The wild but mild Mountain West

As Boise State heads into Mountain West play Saturday against Colorado State, let’s hit the reset bar. As Boise State heads into Mountain West play Saturday night against Colorado State at Taco Bell Arena, let’s hit the reset button. We’re talking about the defending regular season Mountain West champion that ended the league schedule with wins in 14 of its final 15 games. The Broncos, of course, made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection and finished 25-9 after that 56-55 loss to Dayton on that First Four “neutral floor” in…Dayton. But there’s hard work ahead. Boise State’s final tuneup for the MW came last night in a ragged 64-56 win over UC Davis, with the Broncos out of sync after a 10-day holiday layoff. They trailed by as many as nine points in the first half and six in the second. The one guy who was himself out there was James Webb III, with 23 points and nine rebounds.

A Colorado State chemistry check: it doesn’t appear to be good. Check out this tweet a week and a half ago from former CSU star Daniel Bejarano after the Rams had lost five straight to Division I opponents: “Hopefully my old teammates get a new coach. We all know who’s the problem! Feel bad for them!” Ouch. The message was aimed at coach Larry Eustachy, the one-time Idaho head man, who had a volatile relationship with Bejerano. For example, three minutes into Colorado State’s game at No. 5 San Diego State two seasons ago, Eustachy and Bejerano went after each other and had to be restrained. Bejerano found himself on the bench for the final 37 minutes that night. This season’s Rams are 8-5 after dispatching South Carolina-Upstate and Division II Regis by 24 and 28 points, respectively, in the past week.

The question right now is: will there be any NCAA Tournament at-large berths out of the Mountain West this winter? Currently it’s looking like a one-bid conference, quite a slide for a league that was ranked No. 2 in the RPI for much of the season in 2012-13. The ratings most experts look at now are those of Ken Pomeroy at Kenpom.com. The Mountain West is ranked all the way down at No. 10. The top MW team rating belongs to UNLV at No. 70, followed by Boise State at No. 75 and San Diego State at No. 80. Those numbers are below the Mendoza Line for the Big Dance. There was one upset on the opening night of Mountain West last night, by the way, as Fresno State rallied past a despondent UNLV, 69-66. Elsewhere, San Diego State beat Wyoming 67-55, New Mexico topped Nevada 88-76, and Utah State downed San Jose State 80-71.

My contribution to this afternoon’s “Dream Team New Year’s Eve” on KTIK pays tribute to what you might call the “almost-forgotten Fiesta Bowl.” Boise State’s upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was replayed in its entirety on KTIK a week ago, and last season’s win over Arizona—played one year ago today—is still fresh. The 2010 Fiesta Bowl victory over TCU seems to be the underappreciated one. It wasn’t by Jim Rome the day after the game, though. Here’s how Rome painted it: “Boise State did what Boise State does! Show up, on a big stage, in a tight game, and do something incredibly brass to rip someone’s heart out. They did it to Oklahoma back in ‘07 in the Fiesta Bowl. And they did it to fourth-ranked TCU last night!”

“And to the question of, ‘how did TCU not see that fake punt coming?’ I don’t know! Maybe it’s because Boise State was looking at 4th-and-9, from their own 33, in a tie game, with about 9 and a half minutes to play. Maybe, as brass as Chris Petersen is…maybe, they didn’t think even he had the stones to put a year’s worth of work, by the entire program, on the tribal-tatted arm of a punter. But they thought wrong! Because punter Kyle Brotzman went legend with that pass to Kyle Efaw! And the Broncos finished the drive and ended the season 14-0. Man’s game, Chris Petersen. For that call, and for scheming like a freak defensively when all the talk was about TCU’s top ranked defense coming in.”

“And big ups to the maniacal Broncos fans who were peaking for all four quarters! I don’t know of any other program that has a crew like this. Part pep rally, part freak show! How about my man in the ‘Bronco Libre’ get-up?! And the dudes rocking the orange-and-blue ‘Ultimate Warrior’ face paint! And the Bronco Elvis’es! You’d think it was their first time in the BCS! Well, it wasn’t. Nor will it be their last. Keep doing what you’re doing and the BCS honks won’t be able to keep you out of their title game. Because as flawed as that system is, where you start often determines where you finish. This year, Boise State started No. 14 in the preseason. That was just too much ground to make up. But that won’t happen next year. Run the table again and we’ll see you at that party!” The Broncos came within three points of doing just that in the 2010 season.

Jeron Johnson should be giving the Washington Redskins a crash course on Kellen Moore this week. Johnson had to go against Moore every day in practice for three years while both overlapped at Boise State from 2008-10, and they’re slated to see each other Sunday in Kellen’s second start for Dallas. How much Johnson plays at AT&T Stadium remains to be seen, though. The former All-WAC safety envisioned the move from the Seattle Seahawks to Washington as a chance to get out from under Kam Chancellor’s shadow and start some games, but Johnson has just two starts with only 22 tackles and no interceptions this season.

One other Kellen Moore note—he won’t have Dez Bryant to throw to for the second straight week. The Cowboys have shut down Bryant, placing him on injured reserve and ending his season yesterday due to ongoing foot problems that will require surgery. Moore leaned heavily on Bryant in his first game against the Jets the day after Christmas, much to Bryant’s and the Cowboys’ delight. Kellen’s first (and still only) touchdown pass went to him. Now presumably Moore will depend on Brice Butler as his go-to guy. The moody Bryant was limited to nine games this season after breaking his right foot in the season opener against the New York Giants.

With their seventh victory in the last eight games last night, the Idaho Steelheads have made it back to .500. The key has been a Steelheads offense that has gone ballistic, as it did in this 6-3 win over Colorado. Trailing the Eagles 3-2 early in the second period, the Steelies reeled off four straight goals, two of them by Kyle Jean, to run away with it. And who was between the pipes? Philippe Desrosiers has been recalled by Texas of the AHL, so the Stars sent Jack Campbell to Boise to replace him. Campbell, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, made 28 saves to earn the victory. He appeared in seven games for Idaho last February, going 5-2. The Steelheads and Colorado play again Friday and Saturday nights in CenturyLink Arena.

The College of Idaho survived its exhibition matchup with Utah—a 115-74 loss Monday night in Salt Lake City. Now the Coyotes are back down to Cascade Conference business with their first home dates in 3½ weeks. The Yotes rallied from an eight-point second-half hole to defeat Evergreen State last night, 88-81, wth Joey Nebeker pouring in 34 points. The C of I has a New Year’s Eve date tonight with Northwest University at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

This Day In Sports…December 31, 2004:

In the highest-profile game to date in Boise State history, the Broncos are seriously outgained by high-powered Louisville but still have a chance to knock off the Cardinals on the final play of the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. A Jared Zabransky Hail-Mary was picked off in the endzone to ensure Louisville’s 44-40 victory in a matchup of two Top 10 teams. The game had been billed as the second-best of the entire bowl season; and it did not disappoint. For BSU, it was the end of an amazing 22-game winning streak that produced the Broncos’ highest national ranking ever.

(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.)