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Boise State football: An ESPN computer run amok?

You’ve got a new coach for a team coming off a nondescript season. But you also have 16 returning starters and an energy not been seen in years.
Credit: Marco Garcia/AP Photo
Boise State’s Khalil Shakir pulls in a 38-yard touchdown catch from Hank Bachmeier against Hawaii in an NCAA game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Honolulu. Boise State won 40-32.

BOISE, Idaho — Tuesday, July 13, 2021.

Are we still trying to make sense of ESPN’s Football Power Index ratings? Why, yes we are. It’s my turn to weigh in. So ESPN re-released its preseason FPI, saying there were errors in the first one. And it has Boise State busting all the way up from No. 78 to…No. 71? (UCF zoomed from 70 to 34, and BYU from 63 to 38.) The Broncos’ predicted record is 7-5. As has been pointed out, that would mean losses to UCF, Oklahoma State, BYU, Nevada, and some random train wreck. Yes, possible. But that means at least two losses on the blue turf. The Broncos are being docked points for having a new coach. Andy Avalos is not your everyday newbie, though. This Boise State program is part of his DNA, and from what I’ve seen, Avalos has this team really glued together. Pay no attention to that computer behind the curtain.

SOMETHING’S LACKING HERE, TOO

There was a lot of, shall we say, focus Friday on Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir being named a third-team preseason All-American by Pro Football Focus, which is great. Shakir and offensive guard Jake Stetz were tabbed first-team All-Mountain West by PFF, which is great. But Shakir and Stetz were the only Broncos on PFF’s all-conference first-team, which makes it either crazy—or concerning. Only two Boise State players were second-teamers: cornerback Markel Reed and kicker Jonah Dalmas. Where in the world is nickel Kekaula Kaniho? Well, he’s third-team. Kaniho and wideout CT Thomas were the only third-team picks. That’s crazy. Among the honorable mention selections was quarterback Jack Sears, and not Hank Bachmeier. Is that crazy, or is it concerning? Preseason predictions. Nuts.

THESE HONORS COUNT

Academic All-America selections this time of year are not predictions; they’re fact. Boise State’s Kekaula Kaniho and Riley Whimpey have been named first-team 2020-21 Division I Academic All-Americans by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).It’s the first time two Broncos have ever earned spots on an Academic All-America first team in the same sport in the same year. The last time Boise State had one first-teamer in football was Mason Hampton in 2017. Kaniho has a 3.96 grade-point average in health science—he was a second-team Academic All-American in 2019. Whimpey gets his first such honor via a 3.82 GPA in business. The only other teams with two first-team recipients this year are Alabama and Coastal Carolina.

FENNEGAN FISHING FOR A NEW HOME

Nothing coming out of the transfer portal should surprise us anymore. Quarterback Cade Fennegan is in there, intending to leave Boise State and play elsewhere. Most of Fennegan’s stats came against BYU last November, when he was pressed into action as a true freshman after a first-quarter head injury to Jack Sears and was basically hung out to dry, going 15-of-26 for 182 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and two sacks. Consequently, the sample size on Fennegan is small, and to judge him on that is unfair. He hasn’t had a chance to prove himself yet. But in this college football world, players often don’t wait around for chances. Fennegan’s a free agent.

AVERY’S HOLLYWOOD ROOTS

How did Avery Williams spend almost five years in Boise and keep this under wraps? Had to be by choice. ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein posted a story last Thursday about Williams’ Hollywood childhood, and how it shaped him for Boise State stardom and his current job with the Atlanta Falcons. His mom, Pam Veasey, was an executive producer on "The District" from 2000-04 and "CSI: NY" from 2004-13. Williams played catch on the CSI set with Gary Sinise, the show’s star and the guy who played Lieutenant Dan in "Forrest Gump." He and his brother Mason would play nerf backetball with other cast and crew members. Then there was mom’s influence. On a vacation when they were children, Veasey, who has always been into sports, had her boys read chapters from John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success."

THE ATHLETIC SINGS BYU’S TUNE

At the start of my time off, there was this in Chris Vannini’s Group of 5 Mailbag at TheAthletic.com. It gives us the flip side of BYU’s coin. The question was: “If BYU decides to join a conference in the next five years, which one do you think they are most likely to join?” Vannini responded this way: “I actually think the expanded Playoff makes it more likely BYU sticks as an independent, assuming a Power 5 league doesn’t come calling. A 12-team Playoff means BYU just needs to be a top-10 team to get into the Playoff mix. That’s very doable, as we saw last season. BYU has a good TV deal with ESPN, so jumping to the AAC or back to the Mountain West doesn’t provide a financial boost. And even if the G5 will have a path to the playoff, BYU’s path might be even better.” I disagree. The Cougars caught lightning in a bottle last year.

MERRITT PUTTS ACROSS THE POND

Boise State grad Troy Merritt has played in five PGA Championships, three U.S. Opens and one Masters. Now, thanks to several players dropping out of the field—some of them due to COVID-19 concerns—Merritt gets to play his first Open Championship (also known as the British Open) this week. He’s one of five alternates who have been moved into the field ghe past few days. The 149th edition of the storied tournament begins Thursday at Royal St. George on the eastern coast of England. Links golf is different, and it will test Merritt’s game over there. This is the summer to do it, though—he’s having a career year.

MYRON FINKBEINER’S LEGACY

Some good news posted by the Idaho Statesman’s Rachel Roberts over the weekend. The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame will have a permanent home at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. Priceless artifacts and memorabilia from the Hall are stored away in the Santa Clara Valley, but Roberts reports that they will soon be returned to the Treasure Valley with the help of former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier and longtime local sports philanthropist Duane Steuckle, who graduated from NNU. The university is preparing space for the display at the Johnson Sports Center. The best part: Hall founder Myron Finkbeiner was informed before his death on June 27 that his dream of a permanent facility will come to fruition at his alma mater.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…July 13, 1971, 50 years ago today:

The American League wins the All-Star Game, 6-4, marking the only time the AL would win it in a 20-year stretch between 1963 and 1982. The highlight of the night was one of the most famous home runs in history—a shot by Oakland’s Reggie Jackson that hit a light tower on the rightfield roof of Tiger Stadium. AL teammate Harmon Killebrew, the Payette legend whose two-run homer later in the game would provide the winning margin, said it was one of the hardest-hit balls he had ever seen. Jackson’s blast was estimated to have traveled 532 feet.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.) 

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