This year’s Group of 5 flag-bearer?

Boise State has spent plenty of time carrying the Group of 5 banner (and the non-BCS flag before that). Boise State has spent plenty of time carrying the Group of 5 banner (and the non-BCS flag before that). Now, going into the 2016 season, Houston is the near-consensus leader of those outside the power-broking leagues. ESPN’s Heather Dinich looks at the big picture, which drills down to the current foundation of the Mountain West. Writes Dinich: “Here’s who Houston can be—the first team from a Group of 5 conference to crack the selection committee’s top four and earn a spot in a CFP semifinal game. Houston can be the team that proves the playoff is open to more than just the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 conference champions. It can be the team that derails top-10 contender Oklahoma in the season opener. Or it can be eliminated from the playoff in Week 1 when it plays the Sooners.”

If Houston beats Oklahoma, the Cougars could have clear sailing, at least until they meet Louisville in November. Their other two non-league opponents, Lamar and Texas State, don’t help their cause. But the American Athletic Conference does. And that’s a very important distinction in this discussion. “It’s not only your non-conference schedule, it’s your conference schedule, so how good are the other teams in your conference?” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. “It’s all 13 games. Across the board, play a good schedule and win your games and you’ll be in the hunt.” The AAC does provide a good schedule, with three of its teams finishing in the CFP committee’s top 25 last year: No. 18 Houston, No. 21 Navy and No. 24 Temple. The Mountain West had no ranked teams.

Houston coach Tom Herman was a hot commodity after his team represented the Group of 5 in last season’s New Year’s Six bowls and beat Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl. But he had already received a huge raise with the Cougars, from $1.3 million per year to $3 million. The way he looks at it is enlightening. “Here’s the really cool thing, and one of the reasons why we’re all still here and excited about staying here,” Herman said. “The way the current system is set up, our conference has definitely separated itself from the rest of the non-Power 5 conferences. Barring Boise going undefeated, or some other team having some miracle season, you win the AAC and you’re going to a New Year’s Six bowl game.”

There’s one writer the not-so-fast-my-friend camp. In his Post-Spring Bowl Projections this week, Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews.com predicted it’ll be Boise State who will be the first Group of 5 school to bust the College Football Playoff, matching the Broncos against LSU in the semifinals at the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Fiutak’s bowl picks didn’t include rationale, but KTIK’s Bob & Chris Show had him on the program yesterday to talk about the Boise State projection. While Fiutak stopped short of calling the Broncos’ losses to New Mexico and Air Force last November as aberrations, he puts a lot more stock in the record-setting Poinsettia Bowl rout of Northern Illinois as he looks ahead to 2016.

Is Wichita State so easy to dismiss? CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd reports that “individuals representing Wichita State’s athletic interests have approached the Mountain West about membership,” citing “multiple sources.” Initially the Shockers would seek non-football status, but they have an ongoing feasibility study to bring back football, dormant for 30 years. The problem is, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson says if Wichita State plans to park its basketball program in a new conference, “It ain’t going to be us.” We’re talking about a school that’s been to the NCAA Tournament five consecutive years, including a Final Four berth and a 35-1 record two seasons ago. But the MW doesn’t want to further divvy up its money.

I like Wichita State. The Shockers would add enough basketball revenue to make it worthwhile, wouldn’t they? They’ve certainly fattened the coffers this decade in the Missouri Valley Conference, where they’ve played the last 70 years. I’d be willing to wait out a reinstatement of football at Wichita State. The city of Wichita seems ripe for major support of a football program. The population is 386,000 in the city and 673,000 in the metro area—and there’s no major college football (the area is far enough away from Kansas and Kansas State to stand on its own). Would the Mountain West someday regret it if Wichita State ended up in the AAC or Conference USA?

The 20th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has a date. The 2016 game between representatives from the Mountain West and MAC will be played Thursday, December 22, at 5 p.m. on the blue turf. It’s billed as the longest-running cold-weather bowl, and it’s going to be predictably cold with an evening kickoff, but it’s much better than a Tuesday afternoon spot like the one the game got last year. It’s clear that attendance is out of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl’s control these days. Utah State fans traveled well in the Aggies’ 2011 and 2012 appearances on the blue turf, but the crowd was announced at just 18,876 for USU’s 23-21 loss to Akron last December (and the actual number was probably half that). But the bowl is still a gift to the community—one more college football game for the holidays. Support it.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported yesterday that the invites are out for the NBA Draft Combine that begins next Wednesday in Chicago. There are 64 invited players and 13 alternates, and Boise State’s James Webb III has been relegated to alternate status. For some alternates that came out of college early, the list may provide inspiration to return to school. For Webb, it’s too late, as he has already hired an agent. I think we’re all figuring out that Webb just felt it was time to play for money—wherever. Two Mountain West players are on the invitation list, UNLV’s Patrick McCaw and Stephen Zimmerman. San Diego State’s Malik Pope is, like Webb, an alternate.

Anthony Drmic ended up two points short of matching Boise State’s career scoring record in March. The next basket he scores will be as an Australian pro, as Drmic has signed a two-year contract with the Adelaide 36ers. The Drmic name is familiar in Australia’s National Basketball League—Anthony’s older brother, Frank, played 12 seasons in the NBL (1996-2007). Anthony is also No. 5 on the Mountain West career scoring list and is the Broncos’ all-time leader in three-pointers.

The late Bill Shoemaker was the oldest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby. That happened 30 years ago, when the 54-year-old Shoemaker rode 18-to-1 shot Ferdinand to the winner’s circle. Caldwell native Gary Stevens is 53, and don’t count him out Saturday aboard Bob Baffert entry Mor Spirit at Churchill Downs. Stevens says Mor Spirit, seen by many as occasionally tempermental, has more to him than people think.

“I know what I’m sitting on, I know what’s there,” Stevens said of Mor Spirit in a Lexington Herald-Leader Derby blog. “Bob has been real conservative with him through all his races. I was surprised when he brought him back here for the Kentucky Jockey Club. He raced at night in the mud for the first time and still ran second. I thought, ‘This is a Derby horse if he can handle all that’. And Bob said the same thing.” Mor Spirit was most recently second to Exaggerator in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 9. He drew the No. 17 post in the 20-horse field yesterday and has 12-1 odds.

This Day In Sports…May 5, 2013:

In the prime of his career at age 28, LeBron James of the Miami Heat becomes only the fifth player in NBA history to win four Most Valuable Player awards, joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. James and Russell are the only ones to be honored four times in five years. Abdul-Jabbar holds the record with six MVP awards—Russell and Jordan won five.

(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.)