The rare non-power conference spotlight

Friday, August 22, 2014.

Finally—a little attention paid to the Group of Five (college football's non-power conferences) on a major sports outlet. National coverage of the mid-majors has been noticeably lacking this summer, but at least Colin Becht of previews the non-power teams in capsule form in a new post. Becht has the five champions competing for the guaranteed spot in the access bowls as Cincinnati in the AAC, Bowling Green in the MAC, Marshall in Conference USA, Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt, and Boise State in the Mountain West (he points out that, despite Chuckie Keeton being back, Utah State returns just three offensive starters, including one lineman).

Becht selects three non-conference games that will define the season for the mid-majors, including the Chick-fil-A Kickoff that looms just six days away. "Week 1 will offer the first big clue as to whether Boise State can maintain the success it experienced under Chris Petersen now that Bryan Harsin is in charge. One game against an on-the-rise SEC opponent won't make or break the Harsin era, but this matchup should provide some early insight into how the Broncos will rebound from an 8-5 campaign, their worst finish under Petersen. Injuries and inexperience plagued last year's Boise State team. There is reason to expect improvement in 2014." Also, the Utah State-Boise State game to end the season is one of Becht's three key conference tilts in the Group of Five.

When Darren Lee made an interception in Boise State's Blue & Orange Game last April, he looked primed to make a bid for a spot in the rotation at linebacker. That position group was kind of makeshift in the spring, but it solidified in fall camp, and Lee is back in a fight for playing time. Ben Weaver's ailing foot has returned to health, Blake Renaud had a fall camp that indicates his potential can still be reached, Tyler Gray is looking resurgent after a prominent role as a true freshman two years ago, and Tanner Vallejo, who appeared to be headed for a redshirt year last August, is now a proven commodity. Chris Santini, Travis Saxton and Joey Martarano are knocking on the door just like Lee. It's true—linebacker is the Broncos' deepest position.

Fall camp has wrapped up at Idaho, with the focus now on the opener at Florida a week from tomorrow. Vandal fans still await coach Paul Petrino's announcement of a starting quarterback, and if Chad Chalich wins the job again, it certainly won't be by default. Matt Linehan has pushed last year's starter hard and may yet emerge as the guy. In two scrimmages, Chalich was 23-of-38 for 288 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Linehan went 39-of-72 for 539 yards, with seven TDs and two picks. Linehan likes to wing it, while Chalich gives Idaho a dual threat.

Is it hardest to develop the skill positions when you're building a program from scratch? At the College of Idaho, maybe not. Coach Mike Moroski said on Idaho SportsTalk this week he's been pleasantly surprised by a couple of his true freshmen wide receivers. One is Elijah Carter, a 5-8, 170-pounder from La Habra, CA. "He has some quicks and moves, and what surprises us is his toughness," Moroski said. The coach is also high on wideout Wes Fitzpatrick out of Hart High in Newhall, CA. Moroski says Fitzpatrick was "a Division I baseball recruit who wanted to play football," and he's playing it well. You can see them at the Yotes' inaugural Purple & Gold Scrimmage Monday night.

Taylor Kelly doesn't seem to get half the notice of some of the trendy quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Yet his team, Arizona State, is ranked 19th in the preseason AP Poll. You don't get that high a ranking without a good QB. The Eagle High grad is already a senior and is the Sun Devils' unquestioned leader. There's nothing wrong with Kelly's resume—he set a school record last year by completing 67.1 percent of his passes, his 57 touchdown passes in 2012 and 2013 are the most in a two-year stretch in ASU history, and he's rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns the past two seasons. Yet he's kind of a Pac-12 afterthought. "For me to have that chip on my shoulder and stay hungry and has always pushed me," Kelly said in the Arizona Republic. The Sun Devils open next Thursday night against Weber State.

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin met with reporters the other day, and the theme was "the forgotten man." The 2012 first-round draft pick out of Boise State is playing up that angle after missing the final 10 games of last season with a torn labrum. "Just laying in the weeds," Martin told the gathering. "I know what I can bring to the table and the rest of the team does. I'm sure other teams do, but I just come here and do my job and everything else will fall into place." WTVT-TV in Tampa notes that fantasy football owners are well aware of him. He's ranked seventh-best among running backs. "Oh, really?" laughed Martin. "That's respectable." Martin isn't into fantasy sports, but if he was, would he draft himself? "Of course! Of course I would." Martin and the Buccaneers visit Buffalo tomorrow afternoon.

Maybe there just wasn't the sense of urgency, but The Barclays got the best of Graham DeLaet yesterday. The former Boise State star, already assured of a spot in the second leg of the FedExCup Playoffs next week, struggled to a seven-over 78 in the first round of the playoff opener and is dead last going into Day 2. DeLaet absorbed five bogeys and two double-bogeys on the day. Fellow former Bronco Troy Merritt does not have a spot secured in the Deutsche Bank Championship next week, so he needed to play well yesterday. He did, carding a two-under 69. He still has some ground to make up to get into the top 100 in FedExCup points and advance, though.

A lot happened early in the Boise-Vancouver game last night, as the Hawks and Canadians were knotted at 5-5 after three innings. Then things calmed down in the middle innings. And in the late innings. And in the extra innings. The score remained 5-5 into the top of the 13th, when David Bote hit a two-run double to give the Hawks a 7-5 win. James Farris, Tommy Thorpe, Daniel Lewis and Corbin Hoffner combined to throw 10 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the longest Hawks game in 10 years. Hoffner set down Vancouver 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 13th to earn the victory. The Hawks have two more games left in Vancouver on their annual Western Idaho Fair road trip before returning to Memorial Stadium Monday (they're off on Sunday).

Brandon Guyer has to be our former Boise Hawk of the Day. Guyer hit an RBI triple in the first inning yesterday for Tampa Bay against Detroit and the Rays' former ace, David Price. It was Tampa Bay's only hit of the game, and it stood up in an amazing 1-0 victory. Price followed Guyer's triple by retiring the final 23 batters, nine on strikeouts, to finish an eight-inning complete game. "It's weird," Guyer said. "I've never seen a win like that." Guyer, playing in his third big league season, has been a steady performer for the Rays, batting .276 in 71 games. He was a Hawk in 2007, hitting .268 after being drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs.

The fall sports calendar begins today for Boise State, with the women's soccer team kicking off this afternoon against Drake at the Portland State Tournament. The Broncos meet the host Vikings Sunday afternoon at Hillsboro Stadium. Boise State's first home match is September 7 against Idaho State. Will the Broncos get an attendance bump from World Cup fever two months ago? Or is it already out-of-sight, out-of-mind?

This Day In Sports…August 22, 2007:

The Baltimore Orioles take a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards. Then all history breaks loose. The Rangers scored 30 unanswered runs to set a modern Major League record for scoring in a game, the first time in 110 years any team had reached that plateau. Texas had a nine-run inning and a 10-run inning, and Travis Metcalf and Marlon Byrd both hit grand slams. The Rangers scored more runs in that game than in its previous nine combined. Again, Rangers 30, Orioles 3. And it was the first game of a doubleheader.

(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.)


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