The purple elephant in the room

The most-asked question fielded by Rees Odhiambo and Darian Thompson this week is more relevant every day. Boise State representatives Rees Odhiambo and Darian Thompson say the question most asked during Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas was not about quarterback Ryan Finley’s non-suspension or how to go about winning a Fiesta Bowl. It was about the Broncos’ September 4 opener against Washington and former coach Chris Petersen, and the players didn’t mind. “To me it’s going to be exciting—going against a coach you know so much about,” said Odhiambo. “I think it’s going to be exciting for both teams, Coach Pete coming back and going against the fans that used to love him,” a smiling Thompson said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us.” Both players heaped praise on Petersen for his football smarts and his ability to teach life’s lessons and talked about the emotion of that certain morning on December 6, 2013.

Coach Bryan Harsin said, “I don’t think it’s just another game. If you said that, you’d just be talkin’.” That’s different from Harsin’s responses of spring and early summer, when he said the most important thing was Boise State opening the season at home for the first time since 2009. “As we get into it, there’s going to be tension,” said Harsin in Las Vegas. “You’re playing a Pac-12 team, you’re playing on ESPN, you’re playing a former coach that did a lot for Boise State. And that’s an understatement.”

Harsin was hired by former coach Dan Hawkins the same time Petersen was—they started as tight ends coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, in 2001. Then Petersen announced Harsin as his O-coordinator the same day he became the Broncos’ head coach in December, 2005. They’re close. “But at the end of the day,” said Harsin, “you’re just out there doing what you need to do for your football team.”

The Broncos-Huskies subject was also broached often yesterday at Pac-12 Media Days in Burbank. Even by Petersen himself. During a long pause in his session with reporters, he said, “Don’t be shy…you want me to ask a question? ‘What do you think it’s going to be like in Boise?’” But seriously, folks. “Let’s look at it like this,” Petersen said. “So if this would have been a couple years ago, and they’re asking me when I’m at Boise, ‘do you want to play Washington?’ OK. If I had any inkling whatsoever that I might be sitting here, that’d be the last team of the 128 Division I–whatever it is–teams. The fans are awesome and passionate. At the end of the day, it’s the first game, it’s good for college football.” He said he never tried to take the game off the schedule. “I thought that would be kind of ridiculous and selfish,” Petersen said. “It’s awkward for me, I get that. But I’m going to change this for everybody because it’s awkward for me? That’s not my style.”

The preseason Coaches Poll was released yesterday, and Boise State is No. 24 to start. USA Today’s Paul Myerberg calls BSU one of three under-ranked teams (the others being No. 6 Michigan State and No. 22 Arizona). Writes Myerberg: “The Broncos are the only Group of Five program to sit in the preseason top 25, which makes sense: If any Group of Five team is going to make the cut, it should be Boise State. Having the Broncos at No. 24 will look foolish after this team ends the season with 12 or more wins—and be laughed at should this team be 12-0 and in the Playoff mix heading into the Mountain West Conference title game.” Go deep into the “Others Receiving Votes” list and you’l find the next Group of 5 squad, Air Force at No. 41 with five points.

There was a lot of talk about Boise State’s culture at Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas, directly and indirectly. New Mexico coach Bob Davie was asked how Boise State might fare without Jay Ajayi and the 4,583 career all-purpose yards and 55 touchdowns he took with him to the Miami Dolphins. Davie said not to worry. “The thing Boise has—the unbelievable continuity they have,” said the fourth-year Lobos coach. “They just send in another one. The cupboard is never bare.”

One guy who can relate to the culture thing is Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who took over the Cowboys last year following three straight FCS national championships and a 43-2 record over his final three seasons at North Dakota State. Bohl told a story of running into coach Bryan Harsin at a Laramie Starbucks the morning of Wyoming’s game against the Broncos last November. They had a friendly conversation—Bohl bought—then Boise State went out and won that night 63-14. “Isn’t that bad?” Bohl laughed. “You pay for the coffee and you get your butt whipped.” But, he said, “There was a look in the eye of that team that they were going to play great. You could see it in warmups. That was more than a team. It was a program. A culture. I recognized it.”

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson thinks Group of 5 programs—and particularly FCS programs considering a move up to the FBS—are barking up the wrong tree when they preach becoming “the next Boise State.” He mentioned that a couple times during the Vegas gathering. “I don’t think there’ll ever be another Boise State,” said Thompson, stressing that the Broncos have only been playing four-year football since the late 1960’s. “It can’t be emulated. Don’t build your program using Boise State as your model.” The count and the amount: after 16 seasons of what we call the Broncos’ “Golden Era,” they’re 177-31 overall and 100-4 in home games, with 12 conference championships and 13 10-win seasons.

The Boise Hawks are pacing in the early stages of the second half of the season much the way they did in the first. The Hawks are 1-3 after their 6-4 loss last night to Vancouver, who jumped on Boise starter Logan Sawyer for two runs in the second inning and four more in the fifth. Sawyer’s season ERA jumped almost a full run to 4.46. Hawks batters were handcuffed on five hits before making it interesting with three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The middle match of the five-game series is tonight at Memorial Stadium.

Graham DeLaet’s off this week, rehabbing the thumb he injured last week at the RBC Canadian Open. But fellow Boise State star Troy Merritt is still plugging away on the PGA Tour, beginning play yesterday at the Quicken Loans National in Gainesville, GA. A solid second round today would be huge after a one-under 70 yesterday. Merritt has missed his last five cuts dating back to The Memorial the first week of June, when he tied for 52nd. He’s going to need a big performance somewhere along the way in August to avoid being relegated to the Tour Finals in September.

Indianapolis 500 veteran and Idaho native Davey Hamilton brought regional winged sprint car racing back to Meridian Speedway last night with his new King of the Wing USAC Sprint Car Series. The 50-lap Pink Lady Classic featured none other than the No. 98 Pink Lady itself, the car built and made famous by Hamilton’s father, Kenny. And 74-year-old Kenny was driving it. No results posted yet. The 11-race circuit moves on to Evergreen Raceway in Monroe, WA, tonight. Mountain West Nugget of the Day: Former Boise State offensive coordinator Al Borges, who helped Pokey Allen craft the Broncos’ “magical” 1994 season, has surfaced in the same post at San Jose State after a year off. Spartans players say Borges is his old fun-loving self, but he’s all business. “He messes with me—all the guys on the defensive side of the ball,” said SJSU star linebacker Christian Tago. “Every time he’s on the field he’s anxious to get things done,” added wide receiver Tyler Winston. Since leaving Boise State (with memories of climbing the goalpost after the Broncos’ streak-busting 27-24 win over Idaho), Borges has had stints at Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Indiana, San Diego State and Michigan.

This Day In Sports…July 31, 1990, 25 years ago today:

With a win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers fireballer Nolan Ryan becomes the first and only pitcher to reach 300 wins in the 1990’s. Ryan had one of the most diverse legacies of any major league pitcher. In addition to winning 324 games, he struck out a major league record 5,714 batters, and threw seven no-hitters, 12 one-hitters and 18 two-hitters. Ryan played in 27 seasons from 1966 to 1993, tying Cap Anson for the most seasons in a major league career.

(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.)