Friday, December 15, 2017.
Okay, I’m just makin’ this up, but based on NFL terminology for injury reports, I’d say Boise State’s Alexander Mattison is doubtful for the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon tomorrow, and Jake Roh is questionable. We’re going on the assumption here that Mattison won’t be able to play after the hard-to-watch leg injury he suffered in the Mountain West championship game. Ryan Wolpin, one of the heroes of the title game, has 99 carries for 377 yards and four touchdowns this season. But is he built to carry the ball 25 times? Robert Mahone looks like he could be; he just has to perform. Mahone appeared to finally be getting his shot as October dawned, but that lasted only until he fumbled in the first quarter at BYU. He has three carries for 18 yards the past four games.
WATCH LIVE at 12 p.m. - Las Vegas Bowl pregame news conference
Into mid-October, the Boise State offense was the “The Little Engine That Could.” Then it became a locomotive over a four-week stretch during which it averaged 520 yards and 46 points per game. Against Oregon tomorrow, it’s “The Little Engine That Must.” As in, score the points it didn’t muster in the two games against Fresno State. Even with the Ducks’ biggest offensive weapon missing (see below), the Broncos will be hard-pressed to keep up. That’s where Cedrick Wilson’s supporting cast comes in at wide receiver. That group has come on the second half of the campaign. After skimpy numbers in September, A.J. Richardson, Sean Modster and Octavius Evans went on to finish the regular season with a combined 76 receptions for 889 yards and eight touchdowns.
Which brings us to Roh. He’ll do anything he can to get on the field at Sam Boyd Stadium. Roh has had a magnificent season, with 39 catches and nine receiving touchdowns—11 overall. If he’s not 100 percent, big contributions will have to come from fellow tight ends Alec Dhaenens and John Bates. Dhaenens, the senior from Fruitland, has 10 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown this season. Bates, the emerging redshirt freshman, is the trendy pick for something special tomorrow. He had three catches for 34 yards in the clashes with Fresno State. And Bates is from Lebanon, OR, so let’s say he has a dog in the fight versus the Ducks.
Oregon’s Royce Freeman isn’t probable, questionable or doubtful. He is out for tomorrow’s game, opting to avoid the risk of injury and preserve himself for NFL Draft preparation. With Freeman goes the Ducks’ career rushing yards leader, one of the Pac-12’s all-time best running backs. It’s a bummer for Oregon—and for college football, actually. It’s one of the new trends in the game, magnified last year when Christian McCaffery left Stanford and Leonard Fournette departed LSU before their bowl games. I like what Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney said last spring. “At the end of the day, any game is a risk,” said Sweeney. “Why play at all your senior year? Why play at all? That’s my personal opinion. But to each his own.”
GAME DAY GUIDE: Las Vegas Bowl
More hardware for Boise State center Mason Hampton. The senior and one-time walk-on from Meridian has been named a first-team Academic All-American for the second straight season, the sixth such honor all-time for a Bronco (Nate Potter was the last one before Hampton in 2011). The senior from Meridian was in New York City last week as a finalist for the Campbell Trophy and came home with an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship. Idaho wide receiver Jacob Sannon also garnered first-team Academic All-America recognition, the first for a Vandal since 1970.
Bowl season kicks off tomorrow, and the two games preceding the Las Vegas Bowl have their own local storylines. Troy opened the season with a 24-13 loss on the blue turf in September, but the 10-2 Trojans finish as Sun Belt co-champions in the New Orleans Bowl against North Texas. And former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. had an up-and-down season in his first year as a head coach at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are 6-6, but they did make a bowl—they face Georgia State at the Cure Bowl in Orlando.
The New Mexico Bowl overlaps the Broncos and Ducks later in the afternoon tomorrow, and Colorado State coach Mike Bobo goes into it with a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2022 season. The new deal increases Bobo’s salary to $1.8 million in 2018, and includes $100,000 raises for each year of the contract. The Rams will be playing in their fifth straight bowl game when they face Marshall in Albuquerque. They’ll try to put some icing on a season that went sour down the stretch with consecutive losses to Air Force, Wyoming and Boise State, leaving CSU at 7-5. Quarterback Nick Stevens and wide receiver Michael Gallup get one final game audition in front of NFL scouts.
At SI.com this week, there’s a lengthy feature headlined, “Chandler Hutchison is the NBA Draft’s hidden gem.” Jake Fischer tracks the rise and potential of the Boise State hoops star. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” coach Leon Rice said in the story. “We lost James Webb. We lost a lot. (Hutchison) had to get to that level. We had no other choices.” Fischer notes that “Hutchison had already filled out his brawny fame. He’s added 10 pounds of muscle each offseason, snowballing from a lithe 170-pound freshman to the chiseled specimen of today.” And the piece credits Bronco assistant Phil Beckner. “I know what Chandler’s gonna need to be a first-rounder, so I always kind of have that list (of things to work on) in the back of my pocket,” Beckner said.
Also in hoops, College of Idaho plays its only two home games in the month of December this weekend when the Yotes host Corban tonight and Northwest Christian tomorrow night. Bronco coach Leon Rice will be there tomorrow—his son Brock is now a starter for Northwest Christian as a sophomore and is averaging 10.4 points per game. It’s Ugly Sweater Night. I don’t know if Dad will participate in that.
The standings don’t mean that much in mid-December, but the Idaho Steelheads’ victory over Rapid City Wednesday night moved them into a tie for second place in the ECHL Mountain Division with the Wichita Thunder. And it’s Wichita who comes into CenturyLink Arena for the first time ever in a two-game series with the Steelheads this weekend. The only prior meetings between the two teams happened in Wichita during the 2015-16 season. Do you remember? Wichita is the team Derek Laxdal coached before joining the Steelheads and leading them to the 2007 Kelly Cup Championship. Laxdal is now coaching Idaho’s AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars.
This Day In Sports…December 15, 2012, five years ago today:
Utah State picks up its first postseason victory in 19 years, exploding past Toledo 41-15 with four touchdowns in the final 7½ minutes in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. With the score 13-9 midway through the fourth quarter, USU running back Kerwynn Williams busted off a 63-yard touchdown run, followed by scoring jaunts of five and 25 yards. Williams rushed for 235 yards, a whopping 191 of them in the fourth period. The Aggies, who had won the final WAC football championship, capped a school-record 11-2 season.
(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.)