Tuesday, April 3, 2012.
Spring football is back this morning at Boise State. There’s something else back this season that may catch you off-guard. When a team loses 16 starters (by Phil Steele’s count, anyway), you’d think there aren’t many guys left who know how to find the end zone. Well, returning Bronco players bring 36 total touchdowns with them from the 2011 season. That’s more than 45 schools in the FBS scored as a team last year. D.J. Harper had 10 TDs, Matt Miller nine and Gabe Linehan five. Mitch Burroughs and Drew Wright scored three apiece. Ah, but here’s the rub. Boise State scored 81 touchdowns overall last season, topped by only Houston, Oregon and Wisconsin. Still, I don’t know of many coaches that would turn down a stable owning 36 touchdowns from the previous season.
What started as Nike experimentation with the Oregon Ducks less than 15 years ago has since exploded. Boise State was one of 10 teams for which Nike designed its first Pro Combat uniforms in 2010. Today the phenomenon reaches the NFL with a gala unveiling in New York City as Nike takes over from Reebok as supplier for the entire league. Designs aren’t expected to be as radical as, say, what the Broncos wore in the 2010 season opener against Virginia Tech. But the Internet has been full of leaks the past 24 hours. Very interesting leaks.
Spring football is done at Texas. And former Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, now in the same post with the Longhorns, has his own quarterback decision ahead. Coach Mack Brown hasn’t announced a starter and doesn’t expect to before fall camp. But Harsin has said both David Ash and Case McCoy have made major strides this spring since last season’s 8-5 campaign. As I read between the lines, I see Ash getting the nod when it’s all said and done.
There seems to be patience being exercised in Austin, as the Texas defense took a step forward in 2011. SI.com’s Andy Staples points out, “Texas coaches and players concede that Harsin's system takes longer to master than (defensive coordinator Manny) Diaz's, so they expected the offense might lag behind in year one.” Staples says the decision to start Garrett Gilbert (since transferred) at quarterback didn’t help. But Harsin was backed into a corner there.
Remember Boise State quarterback Duane Halliday, whose pine-collecting senior year ended with an amazing performance in the 1990 Division I-AA semifinals at Nevada? Halliday’s son, Connor, is a sophomore quarterback at Washington State and is getting acquainted with new coach Mike Leach and all his idiosyncrasies. Leach has said Halliday will be given a chance to challenge Jeff Tuel for the Cougars’ starting job, but Halliday hasn’t practiced since the first day of spring ball on March 22, when he took a shot to the area of his liver. Halliday suffered a lacerated liver last November in an overtime loss to Utah.
Earlier last fall, Halliday turned in a relief performance reminiscent of his dad’s in that legendary three-overtime loss at Nevada, when Duane Halliday came on for Mike Virden and threw for 382 yards for the Broncos. Connor relieved Marshall Lobbestael against Arizona State last season and threw for WSU freshman records of 494 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Sun Devils. Halliday played high school ball at Ferris High in Spokane, where Duane Halliday has settled as a successful executive for Lamar Outdoor.
At one point Mike Levenseller was rumored to be Idaho’s new offensive coordinator. Almost three months later he’s officially aboard the Vandals coaching staff, named yesterday as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Levenseller, who was an assistant at Washington State for 20 seasons before coach Paul Wulff’s staff was fired in December, reunites with UI coach Robb Akey. The two served seven seasons together while Akey was with the Cougars. The Vandals are still in need of a running backs coach.
The Idaho Steelheads don’t have a corner on the momentum market as the Kelly Cup Playoffs open tonight. They may have won twice against Stockton over the weekend, but tonight’s opponent in Game 1 at CenturyLink Arena can top that. The Ontario Reign blistered the team with the ECHL’s best regular season record, the defending Kelly Cup champion Alaska Aces, 6-1 Saturday night after a 2-1 overtime victory Friday. It’s a rejuvenated and hungry franchise—Ontario missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What’s more, the Reign have won all four of their games in Boise this season.
One of the busiest goalies in ECHL history, Idaho’s Jerry Kuhn, will have to punch his time card tonight. Kuhn, he of the 2,001 saves, will be tracking three Ontario players who racked up over 50 points this season: Derek Couture (61), Kyle Kraemer (57), and C.J. Stretch (50). And there’s an element of familiarity to boot. Three members of the Reign played for the Steelheads last season, forwards Geoff Irwin and Tristan King and defenseman Mike Gabinet. And Idaho defenseman Steven Tarasuk played 58 games for Ontario this season.
The Exergy Tour lineup Memorial Day weekend is up to 16 teams representing nine different countries, with representatives from the Netherlands, Taiwan and Ukraine added to the field for the inaugural women’s pro cycling race. The feature team, of course, is Exergy Twenty12 led by Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong of Boise. The Exergy Tour, which will cover more than 200 miles in five days across Southwest Idaho, is one of the final ramp-up events to the 2012 Summer Olympics and is the only UCI 2.1-designated race (meaning elite multi-day event) for women in North America this year.
This Day In Sports…April 3, 1989:
A year after Boise State fell to a talented young Michigan team in a tense first round NCAA Tournament matchup, the now senior-laden Wolverines win it all—nipping Seton Hall in overtime, 80-79, in the national championship game. The victory completed a dizzying three-week stretch that saw Michigan coach Bill Freider jump ship to Arizona State, to be replaced by assistant Steve Fisher (now at San Diego State).
(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.)