You May Shrug, But You Shouldn’t

Today we address what appears to be a chorus of “mehs” over the revival of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge in basketball next season after a two-year hiatus. Colorado State gets to play Northern Iowa and UNLV gets to take on Wichita State, albeit on the road. Boise State draws a Taco Bell Arena date with Bradley, ranked No. 288 in the latest NCAA RPI. The Braves finished 9-24 this season. Contrast that with the last MW/MVC Challenge in 2012-13, when the Broncos faced Creighton, which became their highest-ranked victim in school history. The Blue Jays, led by Doug McDermott, were ranked 11th when BSU upset them in Omaha, 83-70.

But this inter-conference series makes sense. The NCAA doesn’t list conferences in its RPI rankings—at RealTimeRPI.com, though, the Mountain West is rated 11th and the MVC 12th. The thing is, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to scheduling. It’s extremely difficult for Boise State to attract non-conference opponents from highly-respected conferences. The marquee home game outside the MW this past season was Montana out of the Big Sky, the 27th-rated league in the land. Next-best was Southern Utah. Bradley? Bronco fans should gladly take it.

Boise State’s second scrimmage of spring football is set for tomorrow, and the battle for playing time at running back is a key component. But one Bronco that everyone seemed to be rooting for won’t be playing. Junior Charles Bertoli, the one-time walk-on who had earned a scholarship and was just the subject of a Chadd Cripe Statesman feature story on his daredevil tendencies, has left the Boise State program for undisclosed reasons. Bertoli finishes his Bronco career with 27 rushes for 139 yards and a touchdown and one reception for eight yards. The feeling was there’s a lot more where that came from, but now we’ll never know. Bertoli also recovered two fumbles on special teams.

The memorial for Boise State great Don Hutt was held yesterday at the Allen Noble Hall of Fame Gallery adjacent to the blue turf. I’d like to thank Don’s daughter Macaile for the honor of being part of the service. One highlight was 99-year-old Lyle Smith and his remembrances. What I pointed out in my remarks was Hutt’s postseason legacy and where it really places him in Bronco history. In 1973 he followed a 15-catch regular season finale at UC Davis with 13 and 14 receptions in the Division II playoffs against South Dakota and Louisiana Tech, respectively.

That’s 42 catches in three games, 27 of which weren’t counted in his regular-season and career statistics (the postseason wasn’t included back then). Couple that with seven more grabs Hutt had in the 1971 Camellia Bowl, and there are 34 receptions he didn’t get credit for. That would bring his career total—officially 189, a record that stood for 37 years—to 223 catches.

Idaho spring football continues with the first scrimmage of the session tomorrow. It’s a spring of transformation for Capital High grad Steven Matlock, who’s now poised to be the anchor of the Vandals’ offensive line. Matlock moves to center this year to replace Mike Marboe, the one constant on the Idaho O-line the past four years. Coach Paul Petrino identifies Matlock as one of the four strongest players on team. But it’s crucial that the Vandals develop some talent to surround Matlock, for Matt Linehan’s sake if nobody else’s. While finishing 1-10 last season, Idaho had another tough year protecting the quarterback and allowed 41 sacks, 123rd in the FBS.

The Utah State quarterback situation has changed a bit. Darell Garretson, the guy who took over for the injured Chuckie Keeton the past two seasons, has left the Aggies. As a freshman in 2013, he ended up leading USU to the Mountain Division title in the Mountain West and an upset of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. Last year Garretson came on for Keeton again and passed for 321 yards in the Aggies’ 35-20 road win at BYU. But his season ended after only five games due to a wrist injury. That leaves Damion Hobbs, a transfer from Oregon, and D.J. Nelson to back up Keeton. Kent Myers, who finished last season as the starter and led Utah State to its New Mexico Bowl win over UTEP, moved to wide receiver this spring. (He could move back now.)

The Idaho Steelheads began the season this way, and they’re finishing in the same fast-start mode. Going into their CenturyLink Arena series against Colorado tonight and tomorrow night, the Steelheads have scored 84 goals in the first period and have allowed just 35 in the first frame, the best numbers in the ECHL. That continuing early domination has helped the Steelies go 16-1-2 over their last 19 games. Individually, Idaho’s Wade MacLeod leads the league with 20 goals since February 4. With one more against Alaska Wednesday night, MacLeod now has 37 for the season. Most importantly, a win tonight could clinch the ECHL Pacific Division for the Steelheads.

These could be the final two games in Jerrelle Benimon’s stay with the Idaho Stampede. The Stampede wrap up their schedule with games at Oklahoma City tonight and Texas tomorrow night. It’s been a rather rugged season, but Benimon has been a beacon, averaging 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for the Stamps. The forward out of Towson University also earned a callup from the Utah Jazz a month ago.

Yep, Graham DeLaet likes the Shell Houston Open, alright. The former Boise State star is tied for eighth after the first round of this year’s edition following a five-under 67 yesterday. DeLaet, who started the day with birdies on four of the first five holes, is four shots off the lead at the site of his first PGA Tour top 10 finish five years ago. Fellow former Bronco Troy Merritt is on the cut-line bubble after an even-par 72.

Around campus: the Boise State men’s tennis team closes its nine-match with three matches, two of them versus Mountain West foes. The Broncos face New Mexico tonight, Lewis-Clark State tomorrow morning, and Air Force tomorrow afternoon at the Appleton Center (weather permitting). And the Boise State women’s gymnastics team seeks that elusive first trip to the NCAA Championships when they compete at the Berkeley Regional in Cal’s Haas Pavilion tomorrow. The top two teams go to nationals, and the Broncos are seeded third behind Georgia and Utah.

The College of Idaho baseball team carries some momentum into a festive day at Wolfe Field this afternoon. Rallying from a seven-run fifth inning deficit, the Coyotes toppled perennial NAIA power Lewis-Clark State yesterday on their home diamond, 9-8. The victory for the Yotes ended an eight-game losing streak to the Warriors and was their 12th win this season when tied or trailing after seven innings. Today the C of I hosts a dedication ceremony for Wolfe Field before another contest against L-C State. The event celebrates the addition of more than 1,000 newly-installed, individual chair-backed seats at the Caldwell facility.

This Day In Sports…April 3, 2008:

The official end of Paul J. Schneider’s run as the Voice of the Broncos. Schneider was on Boise State’s football and basketball microphone for 35 years, calling touchdowns by everyone from Jim McMillan to Jared Zabransky—and interceptions by everyone from Rolly Woolsey to Marty Tadman. His most famous call of all was Ian Johnson’s two-point conversion that won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. KBOI had temporarily lost the rights to Boise State football and basketball games that they acquired in 1973, when Schneider was sports director of what was then KBOI-TV and Radio.

(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.)