Friday, December 14, 2012.
It’s a cryin’ shame this has to be front and center on a day that sees the first regular season visit to Boise by an SEC basketball team—and the day before what promises to be an outstanding matchup in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But such is life. The prevailing theory now is that the seven Catholic Big East basketball schools are going to break away and perhaps form their own conference, leaving the Big East football schools on an uncomfortable island. That would have a further effect on the Big East’s TV negotiations, which have already been dealt a blow by the departures of Louisville and Rutgers. The point has been hammered home, but here it is again: the No. 1 reason remaining for Boise State’s move to the Big East is a significant increase in TV revenue. If it’s not so significant, what happens then?
What has happened to the Big East in the year since Boise State committed to join it is unfathomable. It was a logical decision at the time, before the conference lost its automatic qualification to what will be known as the access bowls, and before the boltings of the Cardinals and the Scarlet Knights. And before this latest tectonic shift, if it goes through. But people like Dennis Dodd at CBSSports.com think Boise State has leverage. It would have a place to go (back to the Mountain West). Or it could create its own place. According to Dodd, “CBSSports.com has learned that there was interest from a rights-holder in televising Boise State's home games only, similar to Notre Dame. That's not to say Boise would go independent, but it is a sign that the football program alone has television value no matter where it ends up.”
So if the definitive subject today is basketball, let’s move on to something that’s easier to swallow. Yes, there’s a big game in Taco Bell Arena tonight as Boise State hosts LSU. The Broncos have never beaten an SEC team and lost to the Tigers 64-45 last year at Baton Rouge, but the teams appear to be evenly-matched this season. Boise State is No. 73 in the Sagarin computer ratings and LSU is No. 81. This event will attract the second-largest crowd in coach Leon Rice’s tenure, and for that reason, it’s important to Boise State. If the Broncos can win this game, a lot of those fans will come back, especially when the Mountain West schedule starts.
With what is still a young team, Boise State hopes to avoid a case of the yips in front of a crowd that will likely top 10,000. You’d think in that case the Broncos would have to avoid turnovers. Rice is wary of that when he calls LSU “really, really quick-handed.” Says Rice, “They make you turn the ball over.” But a look at Boise State’s last outing at Utah would have you think that’s overrated. The Broncos committed only six turnovers, their fewest in a game in 18 seasons, and still lost 76-55. A better gauge tonight might be rebounding. Boise State was out-boarded by 13 at Utah and, because of its size disadvantage, needs to go all-out on the glass. “We have to really play on the edge every night,” said Rice.
The Idaho Stampede host the former Dakota Wizards tonight and tomorrow night in CenturyLink Arena. The Wizards and the Stampede have a 10-year history, including the winner-take-all CBA championship game in 2004, won by the Wizards. But they are now the Santa Cruz Warriors, having been purchased by Golden State of the NBA and moved to the picturesque beach city over the hill from San Jose. There is now only one former CBA team left in the NBA D-League other than the Stampede: the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The Stamps are still looking for their first win of the season after six losses, but Santa Cruz may not be the tonic. The Warriors are leading the D-League West Division with a 4-1 record.
The story is entirely different for the Idaho Steelheads as they hit the road for games at Bakersfield tonight and Ontario tomorrow night. The Steelheads are 17-5-3 through 25 games. Last season at this point, Idaho was 10-12-3, putting this season's team seven wins ahead of the 2011-12 pace. The Steelheads didn't win their 17th game last season until January 16.
It’s been 15 years since Utah State played in the first Boise bowl, then the Humanitarian Bowl, of course. Back then it drew a curious crowd of 16,289 on a sunny 45-degree late-December day, with Cincinnati beating the Aggies 35-19. Much has changed for the bowl since that humble beginning. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl could draw 29,000 tomorrow when USU takes on Toledo. That would be a first for a non-Boise State bowl on the blue turf. At the beginning of the season, the Potato Bowl was the Western Athletic Conference’s only bowl tie-in and could have been the final football game ever played in the WAC’s 50-year history. But the Military Bowl will now have that distinction December 27 when San Jose State plays the WAC sayonara against Bowling Green.
Utah State coach Gary Andersen’s two favorite moments of the season were when the Aggies clinched the WAC championship as the clock ran out against Louisiana, and—interestingly enough—after the tough 6-3 loss to BYU. That’s when Andersen realized there were going to be some really good things ahead for his players. “There is something special to them,” he says he thought at the time. “I am not a guy who even likes to think that, let alone say that during the season, especially after a tough loss to an in-state rival, but they came out and their want-to, it was in there eyes. It wasn't anything they said, it was just how they carried themselves and that is a special moment now for me.”
Toledo coach Matt Campbell hasn’t yet revealed his starting quarterback for tomorrow’s game, as the longtime competition between senior Austin Dantin and junior Terrance Owens goes to the 11th hour. It’s been Owens’ job for most of this season, and he does have a bowl pedigree after going 19-of-24 for 210 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s 42-41 Military Bowl win over Air Force. But Dantin threw for five TDs in the Rockets’ regular season finale versus Akron while Owens sat out with an ankle injury.
Boise State’s bowl game will be away from the blue turf for the seventh consecutive year. The Broncos last played in the then-MPC Computers Bowl in 2005. Every bowl since has been on a neutral field. And that segues into the subject of Boise State’s neutral field performance. The Broncos have won five straight games at neutral sites, three bowl games and two season openers (against Virginia Tech and Georgia). Along those lines, an underappreciated aspect of the 2012 season is the Broncos’ road record. It’s hard to win on the road no matter what the situation. Boise State went 5-1 on the road in a rebuilding year that now sits at 10-2 going into the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas a week from tomorrow.
One Husky will have to change his colors in time for the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Jim Thomas, an assistant women’s soccer coach at Washington, has been hired as head coach at Boise State to replace Steve Lucas. Thomas helped Washington to a 50-28-11 and four NCAA Tournament appearances in his five seasons at UW. The Huskies had gone 12-43-5 in the five years before Thomas arrived.
This Day In Sports…December 14, 1995:
Nevada and Toledo play the first overtime game in Division I-A history, with the Rockets winning the Las Vegas Bowl, 40-37. Overtime was instituted at college football’s highest level for the 1995 bowl season, then became standard during the 1996 regular season. Ironically, the last bowl win for Toledo’s opponent tomorrow in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Utah State, was in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, a 42-33 triumph over Ball State.
(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.)