Tuesday, January 8, 2013.
A lengthy column by Mark Zeigler in the San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday made the point that a return to the Mountain West for San Diego State is hardly the no-brainer that it was for Boise State. The fear in San Diego is that the Mountain West will float the Aztecs a lowball offer they can’t possibly accept by the January 31 right-of-first-refusal deadline. “Know this: SDSU is not getting the sweetheart deal Boise State did,” writes Zeigler. “But you’d think the conference wouldn’t want to cross (Bob) Kustra, its new kingmaker,” Ziegler says, acknowledging the Broncos’ role in a possible Aztecs return. San Diego State is really, really concerned about funding, though. Studies show that football travel in the Big East will cost the Aztecs $400,000 more per year, but travel for the school’s other sports in the California-concentrated Big West will be $500,000 less.
Zeigler sees the Big West as much better for all the Aztecs’ non-football sports, including perhaps men’s basketball. The Big West has already made men’s hoops concessions to SDSU, allowing for non-conference scheduling opportunities and the packaging of selected non-conference home games for additional TV revenue. And the Big East has a war chest of exit fees to make the Aztecs a special football offer if it wants to. Zeigler thinks there could be enough money for commissioner Mike Aresco to make a run at BYU. “If he backs words with dollars, it could get interesting,” writes Zeigler. But again, I just don’t see how San Diego State can jump into this Big East whirlpool, while at the same time leaving its Top 25 basketball team in hoops anonymity.
Meant to do this yesterday: I have to correct a hypothetical Mountain West TV bonus case from a column late last week. I wondered aloud, “If Boise State and Fresno State play on CBS Sports Network on a Saturday, the league is on the hook for $1 million?” Well, the answer is no. That would only happen if they play on ESPN, ESPN2, or the over-the-air CBS, NBC or Fox networks. Not that it stops me from wondering where all this money’s going to come from.
Shortly after Alabama finished clobbering Notre Dame 42-14 last night in the BCS Championship Game, out came the final polls for the 2012 season. For the ninth time in the past 11 seasons, but for the first time with more than one loss, Boise State finishes in the Top 25, garnering a No. 18 ranking in the AP Poll and No. 14 placement in the Coaches Poll. It’s the first time in four years the Broncos haven’t ended the season in the Top 10. Also of interest, the Mountain West finished with one Top 25 team, and the WAC two—Utah State was ahead of Boise State in the AP Poll at No. 16, while San Jose State was No. 21.
NFL first round draft pick Shea McClellin may have been irreplacable at defensive end, but Boise State came close this season with Sam Ukwuachu. The redshirt freshman from Pearland, TX, has been named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America after recording 4½ sacks and three fumble recoveries to go with 35 tackles this season. After semester break Ukwuachu will hit winter conditioning in earnest, trying to add to the 222 pounds he carries on his 6-4 frame.
Things get serious now for the Boise State basketball team. Very, very serious. The Broncos need only look back one year to see how serious, as Mountain West play begins tomorrow night at undefeated Wyoming. Last January Boise State entered with a non-conference record of 10-5, then went 3-11 in the Mountain West. The Broncos’ scoring margin went from a plus-10.3 to a minus-7.4. Their shooting from the field plunged from 47 percent to 39, and from three-point range they went from 37 percent to 29. Substracting the epic blowouts over Corban and Walla Walla, non-conference stats are similar this year. The difference is: the hope provided by two signature wins Boise State didn't have a year ago: over Creighton and LSU. The Broncos need to play the Cowboys the way they did the Blue Jays tomorrow night.
One increasingly proud part of Jeff Elorriaga countenance is the jersey he wears, No. 11. Everybody knows what that number meant on the football side of things here for four years. It was an innocent footnote when Elorriaga started getting playing time as a walk-on redshirt freshman. Then he began to get good-hearted needling around town when he became a starter last winter. “I just take it as a compliment,” said Elorriaga with a laugh last season. “I’ve got nothing on Kellen.” Now—especially after 20 three-pointers in the past three games—there’s kind of a bond, as Elorriaga’s work ethic, his quiet leadership, his dissecting of opponents, and his durability seem to fit No. 11. I will say this: Elorriaga is a lot more talkative than Moore in interviews (Kellen was beyond his years in learning coach-speak).
The Idaho Stampede’s three-game winning streak was abruptly halted by the Texas Legends yesterday at the D-League Showcase in Reno. Maybe the 104-84 was a step back for the Stampede, or maybe the pressure of performing before scores of NBA personnel staffers gave them a case of the yips. They led Texas 68-65 at the end of the third quarter but were obliterated in the fourth by a 39-16 count. Idaho’s shooting from the field dipped back below the 40 percent mark. The bright spot was Nolan Smith, the former ACC Player of the Year out of Duke who’s on assignment from Portland. Smith scored 28 points on 13-of-26 shooting in his first game with the Stampede. The Stamps wrap up their stay at the D-League Showcase today against the Canton Charge.
Such is the price of success. The Idaho Steelheads have been raided by the AHL, with their top two players (and scorers), Austin Smith and Justin Dowling, and key defenseman Jace Coyle going to the Texas Stars. Smith netted goals in 13 of the 23 games he played with the Steelheads and had ESPN’s No. 2 “Play of the Day” Saturday for his twisting, back-handed goal versus Bakersfield the night before. Smith collected three goals and four assists in his final two games with Idaho. Dowling has contributed at least one goal or assist in 28 of the Steelies’ 34 games, while Coyle has one goal and 12 assists this season. The Steelheads return to the ice Thursday night against the San Francisco Bulls at the Cow Palace.
Tomorrow is the big day for the College of Idaho, as the Coyotes announce the 17th football coach in school history—but the first since 1977, when the program was disbanded after the season. The new coach will have more than a year and a half to recruit and get the infrastructure in place before the Yotes reinstate the sport for the 2014 season. The C of I announced last May it was bringing football back at the NAIA level, to compete in the Frontier Conference. The Coyotes will provide a local landing spot for legions of good high school players who are bubbling under the FBS and FCS level.
This Day In Sports…January 8, 1963, 50 years ago today:
Don Shula, the defensive coach of the Detroit Lions (before they were known as “defensive coordinators”), replaces Weeb Ewbank as head coach of the Baltimore Colts, commencing a lengthy career that will make him the winningest coach in NFL history. Ewbank would go on to coach the AFL’s New York Jets—and in January of 1969 would beat Shula’s Colts in Super Bowl III, the biggest upset in pro football history.
(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.)