Tuesday, January 7, 2014.
I was going to talk about San Diego State’s Xavier Thames today anyway. The notion was reinforced by not only Thames’ Mountain West Player of the Week award yesterday, but an ESPN national player of the week honor as well. The Aztecs’ senior guard scored 23 points in a win at Colorado State last Wednesday, but he’s getting the props more for his performance in Sunday’s 61-57 triumph at Kansas. Thames scored 16 points at Allen Fieldhouse and canned four straight pressure-packed free throws in the closing seconds against the Jayhawks. I’d say that’s ample momentum going into tomorrow night’s clash with Boise State in Viejas Arena.
The last time Boise State saw Thames, he was doing the same thing as San Diego State ushered the Broncos out of the Mountain West Tournament in March. He was cool, calm and collected as he hit five of six free throws in the final minute of the Aztecs’ 73-67 victory in Las Vegas. Thames scored 18 points in that game—and 18 in the 69-65 loss to the Broncos in Taco Bell Arena four days earlier. He didn’t play in SDSU’s nailbiting 63-62 win over Boise State last February. In fact, this is the first time Thames has opened a conference season healthy in his college career. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy called him the “early MVP” of the conference after the Rams fell last week.
San Diego State parlayed the win at Kansas into a sizeable leap in the rankings yesterday. The Aztecs jumped from No. 21 to No. 13 in the AP Poll and from No. 19 to No. 15 in the Coaches Poll. They have won 11 straight, and—for the first time in school history—have won three straight games over teams that were ranked at the time (Creighton, Marquette and the Jayhawks). Bottom line: Boise State can still land that signature win it’s seeking this season. But it’s going to be an arduous task. Having already faced Kentucky and Iowa State, this will be the first time the Broncos have ever faced three top 15 teams in the same season.
Five Mountain West teams are unbeaten in conference play after Week No. 1, but only two of them are 2-0. Believe it or not, they are Air Force and Nevada. The Falcons, buried in the RPI ratings going into the Mountain West season, had the more impressive wins, taking down Utah State at home and UNLV on the road. The Academy’s best victory had been a 79-68 decision over Army in the season opener. The Wolf Pack’s wins were over San Jose State and Wyoming; the jury’s still out on the Pack.
FootballScoop.com reports that new Boise State coach Bryan Harsin has found his wide receivers coach, and he’ll be going from red turf to blue. It’ll be Junior Adams, who’s been guiding the wideouts at Big Sky and Division I-AA, er, FCS power Eastern Washington the past five years. The Eagles won the FCS national championship in 2010. Adams was wide receivers coach at Prosser High in Washington under Kellen and Kirby Moore’s father, Tom, in 2007. Adams coached Kirby during his junior year with Prosser.
Goodbye BCS. But if you’re saying “good riddance,” be careful what you wish for. Boise State played the system pretty well, earning two trips to the Fiesta Bowl and winning both times. It was hard to bust the BCS, but it’ll be harder moving forward. One team from the five non-power conferences will make it to what, in effect, will become a field of six BCS bowl games. That’s two more than we have now. Two of them will be utilized for the new College Football Playoff semifinals. And really, the other four are going to be watered down. You saw that with this year’s Fiesta Bowl. The Central Florida-Baylor game was good, a 52-42 UCF win, but it didn’t have the interest. University of Phoenix Stadium didn’t draw the 73,000-plus it did for those Bronco games. The attendance was 65,172, the smallest since the game moved to Glendale in 2007.
Word in Chicago is that former Boise State star Shea McClellin is moving to linebacker next season. A story by Patrick Finley in the Chicago Sun-Times says the Bears’ two top decision-makers acknowledge that McClellin, with just 6½ sacks in the two seasons since being drafted 19th overall in 2012, has been miscast as a defensive end in the team’s 4-3 scheme. “Putting him at defensive end, that’s on me,” Chicago general manager Phil Emery said in the Sun-Times, “not giving him the ultimate opportunity to succeed.”
According to Finley, McClellin said that if the Bears want him to stand up and rush from a two-point stance, “I’m comfortable doing that.” Chicago wants to make it happen sooner rather than later. “The whole idea and thought behind Shea is,” Emery said, “the high-end athleticism he has and his speed to handle the quarterbacks that we face and the mobility that they have.” He compared McClellin’s versatility, body type and athleticism to the Patriots’ Rob Ninkovich, the Jaguars’ Jason Babin and the Bills’ Jerry Hughes, who found success after parting with the teams that drafted them. “What I want for Shea is for it not to take that long,” Emery said. “For us to find that role. Not for the Patriots or the Bills or the Jaguars or the Eagles to find those roles, but for us.”
Back to the hardwood—the Idaho Stampede have their first winning streak since mid-December after beating the Canton Charge 93-88 yesterday at the D-League Showcase in Reno. The Stampede trailed by seven with 7½ minutes remaining in the game before rolling off a 14-3 run, and they didn’t trail again. With CJ McCollum back in Portland, the usual suspects took the spotlight for the Stamps. Pierre Jackson scored a game-high 33 points and dished out eight assists, Richard Howell posted another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dallas Lauderdale added eight points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. The Stampede play the Erie BayHawks tomorrow to wrap up their Showcase stay.
This Day In Sports…January 7, 2013:
Seems like so long ago for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was No. 1 and Alabama was No.2—until the Crimson Tide obliterated the Irish 42-14 in the BCS Championship Game. The vaunted Notre Dame defense was no match for the Tide and game MVP Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, sometimes through missed tackles by Notre Dame star linebacker Man’ti Teo. The national title was the third in four years for Alabama and coach Nick Saban and was the seventh straight BCS crown captured by the SEC.
(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.)