You assume nothing when it comes to attendance anymore. College football fans are different all across the country these days. And Boise State has extenuating circumstances—called “late kickoffs.” Tomorrow night’s start is at 8:15 p.m., but it shouldn’t be that big a factor this time, should it? It’s going to be in the low 70’s at kickoff, the opponent is Washington State (who’s bringing in a sizeable number of fans), and the Broncos are coming off a 45-10 lampooning of Louisiana-Lafayette on the road in their season opener. Yet you can still walk up to the window and buy a ticket for the Wazzu game.
Boise State was 64th in the country in attendance last season at 33,612 fans per game, up from 32,504 in 2014. But take into consideration that two years ago the number was adversely affected by the nine-degree night against San Diego State that held the crowd down below 28,000—and the inclusion of the Mountain West championship game, when the entire stadium had to be resold from scratch, resulting in a crowd just over 26,000. So last year’s increase is accompanied by an asterisk. Just getting used to the new normal.
One thing that will make a massive difference tomorrow night: Boise State’s ability to keep Brett Rypien clean. The Bronco offensive line did an excellent job out of the gate at Louisiana-Lafayette, allowing just one sack after yielding 31 during the 2015 season. Boise State has settled on Archie Lewis and Mario Yakoo at the tackles, Travis Averill and Steven Baggett at the guards, and Meridian High grad Mason Hampton at center. And there really appears to be depth here. Beyond graduate transfer Will Adams from Auburn, who spells Lewis at left tackle, there’s John Molchon, Fruitland’s Garrett Larson, and even Kellen Buhr, the former Capital Eagle.
Boise State knows what it’s up against tomorrow night. Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense has developed into the same one he wielded at Texas Tech. Washington State has led the nation in passing the past two seasons, averaging 389.5 yards per game in 2015 and 477.7 yards in 2014, the second-most in college football history. That’s the season that saw Connor Halliday, son of former Bronco quarterback Duane Halliday, throw for an NCAA-record 734 yards in a 60-59 loss at Cal.
How do the Cougs do it? They throw and throw—and throw some more. Luke Falk put it up 51 times last week. And that was below normal. Look at Washington State’s average pass attempts per game the past three years: 56.8, 64.3 and 58.2. Halliday set a college football record with 89 (count ‘em, 89) in a 62-38 defeat at Oregon in 2013. So how does that translate into touchdown-to-interception ratio? In 2013, the Cougars were pedestrian, with 36 TD passes and 24 picks. They followed with 45 touchdowns and 18 interceptions the following year, and they had 41 TDs versus just 12 picks last season. They’ve cut their interceptions in half while still airing it out at a stunning rate.
Falk completed 41 passes last week, with 10 of them going to star wide receiver Gabe Marks. So where did the other 31 go? Five went to River Cracraft, who’s a standout at WSU in his own right. Cracraft was on the Biletnikoff Award watch list last season and has 170 career catches for 2,041 yards and 15 touchdowns. Cracraft has been friends with Boise State running back Ryan Wolpin since grade school. Both wanted to be Broncos coming out of high school in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, but then-coach Chris Petersen was waiting on academics from Cracraft, and Wolpin was not offered a scholarship. Cracraft was offered by Washington State, and Wolpin spent a year at Noerthern Colorado before transferring to walk on at Boise State. A couple of roundabout routes to the blue turf.
A game in the Mountain West tomorrow that’s equally-important to Boise State’s is Cal at San Diego State. These are two chances for the conference to get wins over Power 5 schools. The Aztecs have won 11 straight games and haven’t thrown an interception in 13 games—since a loss at Cal a year ago. San Diego State has launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Donnel Pumphrey. This would be a good time for him to back it up. Utah State may have an outside chance in its Power 5 matchup at USC tomorrow. But these teams don’t: Wyoming (at Nebraska), Nevada (at Notre Dame), and UNLV (at UCLA).
Also on the state school carousel tomorrow: Idaho goes into Husky Stadium with Washington fans expecting a rout, thanks to a 37½-point spead. That one will probably depend on when Coach Pete takes his foot off the pedal (he usually does, and he bears no ill will toward the Vandals). Idaho State plays the first of two straight road games at Pac-12 schools when it faces Colorado. The Bengals have lost 24 consecutive games to FBS teams. “If we were in the Pac-12, I wouldn’t want to play an NFL team,” said ISU coach Mike Kramer. “That’s the same thing.” And College of Idaho travels to Willamette and steps up a level to NCAA Division III. The Coyotes are 0-1 for the first time since, well, 1977.
I remember what a big deal it was three decades ago when Boise State had six players active in the NFL at one time. There were never that many in the 1990’s. This year there are 17, including the two on injured reserve, Kellen Moore in Dallas and Kyle Wilson in New Orleans. Jay Ajayi and Rees Odhiambo are on opposite sidelines when Miami opens the season against Seattle at CenturyLink Field. It remains to be seen how much each will play—Arian Foster is getting the start over Ajayi at running back for the Dolphins, and Odhiambo will be making his debut as a rookie offensive lineman for the Seahawks. In Denver’s 21-20 win over Carolina last night, Matt Paradis started at center, and defensive end Billy Winn did win but didn’t log any stats.
Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge got off to a discouraging start yesterday at the DAP Championship, the first leg of the Web.com Tour Finals in Beachwood, OH. Aldridge teed off on No. 10 and was one-over at the turn. But two bogeys and a double-bogey over a four-hole stretch left him in a tie for 120th at four-over 74. Aldridge would like to at least play well today to carry some kind of momentum into the Albertsons Boise Open next week. The first-round leader at the DAP Championship is Bobby Wyatt, who played only six PGA Tour events this season—the last in July at the Barbasol Championship. Wyatt shot a seven-under 63 yesterday.
A couple other notes: After playing at Montana today, Boise State women’s soccer hosts Idaho Sunday afternoon at the Boas Soccer Complex. In the last athletic year there were just three meetings in any sport between the Broncos and Vandals. And the Idaho Steelheads have picked up another defenseman, Jake Newton, who returns to North America for his seventh season of pro hockey after spending the past two years in Europe. Newton has played 281 games in the AHL, ECHL, CHL, and in Europe since turning pro in 2010.
This Day In Sports…September 9, 1995:
Boise State coach Pokey Allen makes good on his vow to return to the Broncos in time for the season opener at Utah State. Allen had been away from the team for eight months while battling a rare form of cancer that would eventually take his life a little over one year later. BSU won the opener 38-14 over the Aggies and new head coach John L. Smith, fresh off his six-year stint at Idaho.
(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.)