Friday, Dec 4 at 8:48 AM
Friday, December 4, 2009.
Okay, so Boise State is now favored by 47½ points tomorrow. And the economy is a downer. And it’s expensive. And it is December, with highs in the upper 30’s. Not to be a broken record, but the No. 6 team in the country should sell out, even with extenuating circumstances, but it won’t. Think about this, Bronco Nation, stay-at-home division: your team is ranked higher than Ohio State, Penn State, LSU, USC, and on and on. Oh, I see—it’s New Mexico State the Broncos are playing. Did I mention Ohio State? The Buckeyes played New Mexico State in the Horseshoe on Halloween. They were 44-point favorites and won 45-0. The attendance was 104,719. You know the Fiesta Bowl will be watching tomorrow. A swath of empty seats in Bronco Stadium would not be a good thing. Do you completely trust the BCS system? Even if Texas beats Nebraska tomorrow?
In defense of Boise State, though, the noise and the scene surrounding the blue turf is something other WAC schools can rarely match. The rest of the conference can’t get a pass for its turnstile numbers. It’s been the big three and the little six again in WAC attendance this year, with Hawaii, Boise State and Fresno State all drawing over 30,000 a game and the rest of the schools all in the teens. In fact, you can’t even say Idaho was in the teens as a shockingly small throng of 8,532—even by Thanksgiving weekend standards—watched the Vandals lose to Utah State in the regular season finale. Idaho averaged just 12,546 this season, one of the bottom five marks in the country.
The most baffling WAC program of all continues to be Nevada, though. In a metro area the same size as Boise, the Wolf Pack just can’t draw in Reno. The Pack attracted only 17,500 per game this season. At a cash-strapped school, the empty seats have to be alarming. Then you have New Mexico State. That there would be little interest in the nation’s lowest-ranked offense is understandable, but the announced crowd in Las Cruces for the Aggies’ home finale versus Nevada was 11,775. Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal estimated there were no more than 4,000 there. Meanwhile, only 10,117 showed up at San Jose State for the final home game of Dick Tomey’s coaching career last week. Where will the Spartans go from here?
Back to tomorrow’s game—the Boise State offensive line has become the unsung piece of the puzzle in this undefeated season. The Broncos have allowed only five sacks, the fewest in the country. And they have depth up front now. Witness last week when Matt Slater had to come on for Nate Potter after his eye got poked on the first series against Nevada. The O-line didn’t miss a beat. “They’re protecting Kellen like he’s gold,” says coach Chris Petersen. “Part of that is Kellen being smart and knowing when to get rid of (the ball).” Moore has, shall we say, a unique way of scrambling. He scoots.
With this game, it’s not point-counterpoint with the numbers, it’s point-point. As in, Boise State is second in the nation in scoring at 44 points a game. New Mexico State is last at less than 12. The Broncos rank ninth in the country in total offense at 453 yards a game. The Aggies are last at 232. BSU’s Kellen Moore leads the nation in pass efficiency with a rating of 168.7. NMSU’s Jeff Fleming is, well, below the Mendoza line at 82.7. Moore has tossed 38 touchdowns—Fleming has four. New Mexico State’s leader in touchdown receptions is Marcus Allen with two. Boise State fullback Dan Paul had three last week. Y’know what? That’s why Vegas makes point spreads.
While Idaho anxiously awaits the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl announcement Monday afternoon, the Vandals can hang their hats on this: offensive guard Mike Iupati has been named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association. The 6-6, 330-pound senior is one of only two players from non-BCS schools on the squad—the other is TCU’s star defensive end Jerry Hughes. H-Bowl executive director is Kevin McDonald hoping and expecting all the cards fall into place to welcome Idaho back to Boise December 30 to face either Bowling Green, Northern Illinois or UCLA. The Bruins would be a longshot, but they’d sure be preferable.
The WAC, roundly pummeled whenever national media discuss Boise State’s strength-of-schedule, could get an ego boost from Fresno State tomorrow. The Bulldogs wrap up their season at Illinois (maybe the Bronco basketball team could come by to root ‘em on). The Fighting Illini are at the bottom of the Big Ten just two seasons after their run to the Rose Bowl, but they’re still Big Ten. And if this tells you anything, Illinois is favored by three points. But Fresno State will have Ryan Mathews back for this game after his concussion at Nevada three weeks ago. And Pat Hill, whose future with the Bulldogs is a little bit in limbo, lives for matchups like this. There’s another WAC versus Big Ten contest tomorrow, as Hawaii hosts Wisconsin. The Warriors are definitive underdogs—but if they win, they go to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
From September 3 to December 3. Yes, it was a transformation for the ages, as Oregon secured a spot in the Rose Bowl with a thrilling 37-33 victory over Oregon State last night in the Civil War. The 19-8 loss to Boise State on Opening Night is a distant Duck memory now. And to cap it off, LeGarrette Blount got his first carries since the sucker-punch night, rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts. It was a far cry from Blount’s minus-5 yards against the Broncos. Everything about last night was for Oregon.
Maybe there’s something to this Rivalry Week thing. The Idaho Steelheads erupted with four goals in the first period—and maybe Alaska doesn’t respond well if it was any ol’ regular season game in early December. But the Aces, while yielding another Steelheads score in the second period, tallied three times themselves to make it a game. It was then that the Steelies defense took control, leading to a 6-4 win, Idaho’s 17th of the season. John Swanson had two goals for the Steelheads, and former Steelie Lance Galbraith notched two assists for Alaska in his return to Qwest Arena. Scott Burt and John Lammers recorded no points nor penalty minutes for the Aces. There’s an Idaho-Alaska rematch tonight. Tomorrow night the Steelheads will try to extend their seven-game road winning streak when they play at Utah.
New Idaho Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon said before the season started that former Boise State star Roberto Bergersen would have the green light to shoot. So far Berto has generally deferred to teammates in the Stampede’s three games, putting up just 17 field goal attempts (he’s made eight). Consider that the Stamps, running MacKinnon’s new frenetic system, have launched a whopping 271 shots in their three outings and have scored 374 points. Bergersen and the Stampede wrap up their four-game homestand tomorrow night, hosting the Dakota Wizards again in Qwest Arena.
Illinois is brimming with confidence after its wild rally to beat 19th-ranked Clemson Wednesday night. Boise State will need athleticism, depth and some breaks to stay with the Fighting Illini tomorrow night in Champaign. Athleticism like that of junior college transfer Reggie Arnold, who’s averaging 12½ points through the first six games. Coach Greg Graham says Arnold gives BSU its first true “slasher-wing” guy since Jermaine Blackburn. Depth? Well, as a freshman, Paul Noonan provided firepower off the bench when he spelled Tyler Tiedeman during the Broncos’ WAC championship season. The way Arnold is playing right now, maybe that’ll be Noonan’s role again as a junior. Noonan has come off the bench the past two games and hit a trio of timely three-pointers in last week’s win over North Texas.
Former Boise State star Troy Merritt is a third of the way through the grueling six-round final stage of the PGA’s Q-School in West Palm Beach, FL, and he’s on top of the heap. Merritt shot a four-under-69 to go with a 67 Wednesday and is up by a stroke over Jay Williamson. Q-School competition goes all the way through Monday, with the top 25 (plus ties) earning PGA Tour cards for the 2010 season. Merritt has to keep on keepin’ on for four more rounds. Fellow former Broncos Graham DeLaet and Tyler Aldridge are in the hunt. DeLaet, the money leader this year on the Canadian tour, is tied for 16th, five shots back. And Aldridge, who was a rookie on this year’s PGA Tour, is tied for 31st.
This Day In Sports…December 4, 1988:
Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders wins the Heisman Trophy just before wrapping up a record-setting season that sees him break Marcus Allen’s single-season rushing record with 2,638 yards. Sanders also scored a record 39 touchdowns that season—Boise State’s Brock Forsey is second on the all-time list with his 32 TDs as a senior in 2002.
(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.)