Boise State football: As much as we hate to say it…

The American Athletic Conference has this inflated vision of itself, often invoking the phrase “Power Six” (there, I said it) the past two years in an effort to be considered a major conference. But it’s not. To be sure, though, it’s in the best position among the Group of Five leagues. And with it becoming increasingly difficult moving forward for Boise State to secure home-and-home series with the Power Five without going the two-for-one route, a home-and-home situation with an AAC school has to be seen as a positive. The Broncos announced yesterday that they’ll play South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa in 2025, with a return game on the blue turf set for 2027.

Boise State has had future Power 5 home-and-homes set against Michigan State, Oregon State and Washington State for some time. The Oklahoma State series is already underway (the Cowboys come to Boise in 2021), and Florida State kicks in this year. But the Broncos were forced to go two-for-one with Oregon, the latest Power 5 team they scheduled. So USF has to be considered a solid get in this day and age. By the way, players who’ll suit up when the series against the Bulls begins in 2025 are somewhere between the ages of 12 and 17 today.

MOUNTAIN WEST DRAFT OUTLOOK

The NFL Draft begins tonight, and Mountain West Wire has put together a summary of where Mountain West players are forecast to go the next three days. The various mock drafts have between nine and 12 players from the conference being selected—and only two guys with a shot of going before the third round in any of them. The Athletic likes Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai and Draftsite sees San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver as second-rounders. All six mocks have Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien going between the fifth and seventh rounds. Chad Reuter of NFL.com tabs Bronco running back Alexander Mattison as a fourth-rounder, but three sites predict Mattison will go undrafted.

Then again, it’s nitty gritty time, and a number of analysts see Mattison being picked ahead of Rypien. In fact, ESPN’s Todd McShay writes, “Mattison is getting a lot of buzz right now. He had a good combine workout and has moved into the discussion for late Day 2.” That means third round, sports fans. Anything can happen, though. Where would he like to go? San Bernardino high school reporter Pep Fernandez interviewed Mattison this week on the field where he starred as a prep and asked him who his favorite NFL team and star were as a kid. “The Steelers were my team growing up,” said Mattison. “The first player I ever fell in love with was Troy Polamalu.” (Mattison has long dreads, but his hair length is nowhere near that of Polamalu in his heyday.)

WINN BACK IN THE NFL, TWO YEARS REMOVED

Former Boise State star Billy Winn is not done in the NFL quite yet. The veteran defensive end has signed with Denver, the team he played for in 2016. Winn, part of Boise State’s fearsome defensive front during the 50-win stretch from 2008-11, tore his ACL in the first preseason game in 2017 and didn’t play that season. And he was not on an NFL roster last year. Winn was drafted in the sixth round by Cleveland in 2012 and was traded to Indianapolis during the 2015 season before signing with Denver as a free agent the following summer. He has 111 tackles, three sacks, five fumble recoveries and two interceptions during his NFL career. Winn just turned 30 last week.

STEELIES ARE PACKIN’ THEIR BAGS

Tulsa was going to have none of this KC Cinderella thing. After trailing Kansas City three games-to-two in their first-round Kelly Cup Playoff series, the Oilers rolled over the Mavericks 6-2 Wednesday night for their second straight win at home to advance to the ECHL Mountain Division finals against the Idaho Steelheads. That means Tulsa, as the top seed in the division, will host Games 1 and 2 against the Steelheads Friday and Sunday. If there’s one Oiler the Steelies might want to shadow, it’s Alex Dostie, who turned a hat trick Wednesday night and tallied nine times in the series against KC. Idaho will have the fresh skates, having been off since last Saturday, when it finished off Utah.

THE TRAIL BLAZER IN THE PRACTICE GYM

When Phil Beckner was an assistant coach on Leon Rice’s staff at Boise State, Damian Lillard visited campus several times to work out with him, most recently in the summer of 2017. Did Broncos players fully appreciate the opportunity they had to be around the Portland star? They sure do now, as Lillard produced one of the great shout-out-loud-on-your-couch moments in NBA Playoffs history Tuesday night, hitting a 37-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to finish off the Blazers’ first-round series against Oklahoma City. The incredible shot marked his 48th, 49th and 50th points of the game. At the postgame presser, Lillard said he was shooting with Beckner a couple nights earlier in OKC, and Beckner had him launch some ridiculously deep ones. “I’m telling you, you’re going to hit one of these,” Lillard said Beckner told him.

MERRITT PLAYS THROUGH THE MISSING RIB

This is a pretty good resume for a guy who, thanks largely to surgery to remove a rib, has played only eight PGA Tour events this season, and only four in the calendar year. Going into the Zurich Classic of New Orleans today, Meridian resident and Boise State product Troy Merritt has made six of eight cuts and has four top 25 finishes. He’s earned $588,183 after tying for 10th last week at the RBC Heritage, his second top 10 finish this season. And Merritt is No. 93 in FedExCup standings, which means he’s in good position to keep his PGA Tour card beyond this season.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by PEASLEY TRANSFER & STORAGE…a tradition you can trust!

April 25, 1976: Chicago Cubs centerfielder Rick Monday becomes a national hero when he rescues an American flag from two people who are attempting to burn it in the outfield of Dodger Stadium. Monday would later be traded to L.A. in a deal that sent Bill Buckner to Chicago and would become a popular player for the Dodgers, whose fans had not forgotten. That day, by the way, was the 100th anniversary of the Cubs’ first game.

(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.)