Friday, October 1, 2010.
This meeting with New Mexico State in Las Cruces tomorrow night is a challenging situation for Boise State—in a much different way, of course. The Broncos are playing a team that has had all of four winning seasons in the past 42 years. They’re playing in a stadium that could be sleepy. Two years ago when the Broncos visited, the attendance was announced at 15,922, but there couldn’t have been half that in the stands. Word is that Boise State’s No. 3 ranking will push ticket sales to 20,000, but how involved will the crowd be?
At any rate, BSU will have to be self-motivated. As opposed to blocking out the noise, it’ll be all about blocking out the silence. But the Broncos deal with whatever the road hands them. Instead of marveling at how focused the team was in its 51-6 win at Wyoming two weeks ago, Chris Petersen said he would have been disappointed had they not been focused. The one-game-at-a-time thing. “The thing that we try to say to everybody: it’s not just lip service,” said Petersen.
You’ll recall a year ago that one stat everyone tracked was Austin Pettis’ touchdown catches, since they came with such regularity. Pettis had at least one TD in every game until the tail end of the season, when he was sidelined with a leg fracture against Nevada. Well, he’s at it again, with two scores against Virginia Tech and one each versus Wyoming and Oregon State. That has extended Pettis’ school record for touchdown catches to 33. He set the single-season mark last year with 14.
Pettis’ running mate at wide receiver, Titus Young, is off to a fairly spectacular start this season. Young’s 288 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) against Oregon State was four yards short of the school record set by Brock Forsey 10 years ago. The performance also lifted Young into the national lead in that category at 208 yards per game. This will be his Young’s first and only trip to New Mexico State—he was serving his second suspension of the season two years ago when the Broncos beat the Aggies 49-0. Young clearly has a different mindset as a senior.
What could New Mexico State possibly to do keep Boise State at bay tomorrow night? Get a little somethin’ out of Seth Smith, the Aggies’ feature running back. If Smith could get some yards on the ground to keep the aggressive Bronco defense honest, maybe new quarterback Matt Christian can make a dent in the air. Smith hasn’t had a 100-yard game yet this season. He rushed for 114 yards on the Broncos last December, but it took him 35 carries to do it. Smith ran for 52 yards on 16 attempts in last week’s 42-16 loss at Kansas.
It’s funny—almost like clockwork, forever, my Sports Illustrated has arrived in the mailbox on Friday. But each time Boise State has appeared on the cover, in August and this week, I received it Thursday. SI’s Austin Murphy does a commendable job of rolling out the “Great Debate,” pointing out the “genuine interest in discovering the identity of the best team in the country, regardless of conference or tradition.” Two sentences in Murphy’s piece sum up what the next couple of months are going to be like: “Steadfastly refusing to lobby for their cause are the Broncos themselves. To do so, they are certain, would diminish their focus on the goal before them.”
The cloud hanging over this otherwise sunny weekend is TCU’s flirtation with the Big East Conference. It’s starting to sound like they’re going to ask each other out. A TCU departure from the Mountain West to the Big East would be a punch in the gut to Boise State, which will have then seen all three of the Mountain West’s prized football attractions jump ship before the Broncos get there. So what would happen next? Would the Mountain West take Utah State and shut the door to stop the bleeding? A merger with the WAC would be distasteful the way things are right now. Here’s my question: At what point in this craziness would a strong Hawaii program finally become attractive to somebody again?
Idaho looks to circle the wagons tomorrow at Western Michigan, where the Vandals are favored by three points. They have some impetus back there. “I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t mention (to the team) that we are playing their homecoming game,” said coach Robb Akey this week on Idaho SportsTalk. “It’s a slap in the face.” Although Akey knows he needs the defense to slap its way back tomorrow after a subpar performance in the loss at Colorado State last week, he puts some of it on the offense. The Vandals marched up and down the field at Fort Collins—until the end. “We need to finish the right drives,” said Akey.
There’s really not a “Game of the Week” in the WAC, but there is an ESPN appearance tonight, as Utah State hosts BYU. It’s only the first day of October, but USU has already seen its season turned inside out. The Aggies were everybody’s sleeper pick this year—and despite the loss due to injury to standouts like running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Matt Ah You, they hung with Oklahoma in a 31-24 loss on opening weekend. But things have turned south after a 41-7 loss last week at Mountain West struggler San Diego State. Tonight Utah State faces a team as hungry as it is, as BYU also limps in at 1-3.
Tomorrow Nevada plays its first game as a ranked team in 62 years, with the Fremont Cannon on the line. The 25th-ranked Wolf Pack faces UNLV in Las Vegas, with a romp expected. So how high in the polls can the Pack go? When Boise State earned its first ranking in 2002, it ended the season at No. 12 in the Coaches Poll and No. 15 in AP. But the Broncos didn’t crack the Top 25 until early November that year. Nevada has a running start and could be knocking on the door of the top 10 by the time it meets BSU the night after Thanksgiving. In 1948 the Wolf Pack was in the AP Poll for six weeks and made it as high as 10th. By the way, the WAC has more teams ranked right now (Boise State and Nevada) than the ACC and Big East combined.
Two weeks after the Albertsons Boise Open, the quality of the talent that comes through here every year gets some magnification in the Ryder Cup. The U.S. team features no less than seven tournament alums, including 1996 Boise Open runnerup Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler, who made his professional debut at Hillcrest Country Club a year ago. The others who have appeared in Boise are Jim Furyk (a much wealthier guy after the Tour Championship last week), Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Jeff Overton, and Matt Kuchar. The Ryder Cup is supposed to start today across the pond in Wales, if it ever stops raining.
This Day In Sports…October 1, 2005, five years ago today:
One of the wildest games in Boise State history, as the Broncos erase a 20-7 halftime deficit with a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 69-yard return of a blocked field goal for a TD, and a rare defensive two-point conversion on a return of a blocked extra point to stun Hawaii, 44-41. Quinton Jones had the school-record punt return, while Daryn Colledge knocked down both kicks and Orlando Scandrick scored on both runbacks. The victory at Aloha Stadium was BSU’s 27th in a row in the WAC.
(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 served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)