Broncos and Bulldogs waiting in the wings

It’s pretty clear-cut in my view. After seeing the new College Football Playoff rankings last night, the winner of the Mountain West championship game is in line to get the Group of 5’s spot in a New Year’s Six bowl if UCF loses to Memphis in the American title game. If. Boise State is No. 22, and Fresno State is No. 25. So whoever wins this game will have beaten a team that’s ranked in the CFP. UCF is No. 8. Could Memphis leapfrog the Broncos and Bulldogs by upsetting a team ranked that high? Unlikely. The Tigers are 8-4, with losses to Navy (3-9) and Tulane (6-6), as well as UCF and Missouri. The Knights and Memphis kick off their game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, so everybody will know the scenario when Boise State and Fresno State begin at 5:45.

I talked about Boise State tradition yesterday—10-win seasons and such. As of last Saturday, 16 of the Broncos’ last 17 senior classes will have left with at least 40 career victories. That means nothing in relation to this week’s title game, of course. But here’s one fact that sets the two Mountain West combatants apart from their Group of 5 brethren in what is currently the runners-up race for a New Year’s Six bowl. Boise State is the only Group of 5 program that has beaten six bowl-eligible teams this season, as the Broncos have victories over Troy, Wyoming, Nevada, BYU, Fresno State and Utah State. The Bulldogs have wins over five bowl-eligible teams, beating Toledo, Wyoming, Nevada, Hawaii and San Diego State.

The subject of the day on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk yesterday was Boise State coach Bryan Harsin and Bronco Nation’s perception of him. As in, “When you think of Harsin, what do you think of?” Callers were generally positive with Harsin rallying again this season. His career record is 52-13 with the Broncos, and he’s now one victory behind Dan Hawkins. The most striking response was one on Twitter from Tim Rypien, Brett’s dad. “HOF coach!” tweeted Tim. “I say that with conviction as I’ve known a HOF coach in Mike Babcock for last 20 years and they are cut out of the same cloth. Detailed, Driven, Dedicated! Both have that ‘it’ factor and remarkable presence about them.” Babcock is coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He coached the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL 20 years ago.

Footnote from the Boise State-Utah State game: Brett Rypien broke the Mountain West career record for 300-yard games with his 21st against the Aggies. He’s already the conference’s career leader in passing yards, with that total reaching 13,456 after he put up 310 on Utah State. That boosted Rypien past Colt McCoy of Texas into the top 15 in FBS history. As for this season, Rypien is ninth in the country with 3,580 passing yards and is 11th in pass efficiency with a rating of 160.7, which is halfway between “good” and “excellent.”

ALL-ACC TEAM ALREADY OUT, AND…

As Rypien approaches his final game on the blue turf, his immediate Boise State predecessor does the same on his home field at North Carolina State. Ryan Finley, whose injury in September of 2015 opened the door for Rypien as a true freshman, is now set to complete his three-year stint with NC State when the Wolfpack hosts East Carolina Saturday. The game was arranged when both teams had other contests cancelled September 15 due to Hurricane Florence. Finley was named first-team All-ACC Monday after compiling 3,380 passing yards and 307.3 yards per game (seventh nationally). Rypien and Finley have both had outstanding careers, and they’re eerily close statistically.

NOT MUCH PROGRESS FOR THE WORK-IN-PROGRESS

Boise State and Drake see-sawed through the first half last night before the Bulldogs forged a 10-point lead at the break. Then they kept the Broncos at arm’s length in an 83-74 win for the home team in Des Moines. Justinian Jessup was his old self for Boise State with a 21-point night that included four three-pointers. But the Broncos could not stay out of the foul column, and Drake converted at the line to the tune of 28 free throws in 34 attempts. Boise State was just 10-for-15 at the stripe. Coach Leon Rice was not looking for excuses, though. “That’s not the officials,” said Rice. “We had a Final Four-level crew tonight.”

Boise State wraps up November with an unfamiliar 2-4 record, and the light at the end of the tunnel may not be imminent in December. “There are so many things we need to do better to be a good team,” Rice said. “They’ve got a lotta lotta lotta bad habits.” Elsewhere in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge last night, fifth-ranked Nevada avenged the loss to Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 last March, beating the Ramblers 79-65. But the Drake win, coupled with an 82-67 Southern Illinois victory at Colorado State last night, gives the Missouri Valley a 2-1 lead in the series. And oh by the way, Jackson State, the team that lost by 17 at Taco Bell Arena a couple weeks back, was routed by 43 last night at San Diego State.

HUTCH SHAKES OFF SPASMS

Chandler Hutchison returned to action for the Chicago Bulls Monday night after missing three games with back spasms. The former Boise State star played 19 minutes—right at his average—in a 108-107 loss to San Antonio, going 2-for-2 from the field and pulling down four rebounds. In 17 games this season, Hutchison is averaging exactly five points and four boards per game. He’s shooting 44.6 percent from the field but just 21.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Bulls play at Milwaukee tonight.

ON THE MIKE SANFORD FIRING

Back to football: Western Kentucky struck quickly yesterday to replace former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. as head coach, announcing that Tennessee O-coordinator Tyson Helton will take over the Hilltoppers. Helton, the brother of USC coach Clay Helton, was OC at Western Kentucky in 2014-15 when the ‘Toppers were lighting up the scoreboard. Sanford was only given two years at WKU. It can be said that he didn’t have a fair chance, but what would have happened if a coach took over a 10-win Boise State team and went 6-7 and 3-9 in his first two seasons? Another casualty of the Hilltoppers change was offensive coordinator Junior Adams, who was the Broncos’ wide receivers coach from 2014-16.

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November 28, 2008, 10 years ago today: Boise State caps a perfect regular season with a 61-10 rout of Fresno State in Bronco Stadium. Bush Hamdan was honored with the Senior Night start at quarterback but threw a pick-six on the first series. Freshman Kellen Moore came back on after that, and it was 61-3 the rest of the way. It was also Ian Johnson’s final game on the blue turf, and he rushed for 128 yards, the only 100-yard game of his senior season. For the Bulldogs, it was more anguish against the Broncos. At that point, Fresno State fell to 1-7 versus Boise State in conference games (it’s now 3-14).

(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.)