The “running backs conference” personified

San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey ran for 156 yards and went over 5,000 career yards to become the Mountain West’s all-time rushing leader Saturday night. The Aztecs lost 42-24 at South Alabama, though. Brian Hill became Wyoming’s career leader after rushing for 166 yards on just 19 carries. The Cowboys thumped Colorado State 38-17 in the Border War. You also had Hawaii’s Diocemy St. James go for 205 yards on 19 totes, New Mexico’s Terriyon Gibson gain 156 on only 11 carries, and UNLV’s Charles Williams get 153 yards on the ground—all three guys did it in victories. Nevertheless, Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols was named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week yesterday after leading Boise State with 226 all-purpose yards in the 21-10 win over Utah State. Running backs rule in the MW.

For McNichols, it was just good to get a game in against the Aggies after missing last year’s infamous tussle in Logan. “When one of your better players is not in, it can affect things,” coach Bryan Harsin said last week. Well, McNichols was definitely in. He’s been eminently consistent in the 10 games since sitting out the 2015 contest. He has averaged 188.8 yards of all-purpose yards per game, including 135.6 rushing and 48 receiving. McNichols has had eight 100-yard rushing games in that time and has scored 22 total touchdowns. He becomes the first Bronco to earn Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors in consecutive weeks.

We already knew Boise State was deep at linebacker, but it’s deeper than we thought. When Joey Martarano went down at Louisiana-Lafayette, Darren Lee carried the flag and has been stellar since (Martarano is easing his way back in now). But when standout Tanner Vallejo left midway through the win at Oregon State, the Broncos got a huge contribution from former walk-on Blake Whitlock, who was called upon for his first career start versus Utah State. Whitlock had a key sack early in the fourth quarter at OSU, then had four tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup against the Aggies. Redshirt freshman John Molchon also got his first career start at right tackle, as Mario Yakoo slid over to right guard and Steven Baggett to center to compensate for starting center Mason Hampton, who was out with an undisclosed injury.

As for the depth chart for Friday night’s game at New Mexico, it’s merely a guide. Vallejo is still listed as the starter at linebacker, as is Hampton at center. Conversely, conspicuous by his absence is safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner, who is scheduled to return this week after a four-game suspension for “failing to meet NCAA football academic eligibility requirements.” It would seem Sumner-Gardner is on that chart somewhere inside the Bleymaier Football Center. Meanwhile, cornerback Jonathan Moxey will miss the first half of the game in Albuquerque Friday for the targeting penalty he sustained with just over a minute left versus USU.

I don’t know why ESPN doesn’t just list these late-night starts as 8:26 p.m., because that’s when they actually happen. As it is, the official kickoff time for Boise State’s next home game, a week from Saturday against Colorado State, has been set for 8:15 p.m. The tradeoff is the exposure and the dollars. The Broncos will be on one of the two big enchiladas, ESPN or ESPN2, and they’ll make $500,000 for their trouble. The CSU game marks Boise State’s homecoming, during which the 2007 Fiesta Bowl championship team will be honored at halftime. Those guys are still plenty young enough to stay up late.

Boise State had another player honored yesterday, with Cedrick Wilson making the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll. The Hornung Award salutes versatility in the tradition of the former Green Bay Packer. Against Utah State, Wilson threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to McNichols and caught a 36-yard TD throw from Brett Rypien. On the season, the junior wide receiver has 14 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns and is 2-for-2 through the air for 84 yards and a TD. Wilson was joined on this week’s Honor Roll by three running backs, Alvin Kamara of Tennessee, T.J. Logan of North Carolina and Joe Mixon of Oklahoma.

The announcement of the San Diego State score Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium brought an interesting reaction. There were cheers from fans in the stands upon hearing that the Aztecs had fallen by 18 points at South Alabama. But that was bad news. It was a non-conference game, and the Mountain West needs every win it can get. The league’s standing in the Group of 5 has eroded the past three years, and that affects Boise State’s strength-of-schedule (and everybody else’s). Whether or not the Broncos and SDSU make it to the MW championship game, the conference needs Boise State and San Diego State to lead the way in getting wins. But wait—let’s throw Air Force in there, too. The Falcons also need to win to help the league, and they are. They’re 4-0 and knocking on the door of the Top 25.

After shoulder surgery in January and without an NFL roster spot, it was a long offseason for former Boise State star Billy Winn. However, as Andrew Mason at notes, “Winn has gone from emergency camp pickup to playing a key rotational role up front for one of the league’s best defenses.” Winn was signed in July at the beginning of training camp, and he had his biggest play yet for Denver in Sunday’s 27-7 win at Tampa Bay, recovering a second-quarter fumble. The week before Winn had proven to be a key run-stopper in the Broncos’ victory over Cincinnati. He has three tackles on the young season.

Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice outlined some preseason themes yesterday on KTIK’s Bob & Chris Show. One applies to returning role players Chandler Hutchison, Paris Austin and Zach Haney. “You go from sidekick to superhero—you really have to advance,” said Rice. He’d really like to see it from Haney, the 6-11 redshirt sophomore from Humble, TX. “Zach’s in his third year now; he’s got to make a jump,” Rice said. “He’s got to give us something night in and night out.” The only injury Rice noted as practice commences belongs to true freshman Marcus Dickinson, who has “a little strained hernia action going on.”

The Bronco hoops program has its first verbal commitment for the 2017 recruiting class, and tabs him as a four-star prospect. Roberto Gittens, a dynamic 6-5 wing from Foss High in Tacoma, is ranked the 26th-best senior small forward by Scout, which calls him “long and athletic.” Gittens averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for Foss last season.

This Day In Sports…October 4, 2003:

A record-shattering day for the Boise State in Ruston, LA. Ryan Dinwiddie became the first Bronco ever to throw for over 500 yards in a game, amassing 532 in BSU’s 43-37 win over Louisiana Tech. The senior quarterback was 40-of-60 on the day, on his way to 2003 WAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. Meanwhile, wide receiver Tim Gilligan broke a 30-year-old Bronco standard with 16 receptions (a record eclipsed last year by Thomas Sperbeck). As a team, the Broncos set marks with 569 passing yards overall and 732 in total offense.

(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.)