Thursday, December 24, 2009.
It was enough that Boise State had to take on the fourth-ranked and undefeated Texas Christian University Horned Frogs in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. It’s now apparent that the Broncos will also be battling the aura of the Mountain West. First there was Mountain West also-ran Wyoming sending one of the WAC’s standard-bearers, Fresno State, reeling with a double-overtime upset. Then BYU stepped it up Tuesday night and ripped Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Then in last night’s Poinsettia Bowl, Utah made Cal look like it hadn’t seen a playbook before and took apart the Bears, 37-27. The Mountain West unabashedly says it deserves a place at the BCS table. Who’s to dispute it now? Isn’t that conference at least better than the Big East? The Mountain West has become a big part of the story in Glendale a week from Monday.
Not to forget that TCU tore apart all three of those bowl-victorious Mountain West compadres this season. These Horned Frogs can slice and dice, and Boise State found out all about it last year. A year ago in San Diego, the Frogs wore down the Broncos in the second half with a running game that amassed 275 yards. Part of the issue was a Boise State defensive line that was scotch-taped together—down to four dependable players. Shea McClellin, Mike T. Williams and Jarrell Root were all injured, forcing defensive tackle Billy Winn to move outside and play end, and lose 15 pounds in order to do it. Not only was Winn out of his comfort zone at end, his presence was missed at tackle.
Winn is back home at D-tackle now and has had an outstanding season, starting with the takedown of Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount for a safety on Opening Night (my personal pick for Boise State’s Play of the Year). Chase Baker has been an equivalent force inside, with J.P. Nisby, Michael Atkinson and Darren Koontz providing depth. On the outside, Boise State has its full meal deal with Ryan Winterswyk, Byron Hout, McClellin and Root. This time the Broncos will have a complete two-deep on the D-line against TCU. “We’ll have a lot of rotation so we’ll be fresh through the whole game,” said McClellin.
The waves of orange and the waves of purple should be relatively even in Glendale. TCU had sold its allotment of 17,500 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl and is now selling the remaining tickets from its additional batch. Boise State is doing the same thing. There’s still time to plan to drive down—or catch a ride. Navitopia.com, a free social networking site that matches someone with a car and extra seats with people needing rides, has organized a “100-Car Caravan” to Phoenix. Among other incentives, Navitopia.com is paying $25 to the first 100 people that go to the site and register seats they available in their vehicles.
The Idaho Vandals arrive Christmas night and Bowling Green comes in Saturday to settle in for the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl Wednesday in Bronco Stadium. The Sporting News got a third-party prediction from a player who faced both teams this season, Boise State All-WAC cornerback Kyle Wilson. His pick? Idaho. “They will have somewhat of a home field advantage playing at Bronco Stadium, and Idaho’s run game is very good, which should set up their offense,” said Wilson.
If you want to know what kind of performance Idaho will need to tame the relentless Bowling Green passing attack in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl, you can rewind to a WAC Defensive Player of the Week award in mid-October. Vandal defensive end Aaron Lavarius had two sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in a 35-23 win over Hawaii in the Kibbie Dome. It’s going to be all about getting after the quarterback and defending the pass next Wednesday against the Falcons, an area that has been a sore spot with Idaho down the stretch. Bowling Green’s Tyler Sheehan has thrown 528 passes this season, second only to Houston’s Case Keenum.
If you’re pulling for the WAC in bowl games, how can you not be nervous about Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl tonight? You’ve already been through one colossal disappointment in a trap game, Fresno State’s loss to Wyoming. The Wolf Pack is a 12½-point favorite over SMU, the largest spread of any of the 34 bowl games. But the Pack is in a bit of disarray, missing 1,000-yard running backs Vai Taua (academically ineligible) and Luke Lippincott (injured), and having suspended a backup safety and booted a backup linebacker off the team this week. The Mustangs, on the other hand, are in their first bowl game in 25 years—since before the NCAA “death penalty” caused the program to go dormant for two seasons. And former Hawaii coach June Jones is making a triumphant return to Aloha Stadium with SMU.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the outside looking in at the NFL playoff picture, but they’re still standing on the doorstep. And Gerald Alexander may have a chance to contribute to whatever happens. The Jaguars are trying to decide what to do about free safety Reggie Nelson. He has been struggling, and coach Jack Del Rio has taken note. Alexander is seen as the most probable replacement for Nelson in the starting lineup. The former Boise State star has started eight games this season at free safety, including the last three. Says the Sporting News: “Alexander possesses the most suitable skill set for the move. Although he’s not as rangy as Nelson, Alexander can make up for the deficiency with good awareness.” Alexander has two interceptions and free forced fumbles this season.
It may not have been pretty, but it was exciting enough. After a 41-point first half, Boise State went into an excruciating lull after the break but still held off Montana State in Taco Bell Arena, 58-56. There were two major runs in the game, a 27-2 stretch by the Broncos that bridged halftime and gave BSU a 17-point lead, followed by a 21-2 run by the Bobcats that handed the Bobcats a brief lead. The Broncos had only one player in double figures, Kurt Cunningham with 14 points. Cunningham was 6-for-8 from the field and hit two free throws with under five minutes left put BSU ahead to stay. Helped by the sendoff for the Bronco football team, attendance last night nudged over 3,000 for the first time this season. Not too many years ago a count of 3,008 would have been considered alarmingly small.
The Idaho Stampede will be able to gauge where they are one month into the season when they host the Utah Flash Saturday night in Qwest Arena. The Stampede are 5-4 and are coming off their worst loss of the season, while the Flash sit just ahead of Idaho at 6-4 after a loss at Dakota Tuesday night. After their explosive start to the season, the Stamps have been held under 120 points in each of their past five games and put up only 80 in their last outing, a 27-point loss at Bakersfield. The Stampede’s Sundiata Gaines has slipped to third in D-League scoring at 25.1 points per game.
The Idaho Steelheads hope Matt McKnight’s post-Christmas matches his pre-Christmas as they return to action Saturday night at Utah. After collecting just three points in nine games over the first two months of the season, McKnight has been money in December, scoring five goals with five assists so far in nine games this month. The 25-year-old center is in his second season in Idaho—he scored 10 goals with 23 assists in 2008-09. The Steelheads have a 16-point lead over Utah in the ECHL West Division. The Grizzlies were staying within reach of the Steelies early this month but have lost eight of their last 10 games.
This Day In Sports…December 24, 1987:
A cerebral hemorrhage ends the writing career of respected Idaho Statesman sports columnist Jim Poore. The talented teddy bear of a guy would last over two years before passing away, but on Christmas Eve he was taken away from the newspaper (and our eyes) forever. Poore’s humor and lifelong community perspective were unmatched in Boise sportswriting. You can only imagine what a field day he’d have had with Bronco football the past 10 years. And with the evolution of Boise’s sports scene. There’ll never be another like him.
(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 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)