The “secret ingredient” is relevant

The destination is the expected one, but the opponent is a mild surprise. The destination is the expected one, but the opponent is a mild surprise. Boise State will face Northern Illinois at the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on December 23. The Broncos’ second trip to the Poinsettia and 14th consecutive bowl game overall is important. The team’s goals were gut-punched and had to be adjusted a couple times during the regular season, and now one remains: win a bowl game. Boise State does not want to end 2015 with losses in three of its final four games. Will this inspire the Broncos? Kirk Herbstreit said it yesterday on ESPN’s College Football Playoff Selection Show: “In college football, with the long layoffs, motivation is the secret ingredient.” It applies to everybody, but Boise State especially can take it to heart.

Northern Illinois was overwhelmed by Bowling Green’s high-octane offense 34-14 Friday night in the MAC championship game. Part of the problem was that—due to injuries—the Huskies were starting their fourth quarterback of the season, freshman walk-on Tommy Fiedler, who was pressed into service when third-teamed Ryan Graham injured his leg the week before. Graham has a chance to return against the Broncos according to NIU coach Rod Carey. Northern Illinois is in its third Poinsettia Bowl and its eighth straight bowl game. The Huskies were in the Orange Bowl as a BCS-buster three years ago and have won 65 games the last six seasons (Boise State has won 63). NIU would appear to have the “secret ingredient”—even before the MAC title game, athletic director Sean Frazier said he wanted the Huskies to face Boise State this bowl season.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl drew a familiar subject as its Mountain West representative, as Utah State returns to the game for a fourth appearance. The MAC entry is a bit of a surprise, with Akron making the trek to play in only its second bowl game ever on December 22. The Zips are led by Terry Bowden, the one-time Auburn coach and son of Bobby. This was Bowden’s first winning season at Akron in his four years there. The Zips’ only other bowl berth came 10 years ago in the Motor City Bowl. That secret ingredient Herbstreit talked about? USU should be all ears. The Aggies peaked in their 52-26 rout of Boise State in mid-October and have gone 2-4 since.

San Diego State’s reward for winning the Mountain West championship is a berth in the Hawaii Bowl against Cincinnati. It’s a good matchup, but there won’t be many people in Aloha Stadium to watch it. The Aztecs neutralized the Air Force triple-option just enough Saturday night to take away the trophy with a 27-24 victory. The Falcons rushed for 305 yards, but SDSU didn’t allow any of those ambush pass plays Air Force likes to unleash. AFA quarterback Karson Roberts was 5-of-11 for just 35 yards. The Falcons now get a Power 5 matchup against Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Among the other Mountain West bowls, you can start with the Arizona Bowl in Tucson. Chaos from the necessity to allow 5-7 teams to play in the postseason resulted in a conference game: Nevada vs. Colorado State. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was quick to issue a lengthy statement decrying the scenario. “It is a travesty the Mountain West has been forced into this situation,” said Thompson. “Clearly, the system is broken. There is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories. There is consensus change is needed and this year’s outcome must not be repeated.” Elsewhere, New Mexico stays home to face Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl, and one of those 5-7 teams, San Jose State, plays Georgia State in the Cure Bowl.

Bronco Mendenhall leaving BYU for Virginia? The news came out Friday afternoon, and I was interested to see how reaction would roil over the weekend. Reaction No. 1: shock. No. 2: Mendenhall had done all he could do coaching an NCAA independent. No. 3: he’ll be able to recruit athletes he wasn’t able to attract to Provo. Mendenhall was set to coach on the blue turf again next October with BYU. Now he just postpones his next trip to Boise State by a year—Virginia visits the Broncos in 2017. It was an eventful weekend in coaching circles. Jeff Choate, the Washington linebackers coach who was a longtime assistant at Boise State, was named head coach at Montana State. Also at UW, Chris Petersen fired another one of his former Bronco staffers, wide receivers coach Brent Pease. And at USC, former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was fired.

The Boise State men’s basketball team was in a must-win situation Saturday night at Portland. It may not have seemed like it, but all the talk of strength-of-schedule and resume was quickly being offset by the fact the Broncos had lost all three of their games against ranked opponents. The result was an NCAA RPI of 214, one that has now improved to 187 after they notched a much-needed a road win, 81-71 over the Pilots. This time Boise State finished, pulling away from a 69-69 tie with a 10-0 run and holding Portland without a field goal in the final 4:09.

Boise State’s Anthony Drmic looked completely normal in the victory at Portland. That means he scored lots of points and played a gritty floor game. Drmic scored a season-high 24 points and pulled down seven rebounds on his temperamental ankle. That output helped the Broncos win on a quiet night from James Webb III. The junior star took only five shots, went 1-for-5 from the free throw line and scored only five points, but he did snag 14 boards. On the women’s side yesterday, Gordy Presnell earned his school-record 180th win at Boise State in an 89-49 road rout of Portland. Including his 18 years at Seattle Pacific, Presnell now has a career record of 576-268.

The Idaho Stampede’s modest two-game winning streak ended yesterday with a 99-91 loss at Rio Grande Valley. Brandon Fields logged a double-double for the Stampede with 19 points and 11 assist, but he turned the ball over seven times (the team had 22 turnovers). We did find out that Stampede rebounder extraordinaire Jack Cooley has left the team to join Unicaja Malaga, which plays in Liga ACB, the top professional league in Spain. Money money money. It’s one of the D-League’s inherent challenges. Cooley averaged 14.5 points and 11.8 boards for the Stamps.

It feels like one step forward and two steps back these days for the Idaho Steelheads. Friday night the Steelheads played perhaps their best game of the season in a 5-1 victory over Florida at CenturyLink Arena. But it was sandwiched around two losses to the Everblades, including the 3-1 decision Saturday night. The Steelies’ one win showed signs of a step forward, though. Not only did Idaho get Maxime Lagace back from Texas of the AHL and see him make 23 saves on 24 shots, Gemel Smith, also assigned by Texas, scored a short-handed goal and added two assists. We’ll see if the Steelies can reignite now.

John Lackey, one of only three major leaguers remaining from the Boise Hawks’ Angels affiliation era, is now a Chicago Cub. Lackey was sharp at the age of 36 for the Cardinals last season, with a 13-10 record and a 2.77 ERA. He also knows the postseason well, and that may come in handy for the Cubs in 2016. Lackey was the ace of the Boise staff back in 1999. The other major transaction involving a former Hawk saw Jeff Samardzija agreeing to five-year deal with the Giants. Samardzija had a marginal-at-best year with the White Sox last season, going 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA. Giants fans hope their team hasn’t pulled another Barry Zito.

This Day In Sports…December 7, 2003:

Following a 52-28 win over Oregon State, USC begins a record streak of 33 consecutive weeks atop the AP Poll. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 for the conclusion of the 2003 season, the entire 2004 season and the entire 2005 regular season until falling to No. 2 Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, 41-38. The 33-week run holds the record by a wide margin, but it is now tainted by the scandal that forced Reggie Bush to vacate his Heisman Trophy and USC to vacate its final two wins of 2004—including the national championship—and all of its victories in 2005..

(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.)