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Boise State football: 21st century tale of two mid-majors

There were lots of parallels between Gonzaga basketball and Boise State football early in the 21st century. There is separation now. How could there not be?
Credit: Matt York / AP Images
Boise State players celebrate after defeating Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, 2007, in Glendale, Ariz.

BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

The rise of Gonzaga basketball and Boise State football basically began at the same time, in 1999. That’s when the Bulldogs made their first magical run to the Elite Eight, and the Broncos won their first Division I conference championship and bowl game. The early part of the new century saw both programs build things brick by brick—the Zags making the Sweet 16 in their first two seasons under Mark Few, and the Broncos winning their first four WAC championships under Dan Hawkins and becoming a Top 25 regular.

There was a time when Boise State football was higher-profile than Gonzaga hoops, from the 2006 Fiesta Bowl season through the Kellen Moore era. Since then, Boise State has won a third Fiesta Bowl and regularly wins 10 games per season. But the Broncos have lost their perch in the Top 10, and Gonzaga has lived there in basketball, including a No. 1 ranking the entire 2020-21 season. Boise State has the longest streak of winning seasons in the country and is still the winningest Group of 5 team this century. It’s a sustained track record of mid-major excellence that will never be repeated in football. But Gonzaga’s story? Forget about it.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS

Boise State has long welcomed its football alumni back to campus—for the Spring Game, or anytime. New coach Andy Avalos has added a twist, naming four honorary captains for Saturday’s tilt on the blue turf. And we’re talkin’ familiar NFL names. Shea McClellin and Tanner Vallejo will represent the defense, and Alexander Mattison and Matt Paradis will show for the offense. The popular quartet is among more than 100 Bronco football alumni that are slated to be back in town for the Spring Game.

Three of them are still playing in the league—Vallejo for the Arizona Cardinals, Mattison for the Minnesota Vikings and Paradis for the Carolina Panthers. Vallejo just re-signed with the Cardinals for two more years and is expected to work more into the defensive rotation. Mattison is going into his third season with the Vikings and has been a dependable backup to Dalvin Cook. He logged a career-high 112 yards rushing in Week 4 at Seattle last fall when Cook was injured. And Paradis, the former Council Lumberjack, is a seven-year veteran and is headed into his third season ith the Panthers.

EYES ON THE QUARTERBACKS

In Boise State’s Spring Game Saturday, fans will be doing their own Hank Bachmeier-Jack Sears comparisons. But beyond that obvious QB derby, what else will we see? At the first practice of spring football last month, you could not miss true freshman quarterback Taylen Green. The 6-6, 213-pounder from Lewisville, TX, stood out merely by jogging down the field. “That guy’s huge. He’s got a cannon. I think he runs a 4.3 40,” exclaimed Bachmeier Monday. Even if the Broncos plan to redshirt Green this fall, the Spring Game is fair game, and maybe they’ll put him on display for a couple of series. The forgotten man is Cade Fennegan, who was pressed into duty when Sears was injured versus BYU last November. He’s still here. Fennegan went 15-for-26 for 182 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in that game.

COLLECTING CHIPS IN VEGAS

Talk about raiding the transfer portal. New UNLV men’s basketball coach Kevin Kruger has wasted no time. The Rebels have picked up three transfers from Power 5 programs, all of whom just appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Royce Hamm Jr. is a graduate transfer from the Texas with one year of eligibility remaining, Victor Iwuakor is a transfer from Oklahoma with an expected three seasons left, and Jordan McCabe is a grad transfer from West Virginia with an expected two years of eligibility to go. All three are expected to be be able to immediately. It is said that the Mountain West needs traditional powers UNLV and New Mexico to be good again. The Rebels appear to be making their strides.

A MAJOR MOUNTAIN WEST RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Last week, Tim Miles was rumored as a candiate for the head coaching job at Utah State. On Tuesday, Miles ended up at San Jose State. That’s a heckuva rebuilding job for the guy who has been a broadcaster since being fired at Nebraska two years ago. Miles, who has spent 24 seasons as a head coach, was successful in building the Colorado State program from 2007-12. He was not as successful at Nebraska. And the Spartans are something else. San Jose State fired coach Jean Prioleau after he went 5-16 in his fourth season at the helm. Prioleau’s overall record was 20-93. SJSU hasn’t posted a winning season in 10 years.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…April 7, 2013:

The Davis Cup quarterfinals wrap up an electric three-day run in Boise with Novak Djokovic’s four-set win over Sam Querrey, giving Serbia a 3-1 victory over the U.S. Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 player, severely twisted his ankle just three games into the match against Querrey but he played through it to send his team to the semifinals that September. The tie (as it is called) turned on Day 2 when the world’s No. 1 doubles team, Bob and Mike Bryan, was upset by Serbia’s Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac, with the marathon fifth set going 15-13. The event drew 24,715 fans over three days in Taco Bell Arena.

(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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