Thursday, December 27, 2012.
The final football game in the history of the Western Athletic Conference will be played today, a little more than 50 years after the first. San Jose State gets the honor, as it faces Bowling Green in the Miltary Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. The WAC becomes the first Division I conference to abandon football since the Southwest Conference ceased to exist 16½ years ago. By next July, the non-football WAC will be totally unrecognizable, with Cal State Bakersfield, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American, and Chicago State joining the conference. Holdovers at that time will be Idaho (for one more year), New Mexico State and Seattle. At that point, 26 schools will have come and gone since the WAC was founded in 1962.
Think about that 2013 membership roster and your jaw drops when you consider that the original WAC included Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, New Mexico , Utah and Wyoming. Yet, the WAC was still shaking the foundation of college football as recently as three years ago, when Boise State beat TCU in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos added that trophy to the one they earned in one of the most famous games in history in the same bowl three years earlier, the 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma. Most scribes still tab BYU’s 1984 national championship as the WAC’s all-time highlight. The Heisman Trophy won by Cougar quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990 is up there, too.
San Jose State, which has gone from 1-12 in 2009 to 10-2 this season, will be in the Mountain West next year—and SJSU athletic director Gene Bleymaier will return to the conference. Now the Spartans try to do what is so difficult for most mid-majors: sustain success, especially with coach Mike McIntyre having departed for Colorado. More importantly, though, will San Jose State be taken seriously, even in the Mountain West? It’s one of the most attendance-challenged schools in the country, finishing 118th of 120 FBS schools with just 10,789 fans per game. In a landmark season no less. There’s a sidebar. Will Bleymaier’s old school magically reappear in the Mountain West? At least in 2014? Boise State and San Jose State never seemed compatible. Bleymaier wants to build toward changing that perception…if he sees the Broncos again.
This number hasn’t been updated since Boise State’s win over Washington in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas last Saturday. The Broncos, after going for so long without ever beating a Pac-12 school, have improved to 7-11 all-time against the conference. Coach Chris Petersen has gone 6-1. If you go with current members of the Pac-12 and include Utah (and what the heck, let’s include Utah), Boise State is 12-13. Using that frame of reference, the Broncos can shoot for .500 versus the Pac-12 next August when they visit Washington, site of Petersen’s only loss to the conference in 2007.
The only question regarding Oregon coach Chip Kelly and the NFL appears to be, “Does he want to go?” Because if Kelly does, he’s likely gone. The first two teams said to be standing in line are Philadelphia and Carolina. Kelly and the Ducks face Kansas State a week from tonight in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl—after that anything can happen. If Kelly elects to jump to the NFL, then the Chris Petersen cauldron rises to a boil all over again, with Boise State hoping that one-time Bronco assistant Mark Helfrich, currently Oregon’s offensive coordinator, is indeed the coach-in-waiting in Eugene.
Former Idaho star Mike Iupati not only received his first Pro Bowl bid yesterday, he was named a starter for the NFC at offensive guard for the January 27 game at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com says Iupati, in his third season with the 49ers, “defines the term ‘mauler.’” Former Boise State stalwart Ryan Clady is set for his third Pro Bowl, this time as a backup. Clady has done a masterful job of protecting Peyton Manning for Denver this season. And Minnesota’s Jared Allen, the Idaho State product, is in the Pro Bowl again as a backup defensive end. Allen hasn’t had the best of seasons, but his reputation precedes him. Former Boise State star and current Tampa Bay rookie standout Doug Martin is an alternate.
As Boise State awaits its next hoops outing Sunday against Corban in Taco Bell Arena, let’s see how the Broncos stack up in the Mountain West. Their 9-2 record is only sixth-best in the league, which is off to a great start this season. Every team except one, Fresno State (5-7), has a winning record. Boise State is in the middle of the pack in most team stats. The exceptions: BSU is hitting 39.6 percent of its three-pointers, tops in the Mountain West. And the Broncos are last in the conference in field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 45 percent from the field. They’re also at the bottom in blocked shots, netting less than two per game. Individually, Boise State’s Derrick Marks is the Mountain West’s third-leading scorer with 19 points per game. Marks leads in free throw shooting at just under 90 percent and in steals with 2.6 a game.
The thing that bugs Idaho Stampede coach Michael Peck the most is turnovers, and Peck was bugged again last night. The Stampede had 20 turnovers as they lost 108-94 to the Maine Red Claws in CenturyLink Arena. “We have to value our possessions—not turn the ball over,” said Peck yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk. “Make every possession count.” The Stamps were also victimized by former Syracuse star Fab Melo, currently assigned to Maine by the Boston Celtics. Melo poured in 32 points and blocked a whopping nine shots. The Stampede, now 1-11, stay home for a pair of games this weekend against the Reno Bighorns.
The ECHL season, 72 games long, is a marathon, not a sprint. So there’s no reason for the Steelheads to fret over their first three-game losing streak of the campaign. The Steelheads are enjoying their one-week Christmas break with a 18-7-4 record, good for 40 points and third place in the ECHL's Western Division. At Christmas last year, Idaho was 15-12-3, the best winning percentage the Steelies would have all season. The Steelheads resume action Saturday night at Bakersfield.
This Day In Sports…December 27, 1998:
A high point in Capital High grad Jake Plummer’s NFL career, when Chris Jacke hits a 52-yard field goal as time runs out to give Arizona a 16-13 win over San Diego at Sun Devil Stadium. The victory clinched the Cardinals’ first playoff berth since moving to Phoenix from St. Louis in 1988. The following week, Plummer would lead the Cards to their first playoff win in half a century with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
(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.)