The oddsmakers have their reasons

What do you think of that Boise State-Utah State point spread? It’s “down” to 19½ points now. This for a game that pits the Broncos against a team that drilled ‘em by 26 points last year. Maybe oddsmakers are putting some stock in the revenge factor. Or maybe they see Boise State’s first-half offense last week as the real deal. Or maybe they look at the last four games between these two teams on the blue turf, with the Broncos winning all four by an average score of 49-14 and no margin closer than 31 points. Or they see USU standout running back Devante Mays on the shelf. But doesn’t that still seem a little high? Utah State’s defense held Air Force to 213 rushing yards last week despite a 27-20 loss. The Falcons had come into the game leading the nation on the ground with 432 yards per game.

What was the biggest concern going into the season for Boise State? The decimated defensive line, right? What would the Broncos do, pray tell? Now the D-line is viewed as a strength, even as it struggled to get penetration when it had to go 3-against-5 versus the Washington State offensive line. Sam McCaskill, Jabril Frazier and David Moa have led the way. McCaskill, the graybeard of the group, has been outstanding, logging 2½ sacks and three pass deflections (not to mention the field goal block in the win over WSU). Frazier has been solid off the edge. And Moa keeps impressing, notching 2½ sacks at Oregon State. Coach Bryan Harsin is liking the “Moa Constrictor” nickname. The revamped defensive line has 60 tackles, 17½ of them for loss, with nine sacks and five pass deflections.

But in his media session yesterday, Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell revealed that those three, plus Elliot Hoyte, have played the majority of the snaps so far this season—far more than he had planned. We talk about the “second wave” at wide receiver. Well, Caldwell dearly wants a dependable second wave on his D-line. Where would that come from? Junior college transfer Daniel Auelua was brought in to make an immediate impact, and he has just two tackles. Expectations were high for true freshman Sonatane Lui, and he has yet to take off. And Gabe Perez continues to be hampered by injuries.

How much of the playbook will Boise State use in an effort to knock off the Aggies Saturday night? The Broncos executed two gadget plays on their first drive at Oregon State last week, a reverse to Akilian Butler that gained 28 yards and a Statue Left to Jeremy McNichols that went for 16. Then on the third possession came the double-pass, with Cedrick Wilson hitting Alec Dhaenens for 23 yards. Boise State has to beware of the same thing from the other guys. Also in the first quarter last week, Oregon State called a throwback to quarterback Darrel Garretson, with the Broncos’ Jabril Frazier flagged for pass interference on the play.

It’s been a good week for Sean Wale. On the heels of his Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week honor, the Boise State punter has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded by the National Football Foundation to the athlete who best combines playing performance, academics and citizenship. Wale is tied for 25th in the nation in punting at 44 yards per boot, and he has a 3.84 GPA in health sciences. The NFF will announce 12-14 finalists on November 1, with each of those finalists receiving an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.

Who’d a thunk that when Boise State was informed it won’t be part of a Big 12 expansion, it wouldn’t mean diddly? It’s looking more and more like that now, if you follow the USAToday.com headline yesterday that read, “Is push for Big 12 expansion dead?” This really came to a boil Tuesday when Sports Illustrated suggested that Oklahoma president David Boren, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, “has come full circle and now does not support the idea.” Boren then released a statement that said, “I do not know where the speculation came from, but Oklahoma has not yet taken a position on expansion.” Still, the wish-wash of this convoluted process has college football fans thinking, “Meh.” And BYU thinking, “Nooooooo.”

Idaho State visits unpredictable Portland State Saturday night, coming off a 42-34 win over Sacramento State in Holt Arena. The Vikings will pay some attention to Michael Dean, the 5-6 freshman dynamo who amassed 154 yards on four carries—that’s right, four carries—against the Hornets. Dean’s first tote of the day went for 62 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Bengals a 21-0 lead. In the third quarter, he broke loose on a 91-yard TD run. “You are trying to catch a fly,” said Idaho State coach Mike Kramer. I’m betting Kramer gives Dean the ball in the first quarter this week.

Thursday Night Football sends Jay Ajayi against a fellow former Boise State star who was a senior when he was redshirting. Hard-hitting safety George Iloka is off to a good start with Cincinnati this season—not a fun guy to run the rock against. Ajayi will find it especially challenging as Miami coach Adam Gase is leaning toward using all four of his running backs versus the Bengals. And when Ajayi does get the chance, he’ll have to find his way behind a banged up Dolphins offensive line. He’s coming off what the Miami Herald reports as his “first game-winning overtime touchdown since a second-round playoff game in his junior year at Frisco Liberty High in Texas.”

With 100 wins, a division title and the best record in the National League in the bag, the Chicago Cubs look ahead to October. Their fans may be nervous, but the Cubs aren’t. This is an entirely confident ball club. The drama right now: will former Boise Hawk Kris Bryant get to 40 home runs in his second season in the majors? There are four games left in the regular season. Bryant, who went 0-for-4 last night in an 8-4 loss to Pittsburgh, is hitting .293 with 39 homers and 101 runs batted in and is a front-runner for the National League Most Valuable Player award. The Cubbies have hit the 100-win plateau for the first time in 81 years.

This Day In Sports…September 29, 2012:

Jay Ajayi gets a formal introduction to Bronco Nation in Boise State’s 32-29 win at New Mexico. Ajayi had one carry for two yards the previous week against BYU, his first touch as a Bronco. Career carries number two through seven came in Albuquerque. Ajayi came into the game late in the second quarter and broke off a 71-yard scamper on his first attempt. When it was all said and done, Ajayi had rushed for 118 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per carry. He also scored his first collegiate touchdown. And this all happened in two minutes and eight seconds of possession time.

(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.)