The grain-of-salt poll out tomorrow

The first nugget to come out of Mountain West Media Days tomorrow will be the preseason poll, where Boise State is expected to be the pick in the Mountain Division. But you can’t hang your hat on that. Remember two years ago, when Wyoming only received 31 total points in the media poll, the fewest not only in the Mountain Division but in the entire 12-team conference. It was also the lowest total in the preseason predictions since 2004. The Cowboys, of course, won the Mountain Division. Last July, Fresno State was picked last in the West Division and proceded to roll on to a division title and a spot in the Mountain West championship game. Will there be a rags-to-riches team this year?

Boise State was predicted to win the division last year as well, and the Broncos did just that. But nobody could have forseen the journey. There were dire predictions for this team at the end of September, when the record was a discouraging 2-2. I don’t think even Jeff Caves appreciates the timeliness of what he blogged right after the demoralizing 42-23 rout at the hands of Virginia on the blue turf: “Every great program goes through dark times and the greatest come back to win big. Things are never as bad as you think and the best programs, like Boise State, will turn it around.” Wow, Caves.

One question that will come up tomorrow and Wednesday in Vegas—with an answer I’m interested in hearing: Is there a strategy for the new NCAA redshirt rule that allows players to retain a year of eligibility if they play in four or fewer games? Let’s take true freshmen at Boise State like running back Andrew Van Buren and wide receiver Khalil Shakir. Does the Bronco coaching staff play them out of the gate against Troy to see what they can contribute, or are they held out until they’re really needed in case of injuries or lack of production by other players? Or, when there are three or four games left in the season, will there be a flood of redshirts unleashed?

I’m beginning to think there’s some ESP at work on Boise State’s John Bates. Really, the first time he was recognizable to the general public was Thanksgiving weekend last year, when he made his first two catches at Fresno State. He had another reception against the Bulldogs the following week in the Mountain West championship game, and that was the extent of his 2017 stats. Three catches for 34 yards. And here Bates is on the watch list for the 2017 Mackey Award that goes to the nation’s top tight end. Sure, he got kudos for his blocking earlier in the season, but you’re not going to win the Mackey Award without making lotsa grabs. Here’s the thing: on one 17-yard catch at Bulldog Stadium, you could see Bates’ athleticism, soft hands and ability to find the crease. Maybe the Mackey committee senses something, too.

Maybe this is the best thing that could happen for Chandler Hutchison. Chicago signed Jabari Parker as a free agent, and any lovefest surrounding his return to his hometown may be short-lived. In a radio interview, Parker said, ‘‘I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league, they don’t pay players to play defense.” His introductory presser last Wednesday was a stone’s throw away from the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center. “Coincidentally, a statue that actually might be willing to play better defense than the 2014 No. 2 overall pick,” wrote Joe Cowley in the Chicago Sun-Times. This is a guy who’ll be making $20 million this year. Parker’ll probably be competing with Hutchison for minutes. The Bulls will never have worry about Hutchison’s commitment to the defensive end of the floor, or effort, or his teammates.

Troy Merritt’s quest for a second PGA Tour title goes an extra day, as heavy rain and thunderstorms yesterday forced the Barbasol Championship into a Monday finish. Merritt led the tournament by three strokes after the first round and by two after the second. Then the former Boise State star was in a four-way tie with Robert Streb, Hunter Mahan and Tom Lovelady following play on Saturday. The final two groups didn’t even get to tee off yesterday. The Barbasol is kind of anonymous, happening as it does the same week as the British Open. But a victory today would mean the world to Merritt, who would get a two-year PGA Tour exemption and a berth in the PGA Championship.

With the exception of Saturday night’s 9-0 shellacking of Everett, the Boise Hawks must feel like they’re playing the ’27 Yankees in this five-game series against the AquaSox. The other three games, starting with the 17-2 decision Thursday night, have all been Everett victories, and they’ve come by a combined score of 27-4. The AquaSox won 5-1 last night. In the aberration game Saturday, the Hawks hit four home runs while Justin Valdespina, Shelby Lackey and Hunter Williams were combining on a four-hit shutout. Boise will try to salvage the final game of the series tonight at Memorial Stadium.

The first homegrown former Boise Hawk during their Colorado Rockies affiliation to make the majors is Garrett Hampson, who debuted Saturday with a 1-for-3 night that included a run-scoring double, helping the Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-5. The 23-year-old second baseman from Reno played the entire 2016 season with the Hawks, most of it at shortstop, batting .301 with two home runs and 44 RBIs.

This Day In Sports…July 23, 2012:

After almost 12 seasons as the face of the Seattle Mariners franchise, Ichiro Suzuki is traded to the New York Yankees at the age of 38. It happened as the Yankees were coming into Seattle to start a three-game series, and Ichiro suited up in pinstripes that night, one day after unknowingly wearing a Mariners uniform at Safeco Field for the final time. Ichiro, who joined the M’s in 2001 at the age of 27 after nine years as a superstar in Japan, holds the major league record for hits in a season with 262 in 2004. He’s also the only big leaguer to record 200 hits in 10 consecutive seasons.

(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.)