Twin shutouts—different seasons (and eras)

A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that San Diego State blanked Hawaii last Saturday, 55-0. Not as much focus has been place on the fact that Boise State blanked Hawaii last year, 55-0. But there’s a good reason for that. Despite all the warts that came to the surface at Qualcomm Stadium last week, these are not the 2015 Rainbow Warriors. The guys who visited the blue turf last season were coached by Norm Chow, who was never able to get the Warriors’ engine running. Hawaii fired Chow after nine games last fall, leaving him with a 10-36 overall record. The energy brought by his replacement, former UH quarterback Nick Rolovich, has been palpable. Rolovich can be fairly categorized as a character, although his personality may not be fully embraced on the Islands until Hawaii wins more.

So will there be focus at Hawaii Saturday? Boise State has had its eye on the ball amid Oahu’s distractions more often than not in the past. The Broncos’ two appearances in the Hawaii Bowl were possible exceptions (the distractions in 2013 were more internal). But the last regular season trip to Aloha Stadium resulted in a 49-14 win in 2012, and the one before that was a 54-9 beatdown of the Warriors in 2009. Those came during the Coach Pete era—now it’s Bryan Harsin’s turn to reel the guys in. The term “business trip” has often been used in describing this excursion into the middle of the Pacific. “More of a business approach is really the key,” said Harsin. “Understand what we’re up against.”

After Hawaii won three of four games to begin October, many had it penciled in to the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. That would be the Rainbow Warriors’ first bowl game since 2010, but—as improved as they are—chances of that are now on life support. Hawaii is 4-6 under Rolovich, but because it plays 13 regular-season games, it needs to win out. That means upsetting Boise State Saturday night. The ‘Bows have not beaten the Broncos since their Sugar Bowl season in 2007 and are 1-11 all-time against BSU in conference games. A UH loss would give the Warriors a sixth straight losing season, breaking a school record.

Among Rolovich’s first hires when he was named Hawaii coach was former Eastern Washington offensive coordinator Zak Hill, who departed UH a month later when he was hired away by Harsin to become co-offensive coordinator at Boise State. Awkward, right? Well, Rolovich says there are no hard feelings, and that’s important to Harsin. “In the profession, I’ve always talked to the guy it is I’m trying to hire a guy (from),” said Harsin, who noted he’s been on the other side of the fence. “I called Nick, and it was good. It was professional.”

Boise State not only has to ignore the soothing sights of surf and sand this week, it has to block out the noise of the new College Football Playoff rankings. The Broncos’ 45-31 win over San Jose State was apparently enough for the CFP committee to move them up two spots to No. 22 last night. And they’re still just one spot behind the top-ranked Group of 5 school, Western Michigan. Even those with the bluest and orangest of glasses have to be surprised that San Diego State isn’t in the CFP rankings. The Aztecs are 8-1 and are routinely destroying their Mountain West competition. Elsewhere, Washington is now in the coveted top four, coming in at No. 4 after its 66-27 rout of Cal. The Huskies host USC Saturday.

The Mountain West has clinched a winning non-conference record in the regular season after Air Force drilled Army 31-12 last Saturday. The MW had an ugly year against non-league foes in 2015, going 23-33 (including bowls). Currently it is 25-22 with two games to go, UMass at Hawaii and Utah State at BYU, both on November 26. Bowl games could bring that number back. The most likely scenario would find six Mountain West teams bowl-eligible next month. Boise State, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force and San Diego State are already in. Colorado State needs one more win and looks like it’ll get it.

In its first two seasons since reinstating football, College of Idaho finished 4-7 each time. That’s the goal now as the Coyotes take a 3-7 record into Saturday’s season finale at Montana State-Northern. The Yotes couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to end the campaign on a high note, as MSUN is 1-8 and is saddled with a six-game losing streak. On the last three Saturdays, the Lights have lost by a combined 168-44.

Idaho is a 7½-point favorite to beat Texas State on the road Saturday and become eligible for the third bowl game in school history. The Vandals are in a good spot. Dennis Franchione is no longer the head coach at TSU, and the transition to replacement Everett Withers has not been easy. The Bobcats are 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the Sun Belt. Idaho’s myriad weapons this season have somewhat overshadowed a guy who was one of the main ones the past three seasons. Senior kicker Austin Rehkow leads the nation in field goals per game at 2.33 and is the top scorer in the Sun Belt with 83 points. Rehkow is coming off one of the most important performances of his career, nailing field goals of 50, 44 and 29 yards in the 23-13 win at Louisiana-Lafayette.

For a guy who was out of football two months ago, former Idaho standout Korey Toomer has had quite a ride. At the end of September, Toomer was signed by San Diego, who needed some defensive depth. He got into the Chargers’ game against New Orleans the following weekend—since then, he’s posted 27 tackles in five games. The 27-year-old inside linebacker has more than quadrupled his NFL career tackles total. All Toomer did Sunday was lead San Diego with nine tackles, adding a forced fumble in a 43-35 win at Tennessee.

The Idaho Steelheads are over .500 for the first time this season after their sweep at Colorado last weekend. Now they play the Adirondack Thunder for the first time ever when they begin a three-game series against the ECHL Eastern Conference foe tonight in CenturyLink Arena. Adirondack, in the midst of an eight-game road trip, is an impressive 5-0 away from home so far this season. The hottest Steelie right now remains Jefferson Dahl, whose points streak has reached eight games (four goals and nine assists over that span). Dahl has moved into sixth place in the ECHL in scoring.

This Day In Sports…November 9, 2011, five years ago today:

About 12 hours after Joe Paterno announces his retirement effective the end of the season, the Penn State Board of Trustees votes to cut ties with the 84-year-old coach immediately. The university had been rapidly engulfed by a shocking sex scandal involving former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was alleged to have assaulted a boy in a school shower in 2002. The incident was witnessed by a Penn State graduate assistant, and the revelation nine years later sparked outrage at Paterno and other top school officials for not going to police at the time of the assault. The firing brought a sorry end to a 46-year career that saw Paterno win 409 games, more than any other coach in Division I history.

(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.)