Thursday, January 2, 2014.
There hasn’t been this kind of anticipation for a conference basketball season around here in at least two decades. Now, here it comes. Boise State’s Mountain West campaign opens at home Saturday night against Fresno State. The Broncos harbor hopes of a championship, and that has to be the goal with the conference’s RPI down this season. After landing five NCAA Tournament bids last March, the Mountain West might be fortunate if it gets three this year. RealTimeRPI.com has the MW as the No. 9 conference after it spent much of last season at No. 2.
The Broncos’ numbers from their non-conference schedule look very much like last year. Scoring is up more than three points per game to 82.5, but that's affected by those 100-point games at the beginning of the season. Shooting percentage is down just one point, both overall and from the three-point line. The record a year ago was 12-2; now it’s 10-3. There have been no bad losses this season—then again, the Broncos don’t have a signature win like the upset of No. 11 Creighton last year. They came close to one against Iowa State in the Diamond Head Classic.
The league schedule tipped off with four games last night, and there was a shocker out of the gate. Air Force rallied past Utah State in the Aggies’ first Mountain West game, 73-72, in Colorado Springs. San Diego State, Boise State’s road opponent next Wednesday, took down Colorado State 71-61 in Fort Collins. Nevada welcomed San Jose State to the Mountain West by handing the Spartans a 62-50 setback on their home floor. And last but not least, UNLV got past Fresno State 75-62 at the Save Mart Center. Now the Bulldogs head to Boise having not won in Taco Bell Arena in 10 years. The Broncos have won six of the last seven games in the series, including a 5-1 mark under coach Leon Rice.
Idaho’s wacky WAC schedule begins tonight against Missouri-Kansas City in Cowan Spectrum. Yes, that’s a conference game. So is Saturday’s contest against Chicago State, as well as upcoming dates with Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley, Cal State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon. That’s life in the Vandals’ final season in the WAC. A year from now Idaho will be preparing for good ol’ traditional slugfests against the likes of Montana, Montana State, and Weber State as it returns to the Big Sky in non-football sports.
The Idaho Stampede have their first in-season player assignment from the Portland Trail Blazers in almost a year. The Blazers have sent guard CJ McCollum to Idaho to get back in basketball shape following a fracture of his left foot in training camp in October. The former Lehigh star, the 10th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, was recently cleared to practice. McCollum’s arrival probably comes at a good time for the Stamps, who have lost three of their past four games in the wake of Monday night’s 114-99 defeat at the hands of the L.A. D-Fenders in CenturyLink Arena. The Stampede will be home again tomorrow night and Saturday night against the team with the D-League’s best record, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Bryan Harsin’s new Boise State football staff is definitively Bronco-centric. But one former player we didn’t figure on was one-time cornerback Antwon Murray, the new assistant Director of Player Personnel. You never know where good coaches are going to come from. Murray was a career backup at Boise State who had a grand total of five tackles and one pass breakup. But heed the words of Harsin. “Antwon has a tremendous passion for Boise State, and he’s going to do a great job here,” the coach said. The Broncos signed 24 high school players in the recruiting class that followed the 2007 Fiesta Bowl victory. Murray had the farthest to come—from Lakeland, FL. And he was the first to arrive, in the first week of June that year in time to join player-run practices. There’s some passion.
Boise State’s two new coordinators had their hands full in bowl games wrapping around the new year. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. finished his stint as Stanford running backs coach with a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. Outside of a 47-yard run in the first quarter, Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney was held to just 44 yards on 23 carries. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates completed his stay with Texas A&M in the same place he’ll begin his second term with the Broncos—the Georgia Dome. In a 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory, the Aggies defense yielded 661 yards to Duke, but it got two critical interceptions in the final 3½ minutes, including a pick-six that accounted for the winning points.
Other bowl notes: Boise State’s opponent in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in August, Ole Miss, dropped Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Music City Bowl. Get to know the name Bo Wallace. The Rebels’ junior quarterback threw for 256 yards and ran for 86 more in the victory. Eagle High grad Taylor Kelly and his Arizona State mates were stunned by Texas Tech, 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl. Kelly passed for just 125 yards, but he did rush for 135, the first 100-yard game of his career. And UNLV couldn’t get the Mountain West over .500 in the bowl season, fading badly in the second half of a 36-14 loss to North Texas in the Heart Of Dallas Bowl.
Recap time for NFL Broncos whose seasons are over (those who weren’t already out for the duration with injuries). Austin Pettis made a career-high 38 catches for 399 yards and four touchdowns for St. Louis. Defensive tackle Chase Baker, an undrafted free agent last year, played in five games and made four tackles for Minnesota. Orlando Scandrick made 64 tackles with two interceptions and two sacks for Dallas. Cornerback Jamar Taylor had an injury-plagued rookie year with Miami, appearing in nine games and recording only three tackles.
Kyle Wilson had a sketchy season in year No. 4 with the Jets. Wilson played in all 16 games but had only 23 tackles and no interceptions. He finished the season with a knee injury in the first half of last Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. Shea McClellin, the occasionally maligned Chicago defensive end, had 30 tackles and four sacks this year. Three of the sacks came on Monday Night Football against the Packers in November, the night McClellin sidelined Aaron Rodgers with a broken collarbone. And Billy Winn registered 21 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble this season for Cleveland.
Fans who attend Idaho Steelheads games these days best be prepared for whistles. Over their past 12 games, the Steelheads have been called for a staggering 345 penalty minutes, an average of 28.8 per game. That “surge” has catapulted Idaho from 13th to first as the ECHL’s most penalized team, averaging 21.2 penalty minutes per game. At the same time, ther Steelies have drawn the most penalty minutes by opponents this season, at an average of 20.8 per game. And now (good timing), the Steelheads face a team they really don’t like, heading for Anchorage to face Alaska tomorrow night and Saturday night.
Hilary Knight of Sun Valley is headed to her second Winter Olympics. During the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium yesterday, Knight was officially announced as a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team that will compete next month in Sochi. She got a lot of ice time for the Americans at the Vancouver Games in 2010, less than a year after helping Wisconsin to the 2009 women’s national championship. Knight contributed two assists in a 9-1 win over Sweden in the semifinals in Vancouver before putting up three shots-on-goal as the U.S. was blanked by Canada 2-0 in the gold medal game. Also on the Olympic trail, one-time Sun Valley Nordic skier Simi Hamilton took the first World Cup victory by an American in eight years last Saturday when he won the 1.5-kilometer men’s sprint in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
This Day In Sports…January 2, 1987:
Penn State upsets Miami 14-10 at the Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship. The biggest TV audience ever to watch a college football game tuned in, and it saw the Nittany Lions defense force Hurricanes quarterback Vinny Testaverde into five interceptions. That was a key, because incredibly, coach Joe Paterno’s team was outgained 445 yards to 162 in total offense.
(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.)