Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Nothing is a given in the Mountain West

That’s not the way Boise State wanted to set the table for Saturday’s San Diego State game. If you needed any more evidence that the Mountain West is a meatgrinder, you saw it Tuesday night in UNLV’s 68-64 win over the Broncos in ExtraMile Arena. The Rebels came to play. Despite the teams being even in rebounding at 35 apiece, it seemed UNLV got every big one. The biggest came with a minute and a half left. Boise State was defending an inbounds play under the Rebels basket with two seconds on the shot clock. UNLV missed the shot, but the rebound was tipped outside, and a short jumper by Justin Webster got the Rebels lead back to four. It spoiled a big night by Tyson Degenhart, who didn’t score until 1:15 remained in the first half. Degenart finished with 24 points, but he’ll rue a couple missed free throws down the stretch.

The loss ended the longest active home winning streak in the nation—the Broncos had won 22 in a row. They had also won eight straight over the Rebels dating back to 2020. And just when Boise State had gone from zero to 22 points this week in the AP Poll, eighth in line to get into the Top 25. The Broncos were finally being included as part of the Mountain West hoops elite again. It was all about a Big Six in the conference instead of a Big Five. If there’s a seventh, that would be UNLV. After last Friday’s win at Nevada, Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said, “They were tougher than us.” The Broncos could have said the same thing about the Rebels last night. “They were tougher than us.” But every Mountain West team is going to go through this. Utah State’s 15-game winning streak ended with a 99-86 loss Tuesday at New Mexico.


The high point of Boise State’s season a year ago was the February matchup against San Diego State that saw the Broncos end the game on a 14-0 run and upset the 18th-ranked Aztecs 66-60 before a sellout crowd in ExtraMile Arena. Expecting similar fireworks between the two teams this year, CBS (that’s “Big Boy” CBS) picked up the game nationally for an 11 a.m. tipoff on Saturday. SDSU, of course, would go on to make the national championship game, while Boise State exited the NCAA Tournament in the first round. We know what the Broncos did last night. Tonight, San Diego State plays a crucial game against Nevada in Viejas Arena. The Aztecs are coming off an 88-70 rout at the hands of New Mexico themselves—and they desperately want to bring momentum to Boise.


It’s “Way Too Early Top 25 season.” Some of the writers who do these things have paid attention to Boise State the past week, because some of them are including the Broncos. Respected West Coast college football writer Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News puts the Broncos at No. 22 in his early top 25. Yahoo! Sports tabs them as No. 24. And then there’s Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports, who’s projecting the first 12-team College Football Playoff field. His 12th seed is Boise State. (There’s a reason they call it “way-too-early,” because it is.) Then there’s Chris Vannini’s final re-rank this season of all 133 FBS teams in The Athletic. He places Boise State at No. 36, which is pretty impressive considering the Broncos were languishing in the 70s for much of the season.


Surround yourself with good people. The mantra in business and in coaching. Spencer Danielson has certainly been able to do that in his short time as Boise State football coach—in terms of players from the transfer portal and via new hires for his staff. The Broncos made the addition of Stacy Collins from Penn State official Monday. Collins was EDGE coach and special teams coordinator on Andy Avalos’ first staff in 2021 before departing for the Nittany Lions. Back at Boise State, he’ll be linebackers coach and—most importantly—special teams coordinator. Collins has been handed a pretty good linebackers room, but return teams are another story. Punt returns disappeared this past season for the Broncos, returning only eight boots for a total of 27 yards. It’s a tribute to the city, the program and its leader that Collins is back.


It has been said that KTVB’s Jay Tust may never spend another Boise State football game in the press box. Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. is known as an avid photographer, and he should be on the sidelines on the blue turf getting shots of his son, Tevin, next season. I imagine Tust will be somewhere near his boyhood hero. The younger Griffey is transferring to Boise State after four years at Florida A&M, traditionally one of the top HBCU programs. Tevin was a reserve, with 24 tackles in 23 games. He did have one blocked kick and one pick-six. Griffey has enrolled and be ready to go for spring football. Junior was in town with him on his visit and took in an Idaho Steelheads game, among other things. Dad, of course, had a 22-year major league career—his best years were with the Seattle Mariners.


What a tough deal for San Jose State, as coach Brent Brennan leaves to take the Arizona job. Uninformed Wildcats fans are going ballistic over Brennan’s 34-48 career record, but he worked borderline miracles for the Spartans. The timing is interesting, too. When Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy went into the transfer portal, I thought he’d be intriguing as a Boise State portal pickup, since his older brother Brock was heavily-recruited by the Broncos six years ago. Turns out Boise State found its ultimate fit with USC’s Malachi Nelson, and just three days ago, Chubba Purdy committed to San Jose State. That was just before Arizona coach Jedd Fisch committed to Washington, and the door opened for Brennan. It’s difficult not to wonder if Purdy might follow him. That would be another gut-punch for the Spartans.


Khalil Shakir is still the talk of the NFL Playoffs after his dazzling 17-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put away the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday in Buffalo’s playoff opener. The Boise State alum caught Josh Allen’s throw at the 10-yard line, was all but clotheslined by the Steelers’ Micah Fitzpatrick, spun away, and zig-zagged into the end zone—the Bills’ final score in their 31-17 victory. I don’t know what Shakir can do for an encore, but we’ll be watching the divisional round game against Kansas City Sunday night. There’s no question he’s a big deal in Buffalo. Shakir is only the second former Broncos wide receiver ever to score a touchdown in the playoffs. Can you guess who the first one was? It was Legedu Naanee, who made a four-yard TD catch for the San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh 15 years ago.


The Idaho Steelheads now have as many regulation losses as they had all last season, as a sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Mavericks in Idaho Central Arena has left them with a 23-11-2 record. The measuring stick is unfair, of course, as the Steelheads were an ECHL record 58-11-3 last season. The team’s roster was largely stable last year, and this year it’s been a yo-yo between AHL callups and other transactions. The good news is that the Steelies signed Boise native Bailey Conger last week, and he scored his first goal as a Steelhead last Friday night. Conger led the Junior Steelheads to a 14U Tier II national championship in 2012 with Zach Walker, the only other native Boisean ever to play for the Steelies.


Troy Merritt began the calendar year on the PGA Tour by making the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Not only that, he tied for 24th, earning $67,645. Hopefully that signals a change of fortune for the former Boise State star. A year ago Merritt finished in a tie for 65th at the Sony Open—then he missed nine straight cuts. He has a chance to set that history on its ear as he tees off Thursday at the American Express in La Quinta, CA.


College of Idaho didn’t have to live through that many close games last season on the way to a 36-1 record and an NAIA national championship. The Coyotes had to deal with one last Friday at Corban in Salem, and they survived 11 lead changes to take a 78-75 victory. The Yotes will only benefit from such experiences down the stretch. C of I, which followed up with a 101-68 trouncing of Bushnell, is now 14-2 and carries a nine-game winning streak into games against Northwest and Evergreen State this weekend in the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

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

January 17, 1971: In a comedy of errors, the Baltimore Colts defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, in Super Bowl V. The game was marred by 11 turnovers and a slew of penalties. The game’s most spectacular play happened in the second quarter, when Colts tight end John Mackey caught a tipped pass and romped 75 yards for a touchdown. Jim O’Brien booted a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left to give Baltimore the victory—at least some consolation for the shocking loss to Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III two years earlier.

(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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