill’s career over due to injury, it’ll be Mangum leading BYU against Wyoming, a team the Cougars haven’t played since departing the Mountain West after the 2010 season. BYU has won seven in a row in a series that dates back to 1922. The most famous game between the two schools came 20 years ago right now, when the Cougars rallied to edge the Cowboys 28-25 in overtime in the 1996 WAC championship game. Some Wyo fans still haven’t gotten over that one. But this is a new era, with a BYU team that’s made a solid transition from Bronco Mendenhall to Kalani Sitake and a Cowboys squad that has been the surprise of the Mountain West this season.

Former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne is happy for San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey, who just broke his NCAA career rushing record in last Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl win over Houston. But sometimes Dayne, who finished his career on New Year’s Day, 2000, wonders aloud about the legitimacy of Pumphrey’s accomplishment. Before 2002, bowl games (and playoff games in the lower divisions), did not count toward a player’s statistics. Pumphrey’s new record is 6,405 yards. Dayne’s old one was 6,397. What happens when you add his bowl performances? Dayne rushed for 246 yards in the 1996 Copper Bowl, 36 in the 1998 Outback Bowl, 246 in the 1999 Rose Bowl and 200 in the 2000 Rose Bowl. That would bring his total to a staggering 7,125 yards.

Boise State gets a reunion tonight with former New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus, now leading the Cal State Northridge program. The Matadors are in town for the Broncos’ final non-conference game of the season in Taco Bell Arena. Theus is best remembered for charging the court and going after Boise State guard Coby Karl at the 2007 WAC Tournament. Late in an eventual 88-69 NMSU win in the semifinals, Karl fouled the Aggies’ Tyrone Nelson as he was going for a breakaway layup. In the midst of the chaos, Theus appeared be yelling in the face of Karl, now the new head coach of the D-League’s L.A. D-Fenders. Karl was whistled for an intentional foul, while Theus received a technical.

Cal State Northridge is 3-8 this season, but the Matadors can shoot. They are averaging 80.7 points per game and bring in four players who are scoring at least 12.6 points per outing, and as a team CSUN hits 47.5 percent from the field. The Broncos should provide a good test from beyond the arc, though, as they lead the Mountain West in fewest three-pointers allowed (4.5 per game) and three-point field goal percentage (.290, among the top 25 marks in the country).

Playing without senior star Brooke Pahukoa for the second straight game, the Boise State women got a big contribution from Shalen Shaw in a 61-49 victory over Hawaii last night in Taco Bell Arena. Shaw put up 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds in helping the Broncos finish the non-conference schedule at 10-1, the best mark in program history. Pahukoa also missed Sunday’s win over Portland as she works through an ailing foot.

Christmas week is compacted into two games for the Idaho Steelheads, tomorrow night and Friday night at Allen. The Steelheads will be without defenseman Joe Faust , who has reached a professional tryout agreement with the AHL’s Texas Stars. Faust has played in all 27 games this season, his first with the Steelies. He already has a career-high seven goals, tied for the ECHL lead among defensemen.

This Day In Sports…December 21, 2013:

After upsetting Boise State in Bronco Stadium in 2012, San Diego State wins its second straight game on the blue turf, this time over Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Junior running back Adam Muema rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns for the Aztecs in a 49-24 rout of Khalil Mack and the Bulls, who were playing in only their second bowl game ever. SDSU had started the season 0-3 but won eight of its last 10 games to finish 8-5. It was the first year of the bowl’s association with the Mountain West.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)