The next “biggest game ever” on the blue

Since this has been a much-discussed subject this week, I’ll weigh in with my five biggest Boise State home games on the blue turf. In chronological order. We’ll start with 1980, and the Division I-AA semifinals against the Grambling Tigers, won by Boise State 14-9 with Bronco Stadium shrouded in fog and surrounded by frosted trees. Then it’s to 1994, and the 27-24 victory over Idaho that broke the Vandals’ 12-game winning streak in the rivalry and won the Big Sky championship. Next we’ll go with the Broncos’ first bowl game, the 34-31 win over Louisville in the 1999 Humanitarian Bowl. And all the way to 2009, and the season opener against Oregon, a raucous 19-8 triumph. And finally, the 2011 matchup versus TCU, which rallied for a 36-35 win, handing Boise State its only loss of the year.

Boise State-Utah State is the next “biggest game ever.” It’s the first Mountain West matchup between two nationally-ranked teams since that loss to TCU, when the Broncos were No. 5 and the Horned Frogs were No. 24. Now, Boise State is No. 21 and USU No. 14, the highest ranking an opponent has ever carried into Albertsons Stadium. If you go by the new College Football Playoff rankings, it’s the No. 23 Broncos versus the No. 21 Aggies, as both teams moved up two spots last night. UCF jumped to No. 9.

On Sunday Sports Extra, I looked at the teams’ common opponents this season. The Aggies have been running roughshod over foes this fall, and they did indeed beat BYU and New Mexico a lot worse than the Broncos did. Each team posted a 10-point win over Air Force. But Boise State was a lot more dominant against Wyoming and Colorado State than USU. Add up the margins of victory, and it’s Boise State 94, Utah State 89.

The Broncos are certainly studying what Wyoming—and Colorado State, for that matter—did against the Aggies. Utah State comes in this week averaging 49.3 and 499 yards per game, moving the ball seemingly at will. But the Cowboys defense limited star quarterback Jordan Love to 53 yards passing and the Aggies to 194 yards overall in a 24-16 USU win in Laramie. The downtrodden Rams somehow held Love to 169 yards through the air and the Aggies to 310 yards total and one offensive touchdown in a game they thought they had won—but lost 29-24. There has to be something enlightening on those game tapes.

Boise State reported that 31,219 tickets were out as of Monday afternoon for Saturday night’s game. That’s about where things stood two weeks earlier in the rampup to the Fresno State contest. There’s a point that ticket sales hit the wall in these 8:15 games, even with everything there is at stake between the Broncos and the Aggies. But again, the fans who are there will be en fuego and reiterate that their place produces the best homefield advantage in the Mountain West. TV is a double-whammy. It dictates unworkable kickoff times, and it provides a viewing experience dwarfing that of telecasts even a decade ago. Ten years ago this would have been a sellout.

Happy Thanksgiving to the Vander Esch family in Riggins. Gee, I wonder what they’ll be doing tomorrow. Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Darian Thompson will be spending Thanksgiving on the field in Dallas as the Cowboys host Washington. Last Sunday, Vander Esch made his second career interception—and second in two weeks—returning a Matt Ryan throw 28 yards to set up a Dallas touchdown. LVE also made eight tackles in the 22-19 win and now officially has 84 tackles for the season (although Cowboys coaches say their tape shows over 100). Lawrence recorded 1.5 sacks against the Falcons, upping his season total to 8.0. He has 31.5 now over his five-year NFL career. Thompson, incidentally, was waived by Dallas last Saturday but re-signed yesterday.

Something clicked for Boise State yesterday in the Caribbean Sea west of Jamaica and south of Cuba. The Broncos opened the second half against St. Bonaventure on a 21-0 run and cruised to a 72-52 victory at the Cayman Islands Classic. The lights went on beyond the three point line, as Boise State connected on 13-of-24. Derrick Alston hit six treys in seven tries and led the Broncos with 22 points, while Justinian Jessup added 19 points and nine rebounds. This was a good win. The Bonnies were 26-8 last season and made the NCAA Tournament, beating UCLA before falling to Florida. And they had drilled Jackson State by 31 points six days before the Broncos labored to beat the Tigers. Boise State wraps up its stay in the Caymans late this morning against Illinois State.

Northwest Nazarene was determined not to get buried early by College of Idaho like it did last week in the first leg of the United Heritage Mayors’ Cup. The Nighthawks stayed within reach as the Coyotes forged a 26-19 first-half lead—then went on a 17-4 run just before the half to take command in an eventual 83-73 victory. Obi Megwa scored a game-high 18 points for NNU, while Gibson Berryhill topped the Yotes with 17. The Nighthawks, who played last week’s Mayors’ Cup game as an exhibition, are now 4-0, while C of I suffered its first loss of the season following seven on-court wins.

Two wrapup notes: Idaho had three players named first-team All-Big Sky yesterday: linebacker Kaden Elliss, punter Cade Coffey and offensive guard Noah Johnson. Elliss led the Vandals with 16 tackles for loss and a career-high seven sacks. Johnson was the anchor of Idaho’s offensive line, and Coffey averaged 44.1 yards per punt to rank fifth in the FCS and help Idaho net 40 yards per punt, the best mark in the Big Sky and second best in the country. And the Idaho Steelheads play three more games against Rapid City this week, beginning tonight. Steve McParland is the guy starting the Steelies’ engine—he tallied the first goal in each game last weekend, both Idaho victories. The Steelheads have scored the opening goal in five of their last six games.

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November 21, 1998, 20 years ago today: Bronco Stadium’s first crowd of 30,000-plus gathers for the 28th meeting between Boise State and Idaho, and it stays until the end—and beyond. The wild offensive affair went into overtime, where both teams scored touchdowns. After Idaho’s TD, Vandal coach Chris Tormey called timeout and then rushed his offense back on the field for an all-or-nothing two point conversion. Joel Thomas scampered into the corner of the end zone, giving Idaho a 36-35 win. It would be the Vandals’ last win in the rivalry, as Boise State won the final 12 games in the series. The Broncos would go on to win their next 47 conference games on the blue turf, with the streak ending in a 36-35 loss to TCU in 2011.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)