Two sets of Broncos close to each other

Boise State was one of a handful of odd ducks last night. In the first College Football Playoff rankings of 2016, the Broncos were ranked in exactly the same spot as they are in the AP and Coaches Polls this week. What’s significant about Boise State remaining at No. 24 is that Western Michigan did not stay put. The MAC version of the Broncos debuted in the CFP rankings at No. 23 after coming in at No. 17 and 18 on the AP and Coaches lists, respectively. The drop can be attributed to Boise State’s non-conference schedule getting passing grades and WMU’s being panned, even with Power 5 wins over Northwestern and Illinois. The local Broncos get bonus points for their win over No. 25 Washington State. So Boise State is, uh, two Wyoming losses away from controlling its own destiny!

“Win the turnover (battle), win the game,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin yesterday. He knows he’ll keep getting the questions until the Broncos have answers. They were officially minus-one last Saturday at Wyoming. Chanceller James grabbed Boise State’s first interception—and first turnover of any kind—in 204 defensive snaps dating back to the end of the first half at New Mexico. Still, Boise State is dead last in the FBS with four takeaways and is tied for fifth from the bottom in turnover margin at minus-nine. “We’re going to keep emphasizing it,” said Harsin in an understatement. “If we go minus again, we put ourselves in a position to get beat.”

One casualty in the lack of defensive turnovers is field position. Boise State is not getting that sudden change that can hand it the ball in the opponent’s territory. The Broncos’ average drive at Wyoming started at their own 16-yard line. Their best field position start was their own 29. That is stunning. Against BYU, Boise State began a possession on the Cougars’ side of the field only once—and that was after the ill-fated fake punt on fourth-and-19 at the BYU five. Then there’s this: San Jose State has not turned the ball over in its last three games.

Here’s another possible area of emphasis this week. Boise State is usually a sure-tackling team, but it was lacking in Laramie. Case in point was a 23-yard Brian Hill run in the second quarter. I mean, at 6-1, 220 pounds, Hill is big and strong and good at shedding tacklers, but Cameron Hartsfield and Dylan Summer-Gardner had great shots at him on the play and couldn’t haul him down. It was the biggest play of Wyoming’s first touchdown drive. Not that Hartsfield and Sumner-Gardner were the only transgressors. The frustration extended to tackles-for-loss. There were only two for a defense that usually thrives on them. And no sacks to boot.

So what has happened to Louisiana-Lafayette since Boise State rolled the Ragin’ Cajuns 45-10 in the season opener? ULL is now 3-4 and, like the Vandals, is coming off a bye week. That was preceded by a 27-3 victory over Texas State. Idaho is next on the Ragin’ Cajuns docket this Saturday in Lafayette. The offensive weapons are the same—quarterback Anthony Jennings, the transfer from LSU, and running back Elijah McGuire, who has rushed for 672 yards and five touchdowns this season. McGuire is approaching 4,000 yards for his career and has already surpassed 40 rushing TDs.

College of Idaho has two games left, both on the road. The first one is at No. 7 Montana Tech in Butte this Saturday. The Coyotes watched Boise State labor at 7,220 feet in Laramie last week. Well, Alumni Coliseum in Butte ranks as the seventh-highest altitude stadium in college football—and the highest stadium elevation in the NAIA—at 5,538 feet. Wyoming’s stadium is the third-highest n college football (topping the list are Division II teams Western State at 7,700 feet and Adams State at 7,543). Air Force is fifth at 6,620.

Until this year, only thirteen former Boise Hawks had played in the World Series all-time, eight of them on the Angels’ 2002 championship team. Tonight, seven Hawks alums will be available for one of the biggest games in baseball history—Game 7 between the Cubs and the Indians. The man of the moment among them last night was Kris Bryant, who began the Cubs’ 9-2 onslaught with a solo home run in the top of the first inning. Bryant wound up going 4-for-5. Ex-Hawk Kyle Schwarber returned to the Chicago lineup as the designated hitter and produced a 1-for-4 night. Tonight is going to be something.

The Idaho Steelheads have a couple five-game streaks going as they hit the ice tonight at Rapid City. Jefferson Dahl is on a five-game point streak, with one goal and eight assists in that stretch. As a team, the Steelheads have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their last five games. Tonight the Steelies will be facing the ECHL’s leading scorer, Lindsay Sparks of the Rush. Rush has posted seven goals and 14 points this season and was named ECHL Player of the Week yesterday.

Paris Austin is committed to carving out a leadership role as a sophomore on the Boise State men’s basketball team. “It fits me well,” said Austin after the Broncos’ exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State last Friday. “Last year I was ready to take on a bigger role, and I’m just ready to play. It’s been a long offseason. Literally after we lost our game against Colorado State (at the Mountain West Tournament), we were back working out a week later. I’ve just been trying to learn from these two great leaders (Nick Duncan and James Reid), helping me with my leadership role.” Boise State’s second and final exhibition is set for this Saturday against Northwest Christian in Taco Bell Arena.

On the campus rounds, I said yesterday that regardless of what happened in Tucson, College of Idaho’s game against No. 10 Arizona would be an invaluable experience. Well, I don’t know. The Coyotes were bludgeoned by the Wildcats 86-35 after trailing 50-9 at halftime. Hopefully some teaching moments come out of that. Elsewhere, the Boise State women’s hoops squad picked up two points in the preseason AP Poll released yesterday. The Broncos were picked to finish second in the Mountain West last week. And the Boise State women’s soccer team saw its season come to an end with a 2-0 loss to host San Diego State last night in the opening round of the MW Tournament.

This Day In Sports…November 2, 2013:

It’s not just one of the great comeback stories in Idaho history, but in all of sports, as Gary Stevens wins the Classic at the Breeders Cup for the first time. Stevens, who got his start as a jockey in 1979 at Les Bois Park, guided Mucho Macho Man to the winner’s circle by a nostril. The victory, paired with Stevens’ win in the Preakness Stakes in May of 2013, capped a remarkable year for the Caldwell native—two signature triumphs at the age of 50 after being out of the saddle for more than seven years.

(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.)