Boise State versus “the next Boise State?”

The phrase has been thrown around for the past 10-plus years, at least since the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The phrase has been thrown around for the past 10-plus years, at least since the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Teams have been striving to be “the next Boise State.” The issue has been sustainability. There have been lots of Group of 5 flashes in the pan, but no team has been able to string it together long-term this century like the Broncos. Northern Illinois can make a case now, though, and that’s why the Huskies are so jacked to play Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl tomorrow. “Boise is the benchmark for the Group of 5 teams,” said NIU coach Rod Carey at HuskieWire.com. “What a great opportunity to play a team like that. That in itself should excite you. We have a ton of respect for them and how they’ve done it and how they go about it. It’s fun to watch and it’ll fun to compete against them.”

Which begs the question: Who’ll want it more at Qualcomm Stadium? The Broncos claim they want it plenty. Northern Illinois is actually the winningest Group of 5 program this decade (65 victories to Boise State’s 63), while the Broncos have the better percentage (80.8 to NIU’s 78.3). Here’s sustainability: BSU has 18 straight winning seasons, the second-longest streak in the nation next to Virginia Tech’s 21. The Hokies’ streak, however, will end if they fall to Tulsa in the Independence Bowl Saturday (don’t count on it—it’s Frank Beamer’s final game).

Still no word on Northern Illinois quarterback Ryan Graham’s status for the Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State has been preparing for both Graham and true freshman walk-on Tommy Fiedler, who had to come on for Graham in NIU’s last two losses to Ohio and Bowling Green. Graham’s presence would influence the Broncos’ defensive game plan—and open things up for Huskies star running back Joel Bouagnon. Ohio and and Bowling Green were able to key on the Northern Illinois running game with the Huskies hobbled at quarterback, and Bouagnon combined for just 94 yards on 30 carries in the two defeats. Carey has been counting on Graham being ready to roll. And now, the Statesman reports, Boise State will have to make a go of it without star linebacker Tanner Vallejo, who was left home due to a violation of team rules.

There is word of a starting quarterback for Dallas against Buffalo this Sunday. It’ll be former Boise State great Kellen Moore, who will be the first left-handed quarterback to start a game in Cowboys history. In his so-very-long-awaited NFL debut Saturday night, he became the first signal-calling left-hander ever to throw a pass for Dallas. I tweeted that yesterday, and that brought an anecdote from a Scott Slant Reader: “Not sure if he was the first lefty (non-QB), but Deion Sanders threw a pass for Dallas in 1999…lefty. It was incomplete. Probably on an end-around.” So there you go.

KTVB’s Jay Tust had a good tweet yesterday—“Round 2: Kellen Moore (#Cowboys) vs Tyrod Taylor (#Bills). I’m trying to remember how that went over the first time?” That was tongue-in-cheek from Tust. Taylor was Virginia Tech’s quarterback when Boise State beat the Hokies 33-30 at Washington’s FedEx Field before nearly 87,000 fans in 2010—on Moore’s two-minute drill at the end of the game that actually took only 38 seconds. At any rate, what these final two games amount to for Moore is an audition to be Tony Romo’s backup in Dallas in 2016. Even if Kellen plays lights-out, though, there will still be doubters as to his viability as an ongoing NFL starter, meaning the Cowboys may go out and draft a quarterback in the early rounds next spring.

Speculation is that former Boise State star Jay Ajayi may get more of a look in Miami’s final two games of the season. Starting Dolphins running back Lamar Miller is dealing with a quad injury—and he’ll be a free agent next month. The Jay-Train scored his first NFL touchdown Sunday on a tough (and very Ajayi-ish) 12-yard run in the Fins’ 30-14 loss at San Diego. It’s just that Miami has hardly been running the ball. The Dolphins rushed just 19 times in the game, and Ajayi had six of the carries for a team-leading 27 yards.

There are now 41 bowl games, roughly twice as many as there were when the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl debuted as the Humanitarian Bowl in 1997 (at that time there were only 21). But it’s still a big deal to get to one. Utah State played in that first Boise bowl, falling to Cincinnati, 35-19. The Aggies didn’t play in another bowl until losing 24-23 to Ohio on the blue turf four years ago. With that in mind (from the “Who wants it more?” file), USU coach Matt Wells was asked yesterday if he understands how much this means to Akron and the intangibles that may inspire the Zips. “Absolutely,” said Wells. “I wasn’t there at Utah State (in 2011), but I can tell you this: I’m alumni. So I was hurting as hard as everybody else.” Make no mistake—coach Terry Bowden and Akron are into today’s game.

The sentimental favorite to start (and star) at quarterback for Utah State in this afternoon’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is Chuckie Keeton, of course. It’s his final game as an Aggie, and he’s said to be healthy. But Kent Myers, who started most of the season, has healed up, too, and actually has better numbers than Keeton. Myers has completed 60 percent of his throws for 1,470 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 348 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Keeton’s pass percentage is 52 percent—he has thrown for 892 yards and has logged only three TDs against six interceptions. Keeton has 182 yards on the ground and has averaged 3.9 yards per tote. It’ll be interesting to see how Wells divvies things up this afternoon.

This isn’t the same Utah State team that routed Boise State 52-26 two months ago. Or is it? The infamous eight-turnover night in Logan hasn’t come close to repeating itself—in fact, the Aggies have forced only three turnovers since. But sometimes those things happen by osmosis. “I just want to see them play aggressive, play fast to the football,” said Wells of his defense. “They’ve done a good job of chasing the football I think all year. We have done a good job on defense stopping the run, creating turnovers in bunches really in the middle of the season. Hadn’t got as many lately. I’d like to see some of that. But a lot of the times that will come and go in a game and it came in a flurry that game that you’re talking about.”

Jame Webb III’s “career matinee” has earned him his second Mountain West Player of the Week award. Webb poured in 31 points in the 90-70 romp over Bradley Sunday afternoon while adding eight rebounds as Boise State clinched the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge for the MW. He scored nine points during a 12-2 run in the second half that pushed the Broncos’ lead from 13 to 23 and put the game out of reach. It’s the first conference honor of the season for Boise State. One number hidden away in Webb’s stat line Sunday: four steals. That was indicative of a Bronco team that did not take the day off. It was a solid effort. BSU is off for another eight days, until a meeting with UC Davis in Taco Bell Arena on December 30.

Entering the final day of competition, the Mountain View High girls basketball team has gone 1-2 at the massive Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. The Maveriks fell to Bellevue, WA, 82-65 in the opening round and to Cajon of San Bernardino 67-52 in consolation. The Mavs then beat Carondelet of Concord, CA, 78-69. Mountain View faces Sacred Heart of Louisville today for 13th place in the John Anderson Bracket, one of six brackets accommodating the 90 teams in the event.

This Day In Sports…December 22, 2010, five years ago today:

Boise State’s season of highest expectations ends with only one blemish, as the Broncos blast Utah 26-3 in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. The tide turned in the second quarter on an 84-yard touchdown run by Doug Martin, the longest play in Las Vegas Bowl history and then the Broncos’ second-longest run ever. Kellen Moore was the game’s MVP, throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns. One of them went to senior Austin Pettis, who had a career-high 12 catches for 147 yards in his final game as a Bronco. Boise State finished the season at 12-1 and was perhaps the best team in school history, despite an upset loss at Nevada that kept it out of the Rose Bowl.

(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.)