The Mountain West’s showcase game

Boise State visits Utah State for first place in the Mountain Division in a game that’s not quite a rivalry. This week is the definition of “bring your A-game.” Boise State visits Utah State for first place in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division in a game that’s not quite a rivalry. What would it take to become one? A USU upset. It’s the Game of the Year so far in the Mountain West. The Broncos and Aggies have two common opponents this season. Boise State beat Washington 16-13 in Boise, and Utah State lost to the Huskies 31-17 in Seattle. Both schools dropped Colorado State the past two weeks, with the Broncos winning 41-10 on the road and the Aggies victorious 33-18 at home. Just don’t forget how competitive USU was at Utah last month. The final was 24-14 Utes, with the Aggies’ Chuckie Keeton playing on one leg. Utah State is 15-3 in Mountain West play since joining the conference in 2013, with two of the losses coming to Boise State.

This series now goes back 40 years, when Utah State became the first Division I school ever to visit Bronco Stadium in 1975 and wore down an undefeated Boise State squad, 42-19. The Aggie were in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, and the Broncos were in the Big Sky. By the same token, it was against USU that Boise State picked up its first road win against a major foe with a 23-16 win in Logan in 1977. The Broncos and Aggies became regular combatants when Boise State moved up to Division I-A in 1996. But Utah State has lost 12 straight games in this series dating back to Dirk Koetter’s first season in 1998.

Utah State ranks in the top 20 in the country in two statistical categories, rushing defense and total defense. The Aggies allow just 102 yards a game on the ground and 297 of total offense, so something’s gotta give tonight. “These guys are really good,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. “(Kyler) Fackrell might be one of the best college football players out there.” Fackrell, the senior linebacker, leads the Mountain West in both sacks and tackles-for-loss. That makes the availablility of Jeremy McNichols a bigger wild card. If the nation’s touchdown leader can’t play, the pressure will be on Kelsey Young and Devan Demas to maintain. And you’ll need to cut them some slack if the going is tough tonight.

The measuring stick for a passing attack is pass efficiency rating. And Boise State’s rating on offense and on defense tells you what you need to know. The keys to the formula are completion percentage, where the Broncos sit at 67.5 percent while the defense has allowed just 48.2 percent; yards per attempt, with Boise State getting 8.8 yards per throw to 5.3 yards by their opponents; touchdowns, where BSU has tossed 10 and the opposition five; and interceptions, with the Broncos throwing five and collecting a nation’s-best 13 picks from their foes. Boise State’s pass efficiency rating is 153, ranking 21st in the country. Its pass efficiency defense rating is just 88.7, third-lowest in the nation. Pretty good combo.

Tyler Rausa’s only two misses on field goal attempts this season have come on a 54-yard try at Virginia and a 55-yard shot last week at Colorado State. Both had the distance. The one at CSU may have been aided by Fort Collins’ elevation of 5,003 feet. Rausa will be kicking in altitude again tonight in Logan, where it’s 4,534 feet above sea level. For the season, Rausa is 11-of-13 on field goals, 29-of-30 on extra points, and has recorded 27 touchbacks on his 45 kickoffs. We’re just hitting the halfway point of the season, and he has already kicked 88 times in various game situations.

There’s one other Mountain West game tonight, as UNLV visits Fresno State. ESPN2 scheduled that one before it knew how woeful the Bulldogs would be. Remember that the Rebels, who are favored by 6½ points, are the last team to have scored against Michigan. Of the four games tomorrow, the feature is San Diego State at San Jose State for the lead in the West Division. And, in this convoluted Mountain West season, we see that the Spartans are a 2½-point pick. Elsewhere, Colorado State tries to bounce back when it hosts Air Force, Nevada visits winless Wyoming, which is in a hopeless tailspin, and it’s another long, harrowing road trip for Hawaii, as the Warriors visit New Mexico.

The University of Idaho faces one of those grueling Sun Belt road trips, heading for Alabama to face Troy tomorrow. With the Trojans also lugging a 1-4 record, the 1-4 Vandals have a shot. Idaho goes in as a 12½-point underdog, though. Locally, the College of Idaho is looking for another solid purple-clad crowd tomorrow when it returns to Simplot Stadium to host Rocky Mountain College. Six weeks into the season, the Coyotes lead the NAIA nationally in attendance, averaging 4,778 fans through three home dates. The Yotes are well ahead of last season’s leader, perennial power Carroll College, which is drawing 4,060 per game. The Yotes would rank No. 9 in NCAA Division III and No. 39 in NCAA Division II.

Forgive Doug Martin if he’s playing Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T on his iPod. Because the former Boise State star is getting it again in the NFL. Martin took Jacksonville by surprise in Tampa Bay’s 38-21 win over the Buccaneers last Sunday, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns and adding another score through the air. “Overall we just had a tough day, and that was a really good running back,” said Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, who had to watch from the sidelines due to a high ankle sprain. “I don’t know if we gave him his—let’s put it this way: We hold him in much higher regard after playing him than before.” The Bucs have a bye this week.

There’s a double-edged storyline tonight when the Idaho Steelheads open their 2015-16 season in CenturyLink Arena. Not only is it Neil Graham’s debut as head coach, it marks the Steelheads’ first-ever game against the Rapid City Rush. Rapid City is not a new franchise, but suddenly it’s in the Steelies’ division. How did we get here? First, the ECHL absorbed Rapid City and the rest of the old Central Hockey League a year ago when the CHL folded. Then, Ontario, Bakersfield and Stockton left the ECHL’s West Division after last season to help the AHL form a California outpost in that circuit. So last year’s ECHL Midwest Division has been moved to the Western Conference, including Cincinnati, Indy, Evansville, Fort Wayne and Quad City. And Rapid City has been switched to the West Division.

The Boise State alum on the PGA Tour who needed a boost the most got off to a great start in the first event of the 2015-16 season. Graham DeLaet carded a five-under-67 yesterday in the first round of the Open at the famed Silverado Country Club in Napa, CA. DeLaet is tied for sixth—only a bogey on No. 18 kept him from being tied for fourth. Troy Merritt struggled to a two-over 74, while Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge shot a one-under 71 in his first PGA Tour round in six years. And Boise’s Maddie Sheils has a hill to climb in her quest to earn an LPGA Tour card. Sheils was one-over yesterday in the first round of the Symetra Tour Championship in Daytona Beach.

Little-known facts about Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon as we eagerly anticipate the National League Championship Series. Maddon was once a roving minor league hitting instructor for the Angels and spent some time on Tom Kotchman’s Boise Hawks staff in 1990. I did the Hawks’ public address announcing at the time, and one night when Maddon was coaching first base, there was a bench-clearing brawl—the only one I ever saw at a Hawks game (although I’m sure there have been others). Also, Maddon’s first managerial job was with the Idaho Falls Angels of the Pioneer League in 1981.

This Day In Sports…October 16, 1969:

They went into the season as 100-to-1 shots to win the World Series, but the New York Mets shock the world by beating Baltimore 5-3 to take the championship four games-to-one. Symbolizing the “Miracle Mets” moniker, the team earned that season, the Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win the decisive Game 5. The surge began when the Mets’ Cleon Jones was awarded first base after shoe polish on the ball proved he was hit by a pitch. Jones then scored on a two-run homer by Donn Clendenon.

(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.