BOISE, Idaho — Friday, March 1, 2019. 

There are the obvious battles (quarterback and running back) and the not-so-obvious (linebacker) as Boise State spring football kicks off this morning.  You probably know the basics at QB and running back, so let’s look at the ‘backers.  Even with Tyson Maeva having been dismissed from the team, there’s a good core returning.  Essentially there are two starters: Riley Whimpey and Zeke Noa.  We won’t see Whimpey this spring as he rehabs last fall’s knee injury.  Not forgetting Benton Wickersham here.  But people seem to forget redshirts as they toil in anonymity—then suddenly emerge.  That makes DJ Schramm, the big get from Fresno a year ago, and fellow redshirt freshman Brandon Hawkins intriguing.  And the versatile Casey Kline, the four-star recruit who enrolled early last month, will get a serious look. 

DASHES & DRILLS IN INDY

“Moments of truth” may be too strong a term for Alexander Mattison and Brett Rypien.  But it’s time for the former Boise State backfield duo to hit the field at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis—Mattison today and Rypien on Saturday.  In football vernacular, Combine guides tell you that NFL evaluators will want to see Rypien’s three, five and seven-step drops, and go through the “route tree” for each.  That includes an out, a slant, a throw-in, a corner route and a deep route.  For Mattison, speed will be key.  His goal is to run a sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash, something he says he has done before.

Speed doesn’t necessarily equate to “burst,” though, and that’s what NFL teams like to see.  But Mattison is a complete back, and hopefully that will show.  Here’s his draft profile at NFL.com: “Productive, willful runner whose combination of functional patience and aggressive urgency helped him find his niche as an every-down workhorse.  While he has the ability to create yards for himself with adequate elusiveness and power, he's not a slasher or banger by NFL standards and he lacks burst to produce chunk plays on a regular basis.  Mattison is a jack-of-all-trades backup with the ability to step into a heavy-duty role if called upon.  His talent as a pass-catcher could move him up the RB food-chain.”

KELLEN’S CREDIBILITY

How does Jason Witten’s decision to return to the playing field tie into the Dallas Cowboys’ decision to promote Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator?  Well, Witten’s desire to depart the broadcast booth and rejoin the Cowboys only validates it.  It was just two weeks ago that Witten was singing the praises of the former Boise State star in his new job on the Dallas staff.  Now the 36-year-old star tight end wants to play for an offense run by the 30-year-old Moore.  It’s certainly good fortune for Kellen to have a guy who made 11 Pro Bowls in his last 15 seasons.  Witten says he's eager to join a talented young core in search of a Super Bowl.  The core includes Moore.

THE ONLY GAME THAT MATTERS: THE NEXT ONE

All this talk of seeding for the Mountain West Tournament is turning out to be idle chatter.  First it was Boise State making the top five in the conference so it could earn a first-round bye.  Then it was about the advantages of being a sixth or seventh-seed and the opportunity to play Cinderella, grabbing an easy first-round win and avoiding Nevada in the quarterfinals.  Now the Broncos are looking like a No. 8 or No. 9 seed, headed for a first-round date with New Mexico.  I doubt Boise State is thinking through that scenario right now.  The Broncos need to worry about one thing with a four-game losing streak: winning a game.  They’ll be underdogs in their next one Saturday night at UNLV.

With hopes of a winning season nixed, the drama now for Boise State consists of avoiding the first 20-loss season in school history.  (Man, I’ve gone kind of Negative Nellie today.)  The Broncos have lost 19 games once in their history, when they finished 7-19 in 1980-81.  Boise State is 11-17 right now and will have to win two of its final three regular-season Mountain West games—or win the national championship—to stay away from the dreaded 20.  After the Rebels Saturday night, there’s another road game at New Mexico next Wednesday night and the Senior Night finale against Air Force next weekend in Taco Bell Arena.  There were going to be some rough spots this season with Chandler Hutchison, Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder gone from the lineup.  That we knew.  But this season has been a disappointment.

TWO BIG TACO BELL ARENA EVENTS

March comes in like a lion tonight when the Boise State women’s gymnastics team hosts Washington and Utah State.  The Broncos are No. 13 in the country; the Huskies are No. 17.  Boise State, of course, will be competing without injured senior star Shani Remme but hopes its depth will prevail.  The facility crew will flip Taco Bell Arena to basketball for Saturday afternoon’s game between the Bronco women and UNLV.  Perhaps there’ll be some momentum from the overtime Wednesday night after that scare at Colorado State.  Boise State is trying to get some mojo back down the stretch.  If Riley Lupfer’s health continues to improve following her return to the floor in Fort Collins, that’ll help.

NNU OUT OF TIME FOR A TITLE

Thursday was a pivotal night for Northwest Nazarene hoops.  The NNU men led by as many as 17 points before forging a five-point halftime lead over Saint Martin’s In Nampa, but the Saints exploded for 60 points in the second half and beat the Nighthawks 97-87.  The loss eliminated the Nighthawks from the race for the GNAC regular season title.  They’ll wrap up the home schedule against Seattle Pacific tomorrow night.  The NNU women had their first-place showdown with Alaska-Anchorage in the Frozen North last night and fell short 64-55.  That all but clinches the regular season crown for the Seawolves.  The Nighthawks are now 25-2, and UAA is 26-1.

STEELIES LOOK FOR A WEEKEND TURNAROUND

The Kansas City Mavericks are a middling team in the ECHL Mountain Division, but they already have one notch on the belt in their three-game series with the Idaho Steelheads.  Despite their 4-3 loss at KC Wednesday night—and their defeat at the hands of Tulsa last Saturday—the Steelheads have hung onto first place in the division.  Reid Petryk scored one of the Steelies’ three goals Wednesday; one more will make him the team’s second 20-goal scorer this season, joining Steven McParland.

This Day In Sports…March 1, 1969, 50 years ago today:

After batting only .245 and .237 the previous two injury-plagued seasons, 37-year-old Mickey Mantle retires after 18 seasons with the New York Yankees.  Mantle hit 536 career home runs and played on seven Yankee world championship teams.  He won three MVP’s, four home run titles, and the 1956 Triple Crown with a league-leading .353. batting average, 52 homers, and 130 runs batted in.

(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.)