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Neither team in the Fiesta Bowl used to be a mid-major

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on December 15, 2009 at 8:24 AM


Tuesday, December 15, 2009.
TCU and Boise State are now known as “non-BCS schools,” or “non-automatic qualifiers,” or “mid-majors.” Just 15 years ago, neither school was in that category—then again they couldn’t have been more diametrically different. The Horned Frogs were in the storied Southwest Conference with Texas and Texas A&M and company. But storm clouds were forming, as the SWC had one season left. It was a scary time for a proud program. If you saw the old film of TCU’s Davey O’Brien accepting the 1938 Heisman Trophy Saturday night, you know where the Horned Frogs come from. The Frogs won national championships in 1935 and 1938, but the major college football world had changed a ton by ‘94.
In 1994, Boise State was in the midst of its run to the Division I-AA national championship game and had just been invited to the Big West—set to make the move to Division I-A two years later. Few could have forecast the rollercoaster awaiting the Broncos over the following several years with the 2-10 season in 1996 and the death of Pokey Allen, but no one could have predicted what would happen beginning in 1999. The “Golden Era” has now produced 121 wins and just 20 losses in 11 seasons. Coach Chris Petersen says even he is blown away by how quickly things have happened at Boise State in its brief 14-season history as an FBS school. The Fiesta Bowl participants are steeped in entirely different kinds of history.
If you’re looking for more shoulder chip material for Boise State, Ed Cunningham has provided it on ESPN’s “Bowl Mania.” That’s where you’re asked to pick the winner of all 34 bowl games—and rank them in order of how confident you are in each of your picks. Cunningham gives his 34 points, his No. 1 “absolute lock” of the bowl season, to TCU over Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Cunningham says the Horned Frogs are playing with too much confidence right now for the Broncos to hang with them. Geez, he talks up the Frogs like they were Oklahoma or somethin’.
You know Boise State will be tracking the whereabouts of Jerry Hughes on January 4. It’s not easy to track TCU’s star defensive end right now, as he travels the country picking up hardware. Hughes is the 2009 winner of the Lott Trophy, accepting the award Sunday during a ceremony in Newport Beach. The Lott Trophy, named after former USC and 49ers All-Pro safety Ronnie Lott, honors the nation’s top defensive player, combining on-field performance with personal character. Hughes also won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end a week ago and is assembling a nice collection of first-team All-America honors. 
The Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl will be staying true to its roots two nights before the game, as Rocky Bleier will be the keynote speaker at the Humanitarian Awards Dinner. Bleier’s NFL career was famously interrupted by two years of service in Vietnam. He suffered a combat injury that he had to overcome to rejoin the Steelers. Bleier then won four Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh in the 1970’s. It’s a story too many people have forgotten (or have never heard). The event December 28 will feature both teams, Idaho and Bowling Green, and will honor one Vandal and one Falcon with this year’s Humanitarian Awards for athletic achievement, community service and academic performance.
Ah, the message boards are going crazy in Bulldog Country. Fresno State and coach Pat Hill have agreed to agree on a contract extension, details of which are to be determined after the holidays. Hill has coached the Bulldogs since 1997 and has gone 100-65. But he has never won an outright WAC championship (Fresno State shared one in 1999) and has gone 1-8 against Boise State in WAC play. Those items have been the focus of the undercurrent of Fresno fans who had hoped for a change. That group sees this Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl berth versus 6-6 Wyoming as a symbol of underachievement.
If you watched Montana’s game in the FCS (Division I-AA) playoffs Saturday, you saw why Missoula is one of the only true football towns in the West. The Grizzlies, who went down to the final second in holding off Appalachian State 24-17 to reach this Friday’s national championship game against Villanova, filled up their stadium once again despite a 17-degree afternoon that morphed into a snowy, windy evening. To appreciate that, remember that playoff-hosting teams have to sell every seat from scratch in one week’s time—and this was Montana’s third consecutive home playoff game. Every time ESPN’s cameras panned the crowd (and fans seemed to be aware of every possible angle), the Griz faithful were going nuts. It was an incredible scene. 
Montana drew 24,207 Saturday and averaged 25,652 during the regular season, a number that would rank fourth in the WAC behind Hawaii, Boise State and Fresno State. So why is it that whenever a possible need for future WAC expansion is discussed, the Grizzlies aren’t mentioned? After all, they’ve won 119 football games this decade, have taken 12 straight Big Sky championships, and have made the FCS playoffs 17 consecutive years. And their other sports are strong. Well, it’s because Montana doesn’t want to jeopardize a perfect situation in a small market and risk mediocrity as an FBS school. The Griz are fat and happy at the FBS level. (And besides, it would be tough to push through a move to the WAC without Montana State).
Maybe D-League opponents have enough tape on the Idaho Stampede now to start to figure them out. The Stampede were held under 100 points last night for the first time this season, falling 104-96 at Utah. The Stamps shot only 42½ percent from the field, with leading scorer Sundiata Gaines going just 5-for-15 from the field and just 1-for-5 from three-point range. Gaines scored 14 points. Cedric Simmons had his best game since joining Idaho, though, putting up 26 points. The Stampede drop to 4-3 and head to Bakersfield to face the Jam on Friday.
Sometimes John Lackey seems as big as the Green Monster when he occupies the mound. Now fans in Fenway Park will be able to size up the former Boise Hawk regularly as he appears poised to leave the Angels for a reported five-year, $85 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Lackey spent the first eight seasons of his big league career in Anaheim, famously becoming the first rookie in 93 years to win a Game 7 of a World Series when he beat the Giants in 2002. One of the big prizes of the 2009 free agent class, the 6-6 righthander has a career record of 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA. 
This Day In Sports…December 15, 1982:
Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant announces his retirement from football. Bryant, who has spent 38 years as a head coach, retires as the winningest coach in college football history—323 wins with the Crimson Tide, Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Maryland. Ray Perkins would replace him as Alabama head coach.
(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.)