Tomorrow night has long been circled on more calendars than we can count. Circle 5:00 on the clock. Tomorrow night has long been circled on more calendars than we can count—on Boise State’s, San Diego State’s, Bronco Nation’s, you name it. The Broncos and Aztecs face off in Taco Bell Arena, with BSU gunning for a school-record 11th consecutive win. There’s no tougher way to achieve it than against Steve Fisher’s team. San Diego State holds one of college basketball’s most amazing streaks. When leading the game with five minutes remaining, be it at home or on the road, regular season or postseason, SDSU has won 155 games in a row. That is not a typo. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the next longest streak in the Mountain West belongs to Fresno State, at 14. The Aztecs have won plenty of games when trailing or tied at the five-minute mark, but they haven’t lost in their last 155 tries when they’ve had the lead.
You could tell this series had rivalry possibilities the very first time Boise State and San Diego State met in Mountain West play, on the first of February in 2012. The Broncos were supposed to be deer-in-headlights in the Aztecs’ rollicking Viejas Arena, but they fell just 58-56 when an open-look three-pointer by Thomas Bropleh rimmed out at the buzzer. San Diego State leads Boise State in Mountain West meetings, six wins to three. Five of the games have been decided by four points or less. This demonstrates the tightness of this relatively new rivalry better than anything: the average score in conference games between the two is Boise State 61.7, San Diego State 61.3.
Could Boise State nail down its second crowd of 10,000-plus this season? This game certainly deserves it, with San Diego State picked to win the Mountain West this season and the Broncos picked second. Each team is following the script with a 4-0 record. “I want standing room only,” said coach Leon Rice after Wednesday night’s win at Nevada. “I want it the loudest it’s ever been in there.” Some would say Boise is not a sports town per se, but it is an event town. And tomorrow night’s game is an event. The last three Taco Bell Arena games against the Aztecs have drawn 10,511, 9,605 (on a snowy weeknight), and 10,455.
The vote is in, and Thomas Sperbeck has won the “Catch of the Year” competition. Yahoo! Sports’ Dr. Saturday section notes that “Boise State fans came out in full force to support their guy, as Sperbeck brought in a whopping 82 percent of the votes to win the tournament” over Francis Owusu of Stanford. Sperbeck’s winning grab came against Wyoming, when he stretched out on the sideline for a fingertip catch of a Brett Rypien pass—and dragged his toes inbounds. “And he made it look easy.”
Five Boise State seniors have landed spots in postseason all-star games, and the first three play Sunday in the Tropic Bowl in North Miami Beach. Wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, safety Mercy Maston and defensive end Rondell McNair will be representing the Broncos in that relatively obscure one. Center Marcus Henry will appear in the East-West Shrine Game on January 23, and safety Darian Thompson has a spot in the Senior Bowl January 30.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport broke it yesterday afternoon: Dirk Koetter is going to get his first shot as an NFL head coach. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are promoting Koetter from his current post as offensive coordinator, with a nod to continuity. Koetter has drawn high praise for developing quarterback Jameis Winston in his rookie year, and the Bucs reportedly didn’t want to risk losing Koetter to another NFL head coaching job. So they fired coach Lovie Smith last week instead. Koetter was on the ground floor of Boise State’s ascention as a college football power, going 26-10 with the Broncos and winning two Big West championships and two Humanitarian Bowls from 1998-2000. Somewhere Doug Martin is smiling even more than usual.
The NFL Playoffs hit the divisional round this weekend. The only game with local ties involved is on Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Denver, the AFC West champion, is theoretically fresh for Pittsburgh after earning a bye week in the final game of the regular season. And let’s review why it happened. The finale against San Diego was tied 20-20 with five minutes to go when former Idaho standout Shiloh Keo intercepted Philip Rivers and peeled off a 22-yard return to the Chargers’ 23. On the next play, Boise State alum Matt Paradis led the interference as Denver’s Ronnie Hillman ran for the winning touchdown. Both Keo and Paradis are great stories. Keo got his job with a couple endearing tweets to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Paradis, of course, was a one-time Boise State walk-on who played eight-man football in Council.
Graham DeLaet, Troy Merritt and Tyler Aldridge may never shoot the exact same score again the way they did yesterday in the opening round of the Sony Open in Honolulu. They’d like to forget they did. All three bogeyed the first hole at Waialae Country Club, then experienced varying levels of frustration the rest of the day on the way to a trio of three-over 73’s. They’re tied for 128th—we’ll see if any of them can rally to make the cut today.
Another set of new sweaters hits the ice of CenturyLink Arena this weekend. The Idaho Steelheads return home to face the Tulsa Oilers in a two-game set tonight and tomorrow night. The Oilers were one of the refugee teams from the old Central Hockey League taken in by the ECHL at the start of last season. Idaho is 5-1-1 in its last seven games on home ice.
More hoops stuff: the Idaho Stampede turned in their highest-scoring game of the season last night, blasting past Rio Grande Valley 128-114 after a 75-point first half in CenturyLink Arena. Bryce Dejean-Jones (23), J.J. O’Brien (21) and Jeff Ayres (20) all reached the 20-point plateau for the Stampede. The Stamps are off until Monday—presumably O’Brien will be able to root on his former San Diego State teammates tomorrow night. In college ball, Idaho built a 25-point second-half lead before fendin off Northern Arizona, 83-76. Victor Sanders poured in 33 points as the Vandals improved to 3-1 in the Big Sky. And the College of Idaho Coyotes try to build on their streak of 23 straight Cascade Conference home victories when they host Southern Oregon tonight and Oregon Tech tomorrow night in the J.A. Albertson Events Center.
Campus stuff: Greg Patton officially begins his 20th season as Boise State men’s tennis coach tomorrow morning at the new Crane Creek Country Club indoor facility when the Broncos host Grand Canyon. They cap Opening Day with an evening match against Montana State. Truth be told, last season was a rebuilding one for Boise State, despite a fourth straight Mountain West championship. This year the Broncos return six of seven players from the title team, and during the fall preseason there was a new sheriff in the Broncos’ lineup, Thomas “Tommy Bahama” Tenreiro. And the Boise State wrestling team is set for its home openers. The Broncos, led by 149-pounder Geordan Martinez, take on North Dakota State tonight and Wyoming on Sunday.
This Day In Sports…January 15, 1978:
The Dallas Doomsday Defense forces seven turnovers as the Cowboys defeat the Denver Broncos and former Dallas quarterback Craig Morton, 27-10, in Super Bowl XII. The Broncos’ Orange Crush spent way too much time on the field, and Roger Staubach and company cashed in enough to win.
(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.)