Webster-esque definition of “linebacker”

Isn’t a linebacker basically a guy who “backs the line?” How important is that position to Boise State Saturday? The untested Bronco defensive line needs some backing as it faces formidable Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire. Coach Bryan Harsin acknowledges that linebacker is the strongest position group on Boise State’s team. It’s packed with not only talent, but leadership. Senior Ben Weaver, named a season co-captain, has become the centerpiece of the Bronco defense and brings 219 career tackles and three interceptions into the season. The glue these days is Darren Lee, who has risen to the status of “starter-in-waiting” after spending the past three seasons leading the Broncos onto the field with the Hammer seven different times.

This is the first week of the rest of Tanner Vallejo’s football life, and his role will be huge Saturday as Boise State tries to control McGuire and the ULL running game. This has been a very different offseason for the senior linebacker. A year ago, he was coming off Defensive MVP honors in both the Mountain West championship game and the Fiesta Bowl. He had recorded 16.5 tackles for loss in 2014, the most by a ‘backer in the Broncos’ FBS era. And he scored two touchdowns on defense. Last year, Vallejo didn’t even play in a bowl game, as he was suspended for the Poinsettia Bowl rout of Northern Illinois. He’s spent the last eight months making sure everybody around him knows he is team-first. Vallejo has succeeded in that quest. Now the Broncos need him to morph into his old playmaking self.

The possibilities surrounding Joey Martarano may excite Boise State fans the most. Martarano, the former Fruitland Grizzly, is now a junior and is all-football, having passed up minor league baseball this summer. He is poised for a breakout year (if he hasn’t had one already). Each of the past two seasons, he has played more as the autumn progressed. But he did make plays off the bat in 2015—for example, the stoning of Washington’s Myles Gaskin for a four-yard loss early in the Broncos’ win over the Huskies. Martarano bookended that with a highlight-reel one-handed interception at the end of the regular season at San Jose State. He has certainly earned the starting spot at middle ‘backer.

For Harsin, this had to be close to a no-brainer. Tweeted Harsin yesterday, “Newest member of the ‘Scholly Squad!’ Hard work does not go unnoticed. Congrats Ryan Wolpin!” The junior running back walked on at Boise State after transferring from Northern Colorado, on a mission to play FBS football. Even in mopup duty, when things tend to bog down, Wolpin has made things happen when toting the ball the past two seasons. Then came the Poinsettia Bowl, when he carried the load in the fourth quarter of the blowout and rushed for 87 yards (and almost got that first touchdown). Very deserving of a scholarship.

CBS4 in Denver reports that the Big 12 has whittled the original 18 expansion candidates down to “6-8 schools,” and that Colorado State has made the cut. Boise State, according to the station, has not. “The only other school from the Mountain West Conference still in the discussion is the Air Force Academy, and the Falcons would be considered as a ‘football only’ member,” writes CBS4’s Jim Benemann. “Round Two,” which includes off-site meetings with Big 12 conference officials and representatives of member institutions, will begin next week, says Brenemann. A number of other lists of survivors posted did not include CSU and Air Force.

The Mountain West week begins tonight with three games: Weber State at Utah State, South Dakota at New Mexico, and Jackson State at UNLV. All three opponents are FCS schools—the conference had better be 3-0 by midnight. The question that affects the overall perception of the Mountain West: how will it do against Power 5 opponents? The MW was 3-21 last year, with Boise State picking up two of the wins. Three conference teams are going against Power 5 foes this week, starting with Colorado State at Colorado tomorrow night. CSU’s the only team that has a chance. The other two matchups happen Saturday, with Hawaii going all the way to Michigan after spending last week in Australia, and Fresno State serving as Nebraska’s sacrificial lamb on Opening Night.

Idaho had high hopes for defensive improvement last year but ended up 117th in the country, allowing 488 yards and 42 points per game. Tonight the Vandals open against Montana State, which has tabbed quarterback Tyler Bruggman as the successor to Dakota Prukop, who’s now starting at Oregon. If the Vandals can stop the run and force Bruggman to pass, they like their chances on defense. The Idaho secondary features eight players with starting experience, led by senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan, who was lost for the season after three games last year. Jordan comes in tonight with 170 career tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups. MSU coach Jeff Choate, the former Boise State assistant, will be making his head coaching debut (with staffers Gerald Alexander, Matt Miller and Byron Hout).

Tyler Cox settles in as College of Idaho’s new starting quarterback for Saturday’s opener versus Montana Western. One positive for the Boise High grad is the receiving corps he has inherited. Cox will be throwing to preseason Sporting News NAIA All-American Marcus Lenhardt, the senior from Eagle. The 6-foot-5 standout led all NAIA tight ends in receptions each of the last two seasons. Cox will also target wide receiver Tyler Higby, the senior out of Borah High who had six receptions for 40 yards or more last season, and another former Eagle Mustang, Austin Diffey, who has amassed 86 catches in the two seasons since the Coyotes reinstated football.

For a guy who’s 15-12 in his first two seasons in Seattle, Chris Petersen finds massive expectations on his team going into Saturday’s opener against Rutgers. Washington did not even receive votes in the final AP poll last season, yet it was No. 14 in the AP preseason poll this month. Incredibly, the Huskies are ranked No. 7 in Sports Illustrated. Petersen would like everybody to take a deep breath. Excited prognosticators point to sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, but analytics website FootballOutsiders.com ranked the Huskies’ 2015 passing attack 97th nationally. Coach Pete fired one of his former Boise State assistants, wide receivers coach Brent Pease, and promoted one of his former Bronco quarterbacks, Bush Hamdan, to ramp up the passing game.

The sizzle on Boise State’s non-conference men’s basketball schedule comes on the road this year, and it sizzles indeed with dates at Oregon and in the Charleston Classic tournament in November. Outside of a pair of exhibitions, there are just six home games before Mountain West play begins. The only Taco Bell Arena opponent that approaches marquee status is SMU, a Top 25 team last season. The Broncos do have Idaho State coming in December 18. Otherwise, it’s Northwest University, Presbytarian, Portland, and Cal State Northridge.

It wasn’t as bad as the night before, but it still goes in the loss column. The Boise Hawks, coming off a 17-1 loss to Everett, couldn’t catch the AquaSox last night as they fell 6-3 at Memorial Stadium. Willie Abreu and Luis Castro each had two hits for the Hawks, and Abreu had the only one that went for extra bases, a double. No homers again for the Hawks; they’ve only hit 20 all season. Boise plays Everett again tonight and tomorrow night—then that’s it for home dates in 2016.

This Day In Sports…September 1, 1984:

BYU launches its national championship run with a 20-14 upset of No. 3 Pittsburgh. It was the first live, regular season college football game ever televised by ESPN. Cougar quarterback Robbie Bosco threw for 325 yards, including the go-ahead 50-yard touchdown pass to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 remaining. The victory jumped BYU from unranked to No. 13 en route to its first national crown.

(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.)