It’s “only” the West Coast Conference?

I mentioned yesterday that the Mountain West is in “RPI purgatory” after a slew of bad losses early this season (accentuated by San Diego State’s defeat at Grand Canyon Wednesday night). Boise State hosts Portland tomorrow in Taco Bell Arena, and certainly it’s no shame to be facing a West Coast Conference team, considering the shape the Mountain West is in these days. Nevada is 40th in the latest NCAA RPI ratings, and no other team in the league—nobody else—is in the top 100. San Diego State has plunged to No. 102, one behind Colorado State. Next are Wyoming at 120 and the Broncos at 129. New Mexico? How about No. 144? How did Mountain West hoops slip so quickly the past three years?

The WCC is better overall, but it’s top-heavy. The conference has two teams in the NCAA RPI top 10, Saint Mary’s at No. 4 and Gonzaga at No. 7. (If you saw the Bulldogs rip apart Washington 98-71 Wednesday night, you may think that’s low for the Zags.) Next is Portland, who comes to Boise with a 5-3 record and a No. 147 rating. This can’t be sitting well in Provo: BYU is No. 192. There’s a lot of season left, and the ratings will change dramatically for many teams. But the fact is, the Mountain West and the WCC are companion conferences.

The emergence of Boise State’s Robin Jorch looked like it was going to bear watching after last Saturday’s game at Evansville. Just when it seemed Zach Haney was poised to take the inside minutes away from David Wacker, Jorch posted a career-high 12 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes in the loss to the Purple Aces, with six offensive boards. But the 6-11 Berliner notched a pedestrian four points with three rebounds in 13 minutes in Monday night’s win at Loyola-Marymount, while Haney put up nine points. Notable: Jorch now has 46 career rebounds, with 30 coming on the offensive end (65 percent). Wacker? He didn’t play in Los Angeles.

One of the clear storylines in the Cactus Bowl is quarterback play. What will Boise State and Baylor get out of their young signal-callers? If only it was predictable. The Broncos’ Brett Rypien jumped his pass efficiency rating up to a solid 162.3 this season from 140.6 last year. But Rypien got there with wild swings this fall. Take November, for example. The sophomore from Spokane completed 34-of-43 passes for 557 yards and seven touchdowns in the wins over San Jose State and Hawaii. Since then, Rypien has gone just 19-of-46 with one TD. He did throw for 425 yards versus UNLV and Air Force, but 161 of them came on his last three throws against the Falcons.

Baylor true freshman Zach Smith doesn’t have the body of work yet that Rypien does, but his resume sounds familiar. Smith was pressed into service when QB Seth Russell went down with a season-ending ankle injury at Oklahoma last month and has started the three games since. For the season, Smith has thrown for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions. He ranks among the top 10 in Texas high school football history with 10,217 passing yards and 113 TD passes. That’s Rypien-esque. Smith’s size is not familiar to Rypien-watchers, however: 6-4, 235 pounds.

A feature in this week’s ESPN The Magazine is headlined “Football Brothers Subdivision.” It details the stark differences in the football lives of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and his brother Paul at Idaho. At first glance, the premise appears to be to compare the massive gap between the resources of the Cardinals and the Vandals, such as overall athletic budgets: Louisville $94 million, Idaho $15 million. And average football attendance: Cardinals 54,863, Vandals 11,886. But the underlying message was the unsustainability of running an FBS program without resources, and writer Bruce Schoenfeld’s article supported Idaho’s move back to the FCS.

Schoenfeld turns back the hands of time, writing: “It makes you wonder what the Vandals were thinking when they decided to play Division I football. ‘Boise State,’ says Mark Schlereth, the ESPN analyst who played football at Idaho in the 1980s. ‘Plain and simple.’” When the Broncos decided in 1994 that they’d move to the FBS, the Vandals followed. After all, they had just beaten Boise State 12 straight years. But college football has changed dramatically the past 20 years, and former Arizona, Washington State and UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood notes in the story that the arms race is bankrupting smaller programs. Schlereth supports Idaho’s move back to the FCS. “The difficulties of competing in the FBS make it probable that others will follow,” Schoenfeld writes. That’s why the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is going to be something special.

Colorado’s 5-4 win over Idaho Wednesday night vaulted the Eagles into a tie with the Steelheads for first place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division. We’ll see how the rest of the series shakes out this weekend. The Steelheads hope to have captain Jefferson Dahl back at some point in Loveland. Dahl was placed on reserve Wednesday with an upper body issue, and his playing status is day-to-day. The 27-year-old forward tops the Steelies with 23 points. Idaho began the week as one of only three teams currently ranked in the top-10 in the ECHL in both power play and penalty kill. The Steelheads netted two power play goals Wednesday but were 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.

Back to hoops: It’s the moment of truth for the Boise State women’s basketball team, as the Broncos take their 8-0 record to Seattle to face No. 11 Washington on Sunday. All the Huskies did their last time out was rack up a 101-44 win over Cal State Northridge, with senior star Kelsey Plum pouring in 30 points. Boise State coach Gordy Presnell, who made his mark along Puget Sound while coaching Seattle Pacific before taking over the Bronco program in 2005, is seeking his 600th career victory. This would be a heck of a way to get it.

Other campus doings: On the heels of Northwest Nazarene’s win over College of Idaho in the United Heritage Mayors’ Cup Part II Tuesday night, the Crusaders take the weekend off. The Coyotes, on the other hand, return to Cascade Conference play at Walla Walla. And Mike Mendoza makes his home coaching debut for the Boise State wrestling team when the Broncos host Utah Valley tomorrow night. BSU’s first home dual is set for 7 p.m. in Bronco Gym.

This Day In Sports…December 9, 2006, 10 years ago today:

Idaho athletic director Rob Spear tells the media that Dennis Erickson is headed for Arizona State, less than a year after his celebrated return to the Vandals. Erickson, who had coached Idaho from 1982-85, was 4-8 in his one season back in Moscow. The lure of the Pac-10 proved to be too much, as he was drawn to ASU to replace the fired Dirk Koetter, the former Boise State coach. Erickson lasted five seasons in Tempe and is now the running backs coach at Utah.

(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.)