Did you see that coming? Boise State was playing a team that lost at defending Mountain West champion Nevada by three points just last Saturday. New Mexico was theoretically buying into new coach Paul Weir’s system, which preaches a chaotic 40 minutes of full-court press. But it didn’t look like that last night. The Broncos scored the first 13 points of the game, led by 23 at halftime, extended the margin to 35 with 11½ minutes left, and coasted to a 90-62 win in Taco Bell Arena. Boise State made it look effortless, shooting 59 percent from the field and out-rebounding the Lobos by 20. The Broncos have shot better than 50 percent every time out during their 3-0 start to Mountain West play.
These days it’s always Chandler Hutchison—plus somebody—for Boise State. Hutchison had an average night against New Mexico, but average is usually fabulous. He scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Broncos and brought down the house with an emphatic put-back dunk with just over a minute left in the first half. The play made ESPN’s Top 10 last night. Just to make sure everyone knew what the outcome was destined to be, Hutchison scored Boise State’s first eight points of the second half. His exclamation point was a tomahawk dunk with less than four minutes to go.
The “plus somebody” was Justinian Jessup, who got his stroke back with five three-pointers and 23 points as he went 9-for-12 from the field. Jessup continues to do the little things, too; he had five boards and five assists. Of course, there was more than one “plus somebody.” Alex Hobbs was his usual crafty self, coming off the bench with 18 points. And five rebounds. And four assists.
So back to the question of the day: Who are those guys? Well, it’s the most complete team Leon Rice has put together during his eight seasons as Boise State coach. Weir told the Albuquerque Journal after the game that he understands now that he’s seen The Broncos in person. Weir was asked about Hutchison and marveled about the senior star’s talent. But Weir quickly added, “Part of what makes him so good is his supporting cast. I think those guys all get very undersold.” Yes, indeed. That entire cast will be on call Saturday, as Boise State heads to 7,220 feet at Wyoming. Where Butch and Sundance famously said, “Who are those guys?”
With Steve Caldwell back in the South, there’s not one, but two spots to fill on Bryan Harsin’s Boise State coaching staff. The extenuating circumstance, of course, is that next Tuesday, the day after the CFP championship game, FBS teams will officially be able to add a 10th assistant football coach. So will there be more than two openings with the Broncos? What positions will be created remain to be seen, but the bodies to fill these openings have to come from somewhere. At many schools, the 10th assistant will come from a promotion within the program—for example, an operations or player personnel person. But some Power 5 programs with dollars to spend may look for bigger fish. Then you’d see a trickle-down effect. And this happens right in the middle of the AFCA coaches convention in Charlotte.
Okay, this is a little much. UCF athletic director Danny White says the Knights have decided to declare themselves national champions and will place a championship banner inside Spectrum Stadium to recognize their 13-0 season. With its 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, UCF will finish as the only undefeated team in college football, but it was ranked only No. 12 by the CFP selection committee going into bowl season. The Knights football program has changed its Twitter display name to “2017 National Champions” with a logo to match. UCF is only inviting more scrutiny of its schedule this season. Other than the win over the Tigers, the only Power 5 team the Knights beat was woeful Maryland. C’mon, Knights. As the only undefeated team in 2006, Boise State could have pulled this. Thankfully, it didn’t.
It’s ironic that Sean Kugler and Chris Strausser are both intervewing for the open offensive line coach’s position with the Denver Broncos. Kugler spent one year at Boise State in 2006 before heading for the NFL—replacing Strausser as O-line coach when the latter left for Colorado. Then Strausser returned in 2007 to be tight ends coach. Former All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady, who was honored by Denver on Sunday, played for both guys on the blue turf. Clady’s in Kugler’s corner. “I had him one year at Boise and I thought he was great as far as motivating guys,’’ said Clady. “Some of the guys I played with didn’t have the greatest talent but I think he elevated the whole unit.” On the other hand, current Denver center Matt Paradis played for Strausser at Boise State when Strausser moved back to offensive line duties.
The Idaho Steelheads almost produced a future Olympian. “Missed it by that much,” as Maxwell Smart used to say. Five years ago, goalie Ryan Zapolski was in training camp with the Steelheads during Brad Ralph’s first season as coach. Ralph liked Zapolski, but the Steelies were assigned two goaltenders by the Dallas Stars organization, Josh Robinson and Tyler Beskorowany. So Ralph had to trade Zapolski to South Carolina, and he went on to become the ECHL Rookie of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, and MVP. Now, Zapolski has been named to the USA hockey team for the 2018 Winter Olympics next month in Pyeongchang. He’s currently the only goalie on the roster—two more will be added late this month. Zapolski and current Steelheads coach Neil Graham were college teammates.
Back to hoops: the Boise State women ran into the hottest team in the Mountain West last night at The Pit in Albuquerque, and was New Mexico ever hot in the fourth quarter. The Lobos, leading the Broncos by four points at the end of three, exploded for 34 points in the fourth and hit the century mark in a 100-83 victory. UNM is now 15-1. And the Idaho men’s squad returns home against Sacramento State tonight in Cowan Spectrum. Meanwhile, the Vandals’ long-sought stand-alone basketball arena may finally be close to reality. The university will hold a press conference this afternoon to announce a significant donation and naming rights to the planned $45 million facility.
This Day In Sports…January 4, 2010:
Unlike Boise State’s original Fiesta Bowl experience, the legendary 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, this one would be a defensive tussle. In the first battle of unbeatens in a BCS bowl outside of the championship game, the Broncos edged fourth-ranked TCU, 17-10. A fourth quarter fake punt, with Kyle Brotzman passing 29 yards to Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP Kyle Efaw, set up Doug Martin’s game-winning touchdown. Boise State cornerback Brandyn Thompson was the game’s Defensive MVP with two interceptions, one returned 51 yards for a touchdown. The Broncos became only the second team in college football’s modern era to finish a season 14-0.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)