It’s amazing to think that there was a general lack of concern before the season on how Boise State would replace Cedrick Wilson at wide receiver. Here’s what I said in mid-August (and I wasn’t alone in thinking this): “Instead of 80 catches from Wilson, Boise State may get 40 apiece from A.J. Richardson, Sean Modster, Octavius Evans and CT Thomas.” Everyone had seen enough from those guys to be comfortable. So what finally happened? Going into the First Responder Bowl next Wednesday, Modster has 68 catches, Richardson 54, Thomas 41 and John Hightower 31. Evans has been out most of the year, but Hightower could have easily been a fourth 40-catch guy if not for the injury against BYU.
The good news is that, with the possible exception of Evans, Boise State should be at full strength at wide receiver for the game in Dallas. Hightower, who wasn’t hitting his highest gear in the Mountain West championship game, is said to be rested and ready to face Boston College. Same for true freshman Khalil Shakir, who’s the wild card in this Bronco formula. Shakir has not played since his 49-yard touchdown catch to beat Fresno State six weeks ago. Of course, Shakir can be unleashed as a change-of-pace tailback, too. In fact, 14 of his 30 touches on offense this year have come on rushes.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL GAMEDAY
Don’t sell the Western Michigan offense short today in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It rang up 621 yards on Syracuse and put up 42 points (the Orange scored 55). Then again, there is an asterisk at quarterback. The Broncos’ starter, Jon Wassnik, suffered a season-ending foot injury in a 51-24 loss to Toledo at the end of October. An 18-year-old freshman, Kaleb Eleby, had to replace him in that game and then lost his first two starts. But after that second one, with Western Michigan giving up bushels of points, coach Tim Lester fired his defensive coordinator and shook a lot of things up. Lester challenged everyone on the team to “change something,” and Eleby led Western to a 28-21 upset of eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois, throwing for 285 yards.
We all imagined what was to come for Tanner Mangum when he began his BYU career in 2015 with a Hail Mary touchdown to beat Nebraska—then duplicated the feat a week later to shock his hometown team, Boise State. But his career finishes today as a backup in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. If Mangum is having trouble dealing with this kind of ending, he certainly isn’t showing it. “In Little League football, when I was 8 years old, the opening game was a scrimmage on the blue turf,” he said in the Deseret News. “It’s come full circle. It’s good to be home in a place that I love, Boise, and close to family. It’s fitting that I get to finish (in Boise). I’m just looking forward to finishing strong and finish on a high note.” Mangum’s talking about the team, but getting into the game today would be a high note.
BOISE STATE HOOPS HANGIN’ IN THERE
Boise State hoops coach Leon Rice insists on staying positive with his rebuilding group, and the Broncos’ effort Wednesday night is the reason why. Loyola Marymount, now 11-1, kept making plays that said to Boise State, “You’re not supposed to be here.” But the Broncos played through some deflating moments and took the Lions to the wire before falling 70-69. RJ Williams, who didn’t so much as make a basket at Oregon, logged 21 points and scored Boise State’s final eight points of the game, including the two that gave the Broncos the lead with seven seconds left. That tells Rice his team is going to battle, because there’s a lot more adversity to come.
Now 4-7, Boise State could really use a win Saturday afternoon against Pacific. It would be a good sign for this struggling crew, as the Tigers serve as a second straight peer-league opponent from the West Coast Conference. UOP is 9-4 with a win over Air Force and an overtime loss at Fresno State, the Mountain West’s hottest team next to Nevada. On another note, an league-wide series against the WCC would be fun, but the MW will continue to go intersectional. The Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge is over, and the MW will be taking one season off from any interconference arrangement. But the Mountain West/Atlantic 10 Challenge is in place for two years beginning with the 2020-21 season
STEELHEADS KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
It’s a tussle for first place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division when the Idaho Steelheads and Utah Grizzlies tangle tonight and Saturday night in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads are the ones going in with the hot hand, having won 10 of their last 12 games. Goalie Ryan Faragher has been a catalyst of late and goes into the weekend as the reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Week. Faragher was 2-0 last week and recorded his first shutout of the season. He allowed just one goal in a combined 51 shots versus Kansas City. The Steelies are now 15-9-3, just one point behind the Grizzlies.
BOISE STATE BASEBALL ROSTER TAKES SHAPE
Boise State baseball coach Gary Van Tol has gone local for his latest signee as the Broncos are just over a year away from the revival of the program. Eagle High grad Reed Harrington is aboard after being named an all-conference reliever last spring at Community Colleges of Spokane. Harrington struck out 28 batters in 34 innings while posting a 1.32 ERA as a freshman this year, and his 10 saves were tied for second in the Northwest Athletic Conference. There are now 26 players on the Boise State roster for “zero year” in 2019.
AN IDAHOAN IDAHO CAN HANG ITS HAT ON
And back to football—the key to Idaho’s 13-player recruiting class, in my opinion, is Rocky Mountain running back Nick Romano. The Vandals at this point need an Idahoan with real skills and a passion for the university to shine for the program and get it going again. And Romano, Idaho’s 5A Player of the Year, is good enough to make an impact right out of the gate as a true freshman after rushing for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns in Rocky’s undefeated championship season. He ran for 309 yards in the state title game and averaged 9.1 yards per carry for the season. And here’s a stat just as important as any: zero fumbles lost this year. Romano’s the type of player the Vandals sorely need.
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December 21, 2013, five years ago today: After upsetting Boise State in Bronco Stadium in 2012, San Diego State wins its second straight game on the blue turf, this time over Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Junior running back Adam Muema rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns for the Aztecs in a 49-24 rout of Khalil Mack and the Bulls, who were playing in only their second bowl game ever. SDSU had started the season 0-3 but won eight of its last 10 games to finish 8-5. It was the first year of the bowl’s association with the Mountain West.
(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.)