Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Down year ahead for the Mountain West?

The good news for Bronco Nation in ESPN’s first FPI rankings for 2022: Boise State is the highest-ranked Mountain West team. The bad news: the Broncos are only No. 47, and the rest of the conference drops off a cliff after that. How about Fresno State at No. 69, Air Force at No. 71, and San Diego State at…No. 80? It’s almost like ESPN took the league’s train wreck in the first round of the NCAA Tournament into consideration. Mountain West football did much better in its postseason, winning five of its six bowl games (Boise State’s was canceled, of course). I can see a little bit of a dropoff in ESPN’s formula, but not to the point that half of the conference’s teams come in below No. 100. It’s a Group of 5 thing, too, as only Cincinnati and UCF are ranked higher than the Broncos (at Nos. 32 and 33, respectively).


It’s “mock draft” season, and Dane Brugler’s mock at The Athletic now goes all seven rounds. Brugler sees Boise State’s Khalil Shakir as a third-round pick, 82nd overall, going to Atlanta. ESPN’s mock draft also has Shakir as a third-rounder, 78th overall to Cleveland. Brugler has 11 Mountain West players being chosen this year, with Colorado State tight end Trey McBride and Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma going ahead of Shakir in the second and third rounds, respectively. He doesn’t show Nevada quarterback Carson Strong being taken until late in the fourth. Meanwhile, Day 3 could be a landmark day for Idaho and Idaho State. Vandals defensive tackle Noah Elliss is projected as a sixth-rounder, and Bengals wide receiver Tanner Conner is tabbed as a seventh-round pick.


Not only is Bronco Nation learning about Boise State’s linebackers, the coaching staff is, too, coming out of spring football. Unlike most of the Broncos’ position groups, this unit is in “prove it” mode. Outside of Zeke Noa, it’s notoriously short on experience. Brandon Hawkins has been playing behind Riley Whimpey for four years and relishes his chance to start as a senior. Hawkins made one of the key defensively plays in the Spring Game, tipping a Hank Bachmeier pass into the hands of safety JL Skinner. But we still don’t know what he’ll be like when the popcorn’s poppin’. DJ Schramm’s in the same boat: a once highly-touted recriuit who’s also suddenly a redshirt senior. Could the Broncos be lurking around the transfer portal, looking for a linebacker?


Another reason to keep the Boise State-Fresno State game on October 8 on your calendar: the Bulldogs have leapfrogged the Broncos into the No. 1 spot in 2022 Mountain West recruiting class rankings. Jeff Tedford has been hitting the junior college ranks and the transfer portal hard since returning as head coach. Tedford figures that this could be Fresno State’s year and wants to strike while the iron is hot with quarterback Jake Haener and other veteran stars still around. He’s added transfers from USC, Stanford, Cal and Michigan State. And Brandon Huffman of 247 Sports suggests the Bulldogs aren’t done, noting there’ll be a second wave of transfer portal activity that could last until June and even into July. Boise State hasn’t dipped into the portal much, but stay tuned.


To Tyler Rausa, it was worth the wait. The former Boise State kicker, he of the viral videos the past two years, made his USFL debut with the Tampa Bay Bandits Monday night after weather wiped out Sunday night’s kickoff. Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh 17-3, with Rausa contributing a field goal and two extra points. He did miss a 34-yard field goal, though. Rausa didn’t miss many as a Bronco, setting a school record with 25 field goals in 2015 (Jonah Dalmas broke that mark with 26 last season). Rausa played for the DC Defenders in the short-lived XFL in 2020 and since has relentlessly auditioned for another pro football roster spot via videos of his long-range boots on Twitter.


Leon Rice stressed “player development and recruiting” Monday when he introduced Boise State Athletic Hall of Famer Roberto Bergersen as his new assistant. That’s been Berto’s essence since he founded Hoop Dreams in Boise in 2007. Coaching is in his blood, and so is this city. Bergersen transferred to Boise State from Washington in 1996, and he really found himself here. This is where he earned a spot on the Broncos’ Mount Rushmore of all-time hoopsters. This is where he started his family and followed two of his sons through standout careers at Borah. And this is where he spent a good chunk of his pro career, playing parts of six seasons with the Idaho Stampede. His best season was in 2007-08, when the Stampede won their only G League championship.

The first thing Rice’s surprise announcement told us was that respected assistant R-Jay Barsh has indeed been hired by Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. The rest of it was gravy. What strikes you about Bergersen is that he got into coaching for the love of coaching, paving the path to college basketball for nearly 100 Hoops Dreams kids in the past 15 years. Teaching the Broncos to rise to the occasion should come naturally. One of the biggest games of Berto’s career came in one of the biggest wins in school history: a 32-point performance in a 69-61 win over No. 15 Washington in December, 1998.


A couple thoughts on new Boise State basketball four-star signee Sada Nganga. This is where Leon Rice’s ability to develop players comes in. The 6-10 Nganga is a big-time talent—but a raw talent, as he continues to work the reset button after an injury wiped out his junior year in high school. Certainly there are precedents here. This staff is renowned for development. Chandler Hutchison was a prized recruit to begin with, but he became a first-round NBA Draft pick. Justinian Jessup was not a hot NBA prospect, but he became a second-rounder. And Derrick Alston Jr. is the best example of all. Alston was legendarily a 6-9, 148-pound bench-warming walk-on when he came to Boise State. He left as a legit NBA prospect and is coming off a solid debut season in the G League.


What are Abu Kigab’s chances of playing in the NBA? Granted, they’re not great, but it ain’t over yet. B.J. Rains of Bronco Nation News reports that the former Boise State star will play in the Tampa Bay Pro Combine next week. The event “serves as a gateway for prospects to secure pro opportunities with American and International teams including the NBA.” Six players last year made the NBA. Kigab participated in the 68th annual Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia last week. He came out strong in his first game, scoring 11 points and drilling all three of his attempts from beyond the arc while logging 27 minutes. The Mountain West Tournament MVP was not as sharp in his other two outings, scoring six and five points to round out the tournament.


There’s an empty feeling this week in one corner of the Grove Plaza. The Idaho Steelheads are supposed to be preparing to open the arena doors for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. But alas, the Steelheads are out of the postseason for the first time since they were born in 1997. It was the home ice that gave the team hope throughout the season, as they won 25 games in Boise, tied for the most home wins in the ECHL. But road woes did the Steelies in, as they went 11-23-2 in opponents’ barns. Another stat stood out downtown: attendance. The Steelheads averaged 5,009 fans per game, the best in franchise history.


Troy Merritt keeps rolling in what could be the best season of his PGA Tour career. The former Boise State star, who tees off tomorrow morning in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, finished in a tie for 12th last week at the RBC Heritage and made another $140,667. Merritt is up to No. 42 in FedExCup standings—the highest he’s ever finished over a full campaign is No. 56 in 2014-15. He’s made $1,396,726 this season and—with much of the spring and summer ahead—he has a shot at his best winnings total ever at $2,092,669 (also in 2014-15).

This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI BOISE…payroll, process and prosperity for your business.

April 20, 1997, 25 years ago today: In the nightcap of a doubleheader, the Chicago Cubs beat the New York Mets 4-3, ending the longest season-opening losing streak in National League history at 14 games. The Cubs would go on to finish last in the NL Central, ending the season 26 games below .500. On this day in 1988, the Baltimore Orioles lost their 14th straight game to start the season. The O’s would set the big league record for season-opening losing streaks by dropping 21 in a row.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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