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A funny thing happened on the way to the Big East

A funny thing happened on the way to the Big East

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on January 2, 2013 at 8:35 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 2 at 11:13 AM

Wednesday, January 2, 2013.

When TCU announced in November of 2010 it was moving to the Big East, a conference so utterly foreign and culturally incompatible, I wrote that the Horned Frogs “had to feel a little dirty.”  Then Boise State up and did the same thing in December of 2011.  The goals were understandable—competition, BCS status, renewed ESPN exposure, and an apparent TV revenue bonanza.  But it still felt a little bit dirty.  Then one by one, the dominoes started to fall.  There would be no automatic BCS access after 2013, no Rutgers and Louisville, and severely diminished TV money, especially when the seven basketball-only Catholic universities staged their mutiny.  Now it’s official: the Broncos, like TCU, will never play a game in the Big East, electing to stay with the Mountain West under a new set of more friendly ground rules.

One of the best things that could have happened to the Mountain West was the demise of “The Mtn.” TV network last May.  No longer were conference schools often banished to the Siberia of national TV.  And at least a few additional ESPN opportunities were created, such as the Boise State-Nevada game a month ago.  One turning point for the Broncos came when the Mountain West reworked its deal with the CBS Sports Network in the last month.  Now, with Boise State’s home games negotiated separately from the Mountain West’s conference network deal, the Broncos will get what they earn from national TV appearances.

So what’s next for the Mountain West?  Things will have to move quickly if the conference is going to have 12 (or more) teams this year.  First, the league has to check the pulse of San Diego State.  Would the Aztecs seriously stay the course with their move to the Big East now that Boise State is gone?  The closest Big East “rivals” to SDSU would be SMU and Houston (who also could be Mountain West candidates now).  The tantalizing possibility is BYU.  The Cougars actually have a sweet deal as an independent, brokering their own TV contracts.  And their schedule improves immensely in 2013.  But if the Mountain West could get creative with the Broncos, why couldn’t it do something unique for BYU?  It would probably come down to pride.  Can the Cougars return to the Mountain West while the hated Utah Utes reside in the Pac-12?  Oh, the humiliation.

We spent some of last fall lamenting the loss of rivalries from Boise State’s increasingly uncomfortable move to the Big East.  Now, the Broncos’ engagements with Nevada and Fresno State will continue, and you can expect to see the Wolf Pack on the blue turf again this year.  Important in recruiting’s big picture is the fact that, if Boise State is placed in a Western Division of the Mountain West, it will continue to play at least one game per year in California, the source of so many of its great players. 

Maybe the happiest man in Boise is Bronco basketball coach Leon Rice now that he knows his program stays in one of the top hoops conferences in the country.  Rice has been a trooper through this agonizing progress, but it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t aware of conference RPI ratings.  The Mountain West began the week No. 2 in all the land while the Big West, where Boise State was to end up a year from now, was No. 15 among the 31 Division I conferences.  The Big West was 3-35 against teams with an RPI in the top 100 and was 4-18 against the Mountain West and WAC.  Only three of 10 Big West teams went into league play with winning records.

Back to business on the court tonight.  Boise State goes on the road to Texas-Arlington after the Mountain West record 10 three-pointers by Jeff Elorriaga helped blow away Corban Sunday.  With his 30 points in the 105-49 romp over the Warriors, Elorriaga joins Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic in topping the 30 mark, the first time the Broncos have had three in the same season in school history.  Interestingly enough, Marks’ run of 14 straight games in double-figures dating back to last season came to an end versus Corban.  Marks took only four shots Sunday and scored six points.  His streak had been the longest of any current Mountain West player.

The next task for the Idaho Stampede is to prove last Saturday night’s win over Reno was not an aberration.  It certainly could be taken that way, considering the Stampede were 1-12 going into the game.  But the Stamps played the way coach Mike Peck has envisioned they could, shooting 45 percent from the field (that’s news this season), holding the Bighorns to 29 percent and out-rebounding them by 13, and turning the ball over only 11 times.  The Stampede now have to face defending D-League champion Austin on the road tomorrow night.

The Christmas break agreed with the Idaho Steelheads, because they returned to the ice with a vengeance last weekend to snap their three-game losing streak in road wins at Bakersfield and Las Vegas.  Justin Dowling had four points in the two contests to become the ECHL active scoring leader this season with 42 points.  And the Steelheads’ one-two punch between the pipes delivered strong performances, with Josh Robinson picking up his 12th win and Tyler Beskorowany his eighth.  The Steelies go back to Bakersfield tonight.

Back to football, Northern Illinois bore some resemblance to Hawaii of five years ago in the Orange Bowl last night.  Like the Warriors, the Huskies busted the BCS after playing the weakest schedule in the FBS.  NIU’s 31-10 loss to Florida State wasn’t quite as bad as Hawaii’s 41-10 drilling at the hands of Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, but the Huskies did not look like they belonged. 

Chris Ault’s departure from Nevada leaves these reflections.  Ault’s legacy, albeit a College Football Hall of Fame one, has always been tied to his success (or lack thereof) against Boise State.  The last time he stepped down in 1996, he left the Wolf Pack in pretty good shape.  Ault’s hand-picked successor, Jeff Tisdel, promptly posted three dominating wins over the Broncos.  But Tisdel experienced the beginning of the table-turning when Boise State rolled Nevada 52-17 in 1999.  Ault hired Chris Tormey away from Idaho to replace Tisdel, and Tormey’s Pack was routed three times by the Broncos.  Ault, 8-17 overall versus Boise State, went 1-7 against it after returning to the sidelines in 2004.

This will take longer than it ever has, but day by day we’ll recap the seasons of Boise State products in the NFL.  Our first “former Bronco NFLer of the Day” has to be Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin.  The running back formerly known as the Muscle Hamster finished his rookie year by rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ 22-17 upset of Atlanta.  Martin wound up with 1,454 yards on the ground, second-most in Bucs history.  Not only did he rank fifth in the NFL in rushing, he racked up the third-most yards from scrimmage at 1,926, behind only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.  As good as we all knew Martin was, his rookie campaign in the NFL was more than anyone could have imagined.

This Day In Sports…January 2, 2009:

Two years after Boise State’s BCS-busting shocker at the Fiesta Bowl, Utah dominates Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to complete a 13-0 season.  The Utes scored the first 21 points of the game, cashing in on all three of their first quarter possessions behind the game’s MVP, quarterback Brian Johnson.  The night didn’t have the drama of the Broncos’ overtime upset of the Sooners, but it did more for the mid-majors of the world—coming as it did one year after Hawaii was crushed by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, 41-10.

(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.)