Now that it’s confirmed that Boise State will not be a member of the Big 12, the Broncos’ business at hand is trying to regain its perch atop the Group of 5. There can be no traps—no unexpected stumbles. That starts with tomorrow’s opener at Louisiana-Lafayette, where Boise State is favored by 20 points. Um, remember New Mexico’s staggering underdog status last November? The Broncos were ranked 25th in Sports Illustrated’s College Football Preview issue. Every Top 25 profile included an “Opposing Coach’s Take,” and the one on Boise State aptly describes a major hurdle facing the Broncos: “They’re the standard for the group of 5, but they’re not the same animal they have been. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still damn good, but last season, for the first time in a while, they lost games they should have won.”
All the positions on Boise State’s new depth chart list two or three players apiece, with one notable exception. There are five tight ends, led by junior Jake Roh. Hopefully Roh will be out of his boot and into cleats at Cajun Field tomorrow. But if he isn’t, how about the underclassmen behind him? Fruitland’s Alec Dhaenens is an accomplished blocker who makes his receptions count (four career catches, three touchdowns). Coeur d’Alene’s Chase Blakley is as hungry as they come after missing last season due to a torn Achilles tendon. Jake Knight, the one-time Auburn shot putter out of Rocky Mountain High, is playing his preferred sport now. And redshirt freshman Matt Pistone was one of the stars of the spring.
When coach Bryan Harsin took the podium at the Bronco Athletic Association luncheon Monday, he said he had just come from a meeting on red-zone offense. Sometimes that’s a forgotten element, but it’s sure one that needs improvement at Boise State. The Broncos have to be money down there if they’re going to be what they want to be. They scored 56 times in 67 attempts when getting inside the opponents’ 20-yard line last season. That doesn’t sound bad, but Boise State was decidedly middle-of-the-pack—69th in the nation in red zone scoring percentage at 84 percent.
Boise State scored 28 rushing touchdowns and threw 11 touchdown passes when reaching the red zone last year, 39 TDs total. Tyler Rausa added 11 red zone field goals. Harsin said Monday the Broncos want to get those touchdowns up and stop settling for field goals, and that’s been a focus in game prep. Here’s something that skews the numbers, though. Boise State was tied for ninth in the country in both trips to the red zone and total scores there. Volume counts for something.
I’m glad the Big 12 thing is over, but let’s pay it one last visit. Those “six to eight schools” we heard as making the cut morphed into 12: Air Force, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, UConn, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple and Tulane. Most of those universities are being set up for a big fall. The Big 12 had better bring in schools with some football equity. If not, nobody…will…care. Boise State was by far the most successful of the original candidates, with 64 wins this decade. At the other end of the spectrum is Tulane with 21. South Florida and SMU have 30. None of those has a following. That’s where they’re going with this? I’m thinking BYU and Cincinnati or Houston. End of story.
Opening Night doings last night saw three Mountain West teams take care of business against FCS opponents. Utah State rolled Weber State 45-6 in a Wasatch Front waxing. Aggies running back Devante Mays just toyed with the Wildcats, rushing for 208 yards and three touchdowns. New Mexico outran South Dakota 48-21. The Lobos’ Teriyon Gibson likewise toyed with the Coyotes, bursting for 181 yards on just eight carries, including 84- and 75-yard touchdown runs. And UNLV jumped all over Jackson State 63-13. Star wide receiver Devonte Boyd scored two touchdowns in the first two minutes.
Among the remaining Mountain West games this weekend are two Power 5 challenges, Colorado State at Colorado tonight and Hawaii at Michigan tomorrow. Rainbow Warriors coach Nick Rolovich, the Twitter hustler, has suggested via a tweet that he and Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh have a “pregame quarterback battle” before tomorrow’s game in the Big House. Earlier this spring Rolovich, who worked a camp at UH with Harbaugh, challenged him to a passing competition before their game via Twitter. “Yeah, I’d be open to it,” Harbaugh smirked during his week’s Big Ten media conference call. It would be the most competitive part of the day in the Big House.
Idaho burst out to a 20-7 second-quarter lead over Montana State in the Kibbie Dome last night, but the Vandals lost their offensive rhythm and had to hang on to beat the Bobcats 20-17. One thing that was working was the running of Aaron Duckworth, who netted 108 yards on 14 carries and scored both of Idaho’s touchdowns. Vandal quarterback Matt Linehan was rusty after his long layoff, though, often under-throwing receivers. Linehan was just 8-of-22 for 126 yards with an interception. His struggles led to a 1-for-9 performance in third down conversions. On the other hand, the defense held MSU to 305 total yards, and Idaho is 1-0.
College of Idaho is going to be blessed with a very comfortable Labor Day Weekend afternoon at Simplot Stadium as the Coyotes open the 2016 season tomorrow against Montana Western. The running backs shouldn’t overheat. Like the last two years, the ground game should be the Yotes’ bread-and-butter. Utah transfer Mike Kirby out of Centennial is expected to start, but now-veteran Zac Garzoli and Colby Brown will rotate in. Brown rushed for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 16 carries in the Purple & Gold Game in April. Montana Western, by the way, already has a game under its belt, having beaten Dickinson State 29-13 last Saturday night.
After a 7-4 loss to Everett last night, the Boise Hawks have one last home game remaining in the 2016 season—tonight against the AquaSox. The Hawks will spend the final three days of the season at Salem-Keizer this weekend. The Volcanoes are jazzed by the 11th-hour addition of outfielder Jacob Heyward. The former Miami Hurricane and younger brother of Chicago Cubs star Jason Heyward was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 18th round of the 2016 draft.
Boise’s Brian Scott seems to have put the NASCAR mid-summer doldrums behind him, but he’s still not where he wants to be in the Sprint Cup Series. Scott started 30th and finished 28th last Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He had posted an 18th-place finish the previous week at Bristol Motor Speedway, his third straight top-25 result and his best race overall since May. Sunday it’s on to the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, hurricane permitting.
This Day In Sports…September 2, 2006, 10 years ago today:
Dennis Erickson makes his much-celebrated return to the University of Idaho in the season opener at Michigan State—against his former Vandal defensive coordinator and one-time Idaho head coach John L. Smith. The Vandals, 29-point underdogs, stayed with the Spartans to the end of a 27-17 loss. Erickson, however, would be Idaho’s coach for less than a year, bolting to Arizona State in December of that year as Dirk Koetter’s replacement.
(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.)