BYU and Boise State are going into the fourth game of a 12-year home-and-home series Saturday. BYU and Boise State are going into the fourth game of a 12-year home-and-home series Saturday. The Broncos are going to see a lot more of the Cougars in coming seasons than they will of Mountain West rivals Nevada and Fresno State (for example). So can this be classified as a rivalry? Boise State coach Bryan Harsin doesn’t approach it as such, but that doesn’t matter. “As far as two good football teams playing each other—that’s how I look at it,” said Harsin. As an independent, BYU isn’t eligible for the automatic Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Six bowls. That goes to the top champion of a Group of 5 conference. The Cougars have to get in as an at-large selection, which basically means they have to go undefeated. Saturday night’s game—against a Top 25 foe—is crucially important to BYU. Whether it’s a rivalry or not.
Overall, this will be the sixth meeting between Boise State and BYU. While the Broncos remember the 37-20 thumping they absorbed in Provo in 2013, ending their 50-game October winning streak that had lasted 13 years, the Cougars have a fresher memory. Boise State pounded BYU 55-30 last fall on the blue turf. Like this Saturday, the Cougars didn’t have Taysom Hill for that game. But it’s doubtful Hill would have been able to keep pace with the Bronco offense that night, as Grant Hedrick passed for a career-high 410 yards. Defense was an offseason priority for BYU, and coach Bronco Mendenhall, once the Y’s defensive coordinator, has taken over that unit. That means funky blitzes, among other things. “You never know where it’s coming from,” said Harsin. “They bring multiple pressures.”
BYU thinks of itself as a Power 5 school, and some conferences put that tag on the Cougars for scheduling purposes. Power 5 leagues are increasingly restricting members from scheduling FCS foes—and mandating that they line up at least one Power 5 opponent per season on their non-conference slates. The SEC, ACC and Big Ten have all said that BYU will fulfill the latter requirement. Independence is uncomfortable—no conference titles or all-league selections, and we’ve already talked about the New Year’s Six bowl quandary. But the scheduling opportunities give the Cougars a reason to continue down the independent path.
Tanner Mangum has become a trendy topic nationally, and the “Mangum-to-Mathews Miracle” is already part of BYU lore in Provo. Mangum’s Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews at Nebraska last Saturday was No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that night (brother Madison’s one-handed touchdown catch for Idaho State was No. 2). The fact that the Eagle High grad pulled this off on the last play of the game in front of a hostile crowd of 90,000 belies his true freshman status. So does his age—he turned 22 yesterday—and that may explain his demeanor in Cornhusker land. Mangum couldn’t stop smiling when he was called upon to replace Hill. “I talked to him and I actually wanted him to be a little bit more nervous. He was excited to play,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “He acted like it was no big deal. I certainly thought it was a big deal.”
With teams ahead of it losing in Week 1, Boise State had room to move in the polls yesterday (released two days late because of Labor Day games). The Broncos climbed to No. 20 in AP and No. 22 in the Coaches Poll after their 16-13 victory over Washington. BYU went from a couple votes last week to knocking on the door of the Top 25—the Cougars are second among “others receiving votes” in AP and fifth in line on the Coaches list. A win Saturday night, and BYU is in. Next among Group of 5 schools in the AP Poll is—are you ready?—Temple with eight points. No other Mountain West teams received votes this week.
For those concerned about Boise State scoring only 16 points in its season opener, well, it’s kind of a trend. The Broncos put up just 13 points at Michigan State in 2012, six at Washington in 2013, and 13 again versus Ole Miss last year. That’s 48 points in the last four openers combined. What happened after each of the low outputs? Boise State followed with 39 against Miami of Ohio, 63 versus Tennessee-Martin and 37 against Colorado State in those respective seasons. The first two opponents aren’t pertinent, while the showing against CSU might be. Thing is, the improvement versus the Rams came via a senior quarterback—and all three of those followup games were at home.
Former Boise State star George Iloka appears ready to hit his stride as he enters his fourth NFL season with Cincinnati. Is he primed for a run to the Pro Bowl? Many think he is. Iloka has developed into one of the leaders on the Bengals’ defense, coming off a 2014 season that saw him log 74 tackles and three interceptions (he feels he should have had six). The undercurrent this season is that it’s the final year of Iloka’s rookie contract. Big money beckons if he has a big season. I like something FoxSports.com reported on early in training camp. After practice one of Cincy’s defensive backs was telling the other members of the secondary his entire body was aching. “Did George hit you?” one replied. “George is out there hitting everybody.”
Does Idaho have a Sun Belt measuring stick in store Saturday? It’s hard to tell what we’ll learn along those lines. The Vandals face eighth-ranked USC, which throttled UI conference mate Arkansas State 55-6 last Saturday night. Coach Paul Petrino certainly isn’t concerning himself with any such comparisons after last week’s 45-28 loss to Ohio in the Kibbie Dome. The Trojans will likely stop the run, putting the weight of the game on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan. On the bright side, wide receiver Dezmon Epps returned last week after a year away—and it was like he had never left. Epps had a career-high 15 receptions covering 160 yards, the second-best yardage total of his career.
Idaho will be facing USC for the 10th time, but only the second time in 86 years. The Vandals and Trojans played every year from 1922-29 while both schools were members of the Pacific Coast Conference, with USC winning each time. They faced off again in the 2007 season opener when the Trojans were ranked No. 1, with Idaho falling 38-10 in front of more than 90,000 fans in the L.A. Coliseum. It was Robb Akey’s first game as UI head coach. The Vandals’ touchdown that night was scored on a one-yard run by the Shelley Russet, Jayson Bird.
With the Boise Hawks’ 2015 campaign in the books—and with an 11th straight season sans a Northwest League championship for the club—we get to wondering where former Hawks manager Tom Kotchman is these days. Kotchman won Boise’s first four NWL titles while managing the Hawks from 1990-2000 and notching a league record 501 victories. Well, Kotchman is no longer in the L.A. Angels organization. He now works for Boston, and guess what? Last week his Gulf Coast Red Sox (rookie league team) won the Gulf Coast League championship with a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays’ affiliate.
A report at NBCSports.com says that former Idaho Stampede forward Jerrelle Benimon has signed with Cleveland. Benimon played for the Cavaliers in the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 6.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He got his feet wet in the NBA during a 10-day contract with Utah last season, playing in two games. For the Stampede, Benimon averaged 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds a game last season and was a D-League All-Star. He has a shot at the 15th and final spot on the Cavs’ roster. Also, former Stampede coach Bryan Gates may be headed to the Minnesota Timberwolves staff, according to reports. Gates lost his assistant’s post with New Orleans when coach Monty Williams was fired in May.
This Day In Sports…September 9, 1960:
The Denver Broncos defeat the Boston Patriots, 13-10, in the first regular season game ever played in the American Football League. Denver’s uniforms turned some heads—and stomachs. They had brown helmets, white jerseys with brown numerals, brown pants, and vertically-striped brown-and-white socks. The first AFL season consisted of eight teams; the others were the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, and the inaugural AFL champions, the Houston Oilers.
(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.)