“How does BYU get into a ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl game? By rejoining the Mountain West.” Brad Rock stirred the pot in the Deseret News late last week, and what he had to say is worth sharing. We can start with this: “How does BYU get into a ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl game? By rejoining the Mountain West, naturally.” What spurred Rock’s random thought was ESPN’s Brett McMurphy and his prediction that Utah State will play in the Fiesta Bowl this season against Notre Dame. But the Cougars returning to the Mountain West? “I know,” wrote Rock. “Awkward. Maybe even embarrassing.” BYU has acknowledged it would have to go undefeated to make a New Year’s Six Bowl. But as the top champion from a Group of 5 conference last year, Boise State made it into a major bowl with two losses (and won it).
Rock doesn’t think such a move would be turnkey. “Jumping back into the Mountain West would be more complicated than it might seem,” he wrote. “For starters, there’s the revenue. BYU earns far more from independence than it ever did in the MWC. So the Cougars need to decide if easy money or better access is more important. Additionally, the MWC would need to agree to take back the Cougars. That’s a no-brainer. The Cougars would be a cash cow for the conference, same as in the past.” No argument there.
“But there’s also a lurking competition issue,” Rock continues. “San Diego State and Fresno State are programs that usually go to bowl games. Colorado State was the league’s No. 2 team last year. Boise State remains the best mid-major program in the country. (BYU’s all-time record against the Broncos: 1-4, including last year’s 55-30 loss.) Utah State has defeated BYU two of the last five years in football. Independence was a workable option several years ago. Now it’s an oil spill. It’s time for the Cougars to make a call, if they haven’t already: ‘Hello, Commissioner Thompson? We need to talk.’” Rock’s column was predictably met with disdain by the Cougar faithful. BYU is playing a lot more Power 5 teams now than it did as a Mountain West school, and fans seem to value that more than easier access to the New Year’s Six bowls. And there’s pride to consider, of course.
Boise State linebacker Joe Martarano never made it to Memorial Stadium as a Boise Hawk last summer. And he won’t this year, but not because he’s sitting out the baseball season. Martarano says he’s going to return to the Chicago Cubs organization this month. The Hawks are no longer affiliated with the Cubs, but the Northwest League’s Eugene Emeralds are. Problem is (if Martarano made it to short season Class A), the Emeralds don’t visit Boise until the second week of August, and the Broncos’ fall camp will already be underway. Martarano appeared in just four games with the Cubs’ Arizona rookie league team last summer and went just 2-for-13. He was the state’s top pro baseball prospect coming out of Fruitland High in 2013 but two years earlier had become Boise State’s youngest football commit ever. And he’s stuck to it.
Martarano could be one of the centerpieces of this year’s Bronco defense with fellow linebackers Tanner Vallejo, Ben Weaver and Tyler Gray. His emergence last season coincided with the beginning of Boise State’s nine-game winning streak, when he was inserted into the ‘backer rotation in crunch time during the 51-46 win at Nevada. The former Fruitland Grizzly ended up eighth on the team with 42 tackles, 41 of them from the Nevada game forward.
Gary Stevens will be aboard Firing Line again Saturday for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. This race holds a special place in Stevens’ heart, as it was there two years ago that, at the age of 50, he became the oldest jockey ever to win the second leg of the Triple Crown—and the first grandfather ever to win a Triple Crown race to boot. The former Boisean rode Oxbow to the winner’s circle just 4½ months after mounting his comeback. It was Stevens’ ninth victory in Triple Crown events but his first since 2001. He has won each leg of horse racing’s trilogy three times.
Former Idaho Stampede coach Bryan Gates is in limbo following the firing of New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams. Gates, who led the Stampede to their only NBADL championship in 2008 and was a two-time D-League Coach of the Year, just finished his sixth season as an assistant with New Orleans. He was on the Sacramento Kings staff the season after leaving the Stampede. Don’t be surprised if Gates just wills himself into another NBA job. His first position as an assistant was as a volunteer during the Stampede’s first season in 1997-98, when he bugged Bobby Dye until the veteran coach created a spot for him.
Some predicted a drop-off for one of Major League Baseball’s biggest surprises of 2014, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison. There’s a long way to go this season, but the former Boise Hawk has indeed dropped off. Harrison had logged just two hits in his last 37 at-bats the past two weeks and was batting just .173 going into last night’s game in Milwaukee. He had also lost his starting job at third base with the emergence of Korean phenom Jung Ho Kang, who’s hitting .309. Kang, who was part of the first 4-5-4 triple play in big league history Saturday, hit his second home run of the season and knocked in the winning run in the Pirates’ 4-3 win over St. Louis. Harrison was filling in at second base Sunday and went 0-for-3. But then last night, Harrison clubbed a three-run homer to lead Pittsburgh past the Brewers, 7-2. Maybe it’s a corner-turner.
Garrett Patton wishes the crown jewel of his season was Boise State advancing in the NCAA Tournament. That didn’t happen last Friday, but “Intermountain Region Senior Player of the Year” isn’t too bad. Patton was honored yesterday by the ITA after finishing his senior year with a 24-10 record in singles, including a 3-3 mark against nationally-ranked opponents. “G-Man,” the son of coach Greg Patton and a Boise High graduate, plans on turning pro this summer. The coaching dad points out that “Garrett is one of five Boise State players in the history of our tennis program to have played on a Bronco team that won four straight conference titles (joining Ernesto Diaz, Anthony Adams, Ben Davidson, Ernesto Diaz, and Steve Vozeh). The Four Ring Club.”
This Day In Sports…May 13, 1952:
“Rocket” Ron Necciai of Bristol in the Class D Appalachian League sets an unmatched pro baseball record by striking out 27 Welch batters in a nine-inning no hitter. Necciai would be called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates later in the season but would play only that year in the majors, going 1-6 with a 7.08 ERA.
(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.)