Tuesday, January 31, 2012.
In fact, it is fun. Boise State is not relishing the results, but it has to be enjoying the experience of playing basketball in the Mountain West. This would be the way to elevate the program—if it was going to last. But, of course, the Broncos are paying a two-year visit to the MW before returning to the WAC. The Mountain West moved up to fifth last week in the conference men's basketball RPI rankings. It trails only the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and SEC. The MW is ahead of the ACC—and the Pac-12, which is all the way down at No. 9. This level is so much higher than what the Broncos are accustomed to, and they’re paying for it in the standings. It can only make them better, though. The key for Boise State now: maintain the “let’s see what we can do against these guys” mantra versus the “we’re toast” attitude.
Boise State’s lost long-term opportunity was duly noted in Andy Katz’s “3-Point Shot” late last week at ESPN.com. “Watching Boise State-UNLV on Wednesday night reminded me of what the Broncos will be missing by leaving the Mountain West after just two seasons,” wrote Katz. “It was a football decision to go to the Big East and send the other sports back to the WAC in 2013, but Boise will lose some of the atmosphere it is starting to get in hoops. Playing ranked conference foes such as the Runnin' Rebels will most likely not happen all that much anymore. Boise State has a strong, passionate fan base but it won’t be fully tapped without the occasional ranked team coming to Boise.” To be fair, Katz saw the Broncos’ basketball fan base at its best.
The Mountain West has two ranked teams this week, UNLV at No. 11 and San Diego State at No. 18. But it’s the conference’s strength top to bottom that has it as the fifth-best league in the land. Boise State finds itself at the bottom right now at 0-5 (10-10 overall). And look what’s next: a game at San Diego State tomorrow night in Viejas Arena, where the Aztecs are averaging just under 12,000 fans a game.
A check on WAC basketball while we’re on the subject. Nevada is making a mockery of the WAC race in its last season in the conference, leading by two games at 7-0 and sporting a 15-game winning streak. Of course, the Wolf Pack and Fresno State will be joining Boise State in the Mountain West next season. Both (plus Hawaii) will be gone when the Broncos go back to the WAC, which with Nevada is 12th in conference RPI right now. The WAC really hopes Utah State’s season is an aberration—the Aggies are 12-10 overall, 4-3 in the league, and have actually lost two home games. Idaho is in the hunt for a top-division WAC finish, tied for third with USU and Hawaii. The Vandals are 11-10 overall.
My contention yesterday that the two dropped touchdown passes thrown by Kellen Moore in the Senior Bowl were a result of his advanced offensive thinking drew a gem of a response from an astute observer of football. Ralph Perretta, the one-time San Diego Charger and father of former Boise State wide receiver Vinny Perretta, concurs. “The reason why those Big Ten receivers weren't ready for his throws is because Kellen is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers!" exclaimed Ralph. Bingo, Mr. Perretta.
Conspicuous by his absence the past two weeks as the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl unfolded was Boise State offensive tackle Nate Potter. How does a consensus All-American not merit an invitation to one of those two events? One theory floated out there is that NFL clubs don’t know where they’d plug Potter in—at tackle (the position he played for the Broncos) or guard (the spot that might be more suited to his size and agility). But hey, Shea McClellin changed positions midstream at the Senior Bowl last week, from defensive end to linebacker. At least Potter has been invited to what you might call the “final exam,” the NFL Combine in Indianapolis next month.
Boise State’s recruiting class is close to complete on the eve of National Letter of Intent Day. Close. The Broncos have notched another commitment in the form of Oregon all-state defensive end Sam McCaskill out of Sheldon High in Eugene. McCaskill had a greyshirt offer from Oregon State, but he told Scout.com that coach Chris Petersen, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and linebackers coach Bob Gregory all visited him last Thursday and offered a scholarship. McCaskill in turn visited the Boise State campus over the weekend and gave his verbal yesterday. He says the Broncos envision him as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid a la Shea McClellin.
There have been some discouraging losses for the Idaho Steelheads this season, but it’ll be hard to top the one last night. The Steelheads were riding a 4-1 lead and in total command with 5½ minutes remaining at Utah. Then the Grizzlies’ Mitch Wahl scored. And 28 seconds later, Logan McMillan scored. And with 2:45 left, Wahl scored again, and it was tied 4-4. Utah won the game in a shootout, 5-4. What’s worse, the Steelies’ lead was actually 4-0 late in the second period before Utah got on the board. Until the game took its bizarre turn, Idaho goalie Jerry Kuhn had been nails in net. He made 50 saves on the night and now leads the ECHL with 1,190 for the season. It was Kuhn’s third 50-save game of the 2011-12 campaign. This Friday and Saturday the Steelheads play at Stockton, which happens to be coming off a three-game sweep of Alaska.
There are 11 former Boise Hawks on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster going into spring training about four weeks from now. Another 11 Hawks alums are on the Cubs’ list of non-roster invitees released yesterday. The one to watch is outfielder Brett Jackson, Chicago’s first round draft pick in 2009 who made his pro debut in Boise that summer. The former Cal star posted a .274 batting average with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases in 115 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year. Now Jackson has to make an impression on new Cubs general manager Theo Epstein.
This Day In Sports…January 31, 1998:
Gerry Washington sets a Boise State record for most free throws made in a game without a miss in a 72-67 loss to Idaho in the Kibbie Dome. G-Dub was 14-of-14 from the line—he is still ninth on BSU’s career list for free throw percentage at 78½ percent. Washington remains in a vegetative state after collapsing during a pickup game in April of 2000.
(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.)