The Year of the Running Back, continued

You’ve probably seen and heard that this became a running theme (no pun intended) of Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas. I may as well weigh in. In 2013, it was the Year of the Quarterback. The most ballyhooed were Derek Carr of Fresno State and David Fales of San Jose State. But Nevada’s Cody Fajardo, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, Wyoming’s Brett Smith and Boise State’s Joe Southwick also garnered preseason accolades. Last season was not the Year of the Quarterback, as the Broncos’ Brett Rypien busted through a lot of inexperience and ineffectiveness throughout the rest of the conference to become the first-team All-Mountain West QB as a true freshman. It was, however, a breakout season for running backs, building on what had been trending in 2014.

Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols, of course, did not make the preseason All-Mountain West team this week. We can only assume he finished third behind San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey and Wyoming’s Brian Hill in a crowded field. There are actually six 1,000-yard rushers from last season returning in the Mountain West. Beyond Pumphrey, Hill and McNichols are Nevada’s James Butler (who actually had five more yards than McWeapon), Hawaii’s Paul Harris, and Air Force’s Jacobi Owens. Those six ranked among the top 50 rushers in the FBS last season—Pumphrey and Hill were both top 10. And McNichols was tied for second in the nation in scoring.

Pumphrey, the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, embraces the league’s newfound notoriety. “I’m just happy to be in this conference,” said Pumphrey. “It’s known as the ‘running backs conference.’” And he added with a grin, “It used to be the SEC.” Pumphrey enjoys watching his peers in the league, trumpeting Hill, McNichols and Butler in particular. He also checks their stats after every game. For competitive reasons. “That’s definitely my goal, to be the best in my conference,” said Pumphrey.

It was Pumphrey who came up with one of the most refreshing responses I heard during Mountain West Media Days. He was asked why he’s still at San Diego State—why he didn’t declare early for the NFL Draft. “I want to graduate,” replied Pumphrey without hesitation, noting that he’s 14 credits away. Was it a tough decision? “Naw, I knew I was coming back.” he said. Did he apply for an NFL Draft grade just to check it out? “No.”

Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal conducted a one-on-one interview with commissioner Craig Thompson in Las Vegas, and he asked questions that maybe nobody else did. It seems Mountain West schools have become increasingly resentful of Boise State’s lucrative (by this conference’s standards) TV deal with ESPN. With rare exceptions, fellow MW members can only earn TV dollars when they’re paired with the Broncos. Boise State is guaranteed $900,000 in bonus money each year based on its membership agreement agreed to by the league. Murray reports that the Broncos “will continue to get more television revenue than their league-mates, but the MW has been working to get even distribution to everybody else while figuring out the right amount of bonuses for Boise State.”

The Mountain West has agreed that any bonuses earned in a game played against Boise State in the future would be split evenly by the rest of the league rather than having one team earn all that money. “The MW wants to take it a step further and even out all of the television bonus money outside of the Broncos,” writes Murray. “Three years in, as we evaluated it, the system’s not working the way we thought it would,” MW deputy commissioner Bret Gilliland told Murray. “It’s based on TV windows. What we’re doing now is flushing out a concept of, ‘Can we get everybody else to equal distribution while at the same time maintain the obligations to Boise State?’”

Boise State and Florida State are working out a deal to move the Broncos-Seminoles season opener in 2019 to Jacksonville’s Everbank Field. The current contract calls for the two teams to meet at Doak Walker Stadium in Tallahassee on September 7, 2019, but the game will now move up a week to August 31. It’s a home-and-home series, with BSU and FSU set to play on the blue turf in 2020.

Safe to say we won’t be talking about the local angle on the PGA Championship on Monday. Troy Merritt opened with a seven-over 77 yesterday after beginning his round with six bogeys over the first seven holes at Baltusrol. Mitch Lowe, the Capital High grad who’s now the top teaching pro at Harding Park Golf Club in San Francisco, shot a four-over-74 in the first round.

The Boise Hawks’ bats awakened last night to salvage the final game of their three-game series at Hillsboro with a 9-3 rout. Ryan Stephens and Steven Linkous both went 3-for-5 for the Hawks. Boise starter Antonio Santos got the win, while the combination of Justin Calomeni, Jared Gesell, and Kyle Cedotal held the Hops hitless over the final four innings of the night. The Hawks return to Memorial Stadium tonight to open a three-game series with the Eugene Emeralds

The San Francisco Giants have been in a tailspin, and former Boise Hawk Jeff Samardzija has been one of many contributors. Johnny Cueto, who had been the Giants’ hottest pitcher, was cooled in a 4-2 loss to open a four-game series versus Washington last night. Samardzija gets the call against the Nationals tonight. After a solid start to the season, his first with the Giants, the one-time Notre Dame wide receiver has slipped to 9-6 with a 4.22 ERA. Samardzija has yet to record a quality outing since the All-Star break. He has allowed 13 hits, including four home runs, and nine earned runs over 10 2/3 innings in his last two appearances. Mountain West Factoid of the Day: Boise State is accustomed to holding the longest home winning streak in various categories over the years. For example, in 10 seasons in the WAC, the Broncos never lost a conference game in what is now Albertsons Stadium. The latest streak was blown up by the shocking back-to-back losses on the blue turf last November. So who owns the current longest home winning streak in the Mountain West? It’s Air Force, victorious in its last 12 games at Falcon Stadium—and hoping that number has reached 17 by the time the Broncos visit for the regular season finale the day after Thanksgiving.

This Day In Sports…July 29, 2006, 10 years ago today:

Boise’s biggest boxing card ever draws a disappointing 2,000 fans to see a past-his-prime Roy Jones Jr. win his comeback bout, a 12-round unanimous decision against Prince Badi Ajamu at Qwest Arena. It also marked the end of Kenny Keene’s career. The “Emmett Eliminator”, at the age of 38, lost to “King” Arthur Williams on a 10th-round TKO. Keene, arguably Idaho’s most popular boxer ever, finished with a record of 51-4. The Boise boxing scene virtually disappeared after that night.

(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.)