First, the obvious: Boise State’s loss to BYU wasn’t “Air Force bad.” First, the obvious: Boise State’s loss to BYU wasn’t “Air Force bad.” That’s a good place to start as the frustration swirls following the Broncos’ 35-24 loss to the Cougars Saturday night. If the Hail Mangum had been batted down, the tone would be entirely different. After the 28-14 loss to Air Force at the end of September last year, the Broncos were all but written off. They did not look like a New Year’s Six bowl team at that time, and they don’t look like one now. But there are 10 games left in the regular season. In 2014, Boise State spent October and November still bent on a Mountain West championship—and essentially chasing Marshall in the polls. Now the Broncos’ primary goal is to win out and capture another Mountain West title, and let the rest of us keep an eye on the Group of 5 competition (right now it’s Temple and Toledo—more below).
The Boise State offense looked a lot more inept in Colorado Springs last September than it did in Provo three days ago. Funny thing—there was a first-year offensive coordinator at work against Air Force, Mike Sanford, and he got a lot better at his craft from that point forward. So much so that Sanford’s at Notre Dame now. Current O-coordinator Eli Drinkwitz made progress between Week 1 and Week 2. Let’s just see where he is in October and November. There was also a clamor after the loss to the Falcons to replace quarterback Grant Hedrick with Ryan Finley. Now Finley’s getting the same treatment. Finley is “okay” right now. Of course, this team needs “great,” not merely “okay,” and it’s up to Finley to get there. It’s just not time to give up the ghost.
What was being said after the Air Force game last year? Some writers were almost giddy at the chance to dish it out. One was Dan Wolken at USAToday.com who put the Broncos at No. 2 on his “Misery Index” at the end of September. Wrote Wolken: “Remember the frenzy over Boise State football about 22 months ago when the Big East was trying to hold itself together with a Western expansion strategy while the Mountain West was secretly trying to woo the Broncos back with unprecedented financial concessions? How silly does that look now? Fans of winning programs tend to think success will go on forever, but it rarely happens that way.”
Wolken continued: “The truth is, Boise hit on a run of great players, and the talent has now dried up—especially at quarterback. The Broncos have struggled there ever since Kellen Moore left campus, and Saturday’s 28-14 loss to Air Force could engage a full-on crisis.” Then Wolken talked about Grant Hedrick having “struggled all season,” which wasn’t true, but it was Hedrick’s challenge to play his way out of that perception. And he did. Are things worse for Boise State right now than they were at the end of September last year? I don’t think so.
Boise State’s first commit of the 2016 recruiting class is no more. A lot of people saw this one coming. Wide receiver Derrion Grim of Stockton, CA, decommitted from the Broncos on Twitter yesterday—and an hour later he announced he was giving a verbal to Nebraska. Grim visited the Cornhuskers last weekend for their 48-9 win over South Alabama and was bowled over by the scene that included 89,922 mostly red-clad fans. He’s been tearing it up this season, already racking up 685 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in just three games.
Talk about storylines being blown up. Those in the Mountain West were shredded over the weekend. Fresno State was trying to break a 19-game losing streak against ranked teams. Ole Miss 73, Bulldogs 21. The last time Nevada beat a ranked team came in 2010 with its legendary win over No. 3 Boise State. Arizona 44, Wolf Pack 20. Certainly Wyoming could beat Eastern Michigan. Eagles 48, Wyo 29. San Diego State wanted some respect in the state of California. Cal 35, Aztecs 7. New Mexico’s Opening Night romp wasn’t just a mirage, was it? Tulsa 40, Lobos 21. UNLV will play out of its mind for new coach Tony Sanchez, right? UCLA 37, Rebels 3. Not much you can say about this one. Ohio State 38, Hawaii 0.
Colorado State almost beat Minnesota, falling in overtime 23-20. And Utah State was serviceable in its 24-14 loss at Utah. But is that hobbling quarterback Chuckie Keeton going to make it one more month, when Boise State comes to Logan? It was the worst non-conference week in Mountain West history. It can’t get any worse that being 0-10. The only league team that won in Week 2 was Air Force—and the Falcons played the first conference game of the season, beating San Jose State 37-16.
Back to the Temple and Toledo thing, especially Toledo. It’s difficult for the Mountain West to call itself the best Group of 5 conference after a weekend like that. The Rockets’ stunner at Arkansas on Saturday, coupled with Bowling Green’s rout at Maryland, give the MAC 24 wins over Power 5/Big East teams since 2010. The MAC has beaten eight different Big Ten programs. Northern Illinois takes a four-year streak of Power 5 victories into No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday. The Huskies don’t have much of a shot in that one, but they could log another Power 5 win next week against Boston College. The MAC’s stadiums may be plagued by empty seats, especially during those weeknight games, but the football is getting better and better.
What was the difference between the first and second weeks of the season for Idaho State? The level of opponent. After blowing out Dickinson State 55-0, the Bengals faced Portland State, coming off its Opening Day upset of Washington State. The Vikings held ISU to just 242 yards of total offense, with quarterback Michael Sanders barely over 50 percent passing (20-for-39). After throwing a first quarter touchdown pass to former Skyview High standout Hagen Graves for a 7-0 lead, Sanders and his Idaho State mates watched PSU score 24 unanswered points on the way to a 34-14 victory. Bobbled snaps and missed assignments bogged the Bengals down. Friday night on the blue turf, they face another team anxious to atone for Week 2 woes.
The Boise Hawks scattered a week ago after their 30-46 season ended. Now the Northwest League book is complete for 2015, as the Hillsboro Hops won the NWL title Sunday night with a 6-1 victory over the Tri-City Dust Devils. After cruising to the league’s best regular-season record at 45-31, the Hops dispatched Salem-Keizer in the semifinals and won the NWL Championship Series two games-to-one to claim their second straight crown.
It’s a likely National League Wild Card preview today when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs open a four-game series with a day-night doubleheader, and some former Boise Hawks are at the center of the fray. Josh Harrison, the Pirates’ multi-positional infielder, is coming off a dramatic 11th-inning walk-off single that beat the Brewers 7-6 on Sunday. Harrison went 9-for-19 in the four-game set versus the Brewers. The Pirates have been cruising since Harrison returned to the team—he missed a month and a half after injuring his left thumb on 4th of July weekend. Then you have the Cubs’ rookie sluggers, ex-Hawks Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Bryant remains a strong NL Rookie of the Year candidate with his 24 home runs and 92 RBIs. Schwarber hit three homers over the weekend and has 16 for the season in only 53 games.
This Day In Sports…September 15, 1978:
Muhammad Ali defeats Leon Spinks to regain the heavyweight championship belt at the sold-out Superdome in New Orleans. Exactly seven months earlier, Spinks had stunned Ali in Las Vegas, winning a split decision to capture both the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles. However, this time Ali dominated Spinks in a bout that went the full 15 rounds and took back the WBA title for a record third time in his career.
(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.)