Wednesday, January 9, 2013.
Sometime in the mid-1990’s there was a fork in the road for the Boise State basketball program. When 20-win seasons became 16-win seasons, the buzz faded, and crowds in the then-BSU Pavilion dwindled. There have been some frenzied moments since, such as the NIT run in 2004 and the WAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth in 2008. But Bronco hoops would always slide back into the shadows. Tonight Boise State basketball could turn the corner and head toward the popularity it enjoyed 20 years ago when the Broncos take a 12-2 record to Laramie to open Mountain West play against undefeated Wyoming. But Boise State had best treat last Saturday’s 67-point victory over Walla Walla as a 67-point loss. As in, forget about it and move on. The Cowboys will be in a different universe.
To be sure, this is a heckuva way for Boise State to start the Mountain West season. At 13-0, Wyoming has cracked the rankings for the first time in 15 years at No. 25 in the Coaches Poll. Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt was asked if he’s happy his team is into the Top 25. “Happy is sort of for March,” Shyatt said. “I think this is terrific perhaps for you, the media, fans, boosters. But I think our team is really focused. They understand we are in the eye of the hurricane now.” The latest RPI rankings have Wyoming 25th and Boise State 32nd.
College football statistics are final now for the 2012 season, and the most startling figures in relation to Boise State are on the defensive side of the ball. Despite losing seven defenders off the 2011 team who were either drafted or were invited to NFL camps, the Broncos took some admirable leaps. In pass defense, Boise State went from No. 43 nationally in 2011 to No. 5. The Broncos were ranked 68th in sacks in 2011 and zoomed to 11th this season. And turnover margin (with an admitted assist from the offense) jumped from No. 23 to No. 2. Boise State led the country in fumble recoveries with 18. The defense unexpectedly raised the bar.
Let’s say San Diego State does return to the Mountain West, allowing the conference to split into two six-team divisions this year. I ran this off-kilter concept up the Sunday Sports Extra flagpole this week. Maybe the easiest way to do it would be to create a “Recent WAC Division” that would include Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State and Hawaii. Then you could have an “Ancient WAC Division” consisting of Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming. Actually the Recent WAC Division would be considerably tougher. Isn’t it ironic that the two WAC refugees being added this year, Utah State and San Jose State, are both coming off 11-2 seasons and bowl wins. The Recent WAC members had 23 more victories than the Ancient WAC teams this season.
The return of Boise State to the Mountain West does strike a blow to Idaho’s hopes of getting back into an FBS conference. Had the Big East kept the Broncos and poached a couple other Mountain West teams, such as Fresno State and UNLV, the MW could have been left to search for another Western school to fill in the blanks. Not so now. If San Diego State comes back (and I would still be shocked if it didn’t), the conference would be sitting at a tidy 12. If the Mountain West can’t lure BYU back (and I would be still shocked if it could), the league would still be in a position of strength and could go after some combination of SMU, Houston, Tulsa or UTEP if it wanted to get to 14 or even 16 schools. There’s still hope at Idaho that something can develop with the Sun Belt, its football home from 2001-04.
Our former Bronco NFLer of the Day is Kyle Wilson, the third-year cornerback for the New York Jets. Wilson, the 2010 first round draft pick, was thrown to the wolves this season when Darrelle Revis was lost for the season in late September. Wilson had a career-high 48 tackles with an interception and a forced fumble this season. Now, anything can happen during the winter with this near-dysfunctional franchise. The outspoken Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com has been running polls on all key Jets players under the heading “Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em?” Under Wilson, Cimini comments, “Use him for trade bait.” Voters run 61 percent to 39 for “trashing” Wilson. At least he’s not Tim Tebow, who Cimini calls “an unmitigated disaster.”
Multiple reports say that it’ll be Mike Moroski who’s introduced as the College of Idaho’s new head football coach today. After starring at quarterback for UC Davis in the late 1970’s, Moroski spent seven seasons as a backup QB in the NFL. He’s a stable, experienced coach, having been on the UC Davis staff since 1988. The Coyotes are less than 20 months away from teeing it up for the first time since 1977.
A couple things happened in Boise State Olympic sports last weekend that were eye-catching. The Bronco women’s swimming team went to Hawaii—and beat Hawaii. Yes, that’s in swimming. Boise State also faced a Big Ten opponent for the first time and downed Wisconsin in Honolulu while losing to top-ranked USC. And the Bronco wrestling team, working to hit its stride, defeated its biggest rival, Oregon State. The Broncos won 19-15 to avenge a 21-16 loss to the Beavers on Thanksgiving weekend.
This one slipped by me last weekend, but it’s worth mentioning. Dontrelle Willis hasn’t given up—in fact, he’s going to give it another shot where it all began, in the Chicago Cubs organization. Willis was a top Cubs prospect when he was Opening Night starter for the Hawks in 2001. After being traded to the Florida Marlins, he was National League Rookie of the Year in 2003 and led the league with 22 victories in 2005. The D-Train’s career has been fairly nightmarish since 2007, though. Willis didn’t pitch in the majors last year after going 1-6 with the Reds in 2011, but the Cubs have signed him to a minor league contract.
The Idaho Stampede went through another fourth quarter fade yesterday at the D-League Showcase in Reno. The Stampede were trailing Canton by just a point with 6½ minutes left when the Charge went a 21-12 run to finish the game and win, 110-100. The Stamps were victimized by former Louisiana Tech star Kyle Gibson, who scored 24 points. Recent Stampede addition Solomon Alabi, the 7-1 center from Nigeria, recorded a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds and drew a lot of attention from scouts at the Showcase. The Stamps return to CenturyLink Arena Friday night for another two-game series against the Reno Bighorns.
This Day In Sports…January 9, 1972:
The Los Angeles Lakers see their NBA-record 33-game winning streak come to an end in a 120-104 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The center for Milwaukee was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who would have the most productive years of his legendary career with the Lakers. L.A. went on to finish 69-13 that season and won the NBA championship. The closest any team has come to the Lakers’ win streak since was the Houston Rockets’ 22-game run in 2008.
(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.)