Saturday, April 18, 2009

He's Back!

This will disappear off the ISU front page pretty fast, so I'm putting it here for a little while...

O’Brien Signs New Three-Year Deal

Looks to continue his successful run through the 2011-12 season

Pocatello, ID --- Idaho State University Interim Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey has announced the men’s basketball coach Joe O’Brien has been signed to a three-year contract extension that will keep him prowling the Bengal sidelines through the 2011-12 season.

O’Brien, the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Sky behind only Northern Arizona’s Mike Adras, has not suffered a losing season in three years in Big Sky play, going 25-23. Those 25 Big Sky wins were the most over a three-year period for Idaho State in the last 32 years, and ISU’s home sweep of the Montana schools was the first since 1996 for the Bengals.

Idaho State has qualified for three straight conference tournament appearances under O’Brien, including a pair of semifinal showing in each of the last two years. Idaho State also picked up a signature win this year, beating Utah 72-68, an eventual five-seed in the NCAA tournament. O’Brien’s teams have had several close calls on the road over the years as well, including overtime losses to Brigham Young and Marquette, and a two-point loss last year at Wisconsin. Last year Idaho State went 12-19, playing the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule, as 12 of their 14 opponents qualified for the postseason.

“We are excited to have Coach O’Brien back for another three years here at ISU,” said Tingey. “Joe has brought in a talented group of student-athletes that have brought some excitement back to the men’s basketball program. I am confident that in the next few years, under Coach O’Brien’s leadership, the team will earn a conference championship as well.”

O’Brien will face another tough schedule next year with road games at Utah, Brigham Young, Utah State, South Dakota State, and Notre Dame, plus a few more that are just awaiting signed contracts.

"We are very excited to have both a new contract and the opportunity to continue the work we started three years ago. I feel we have grown as a program and I know I have grown as a coach,” said O’Brien. “Next Fall our first recruiting class will be seniors, and they have some "unfinished business" they want to come back and take care of. Our program has made some positive strides the past three years. Obviously, the next step is to take this experienced group and compete for a conference championship."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ISU Basketball Schedule May Have Gotten Easier

Luke Harangody (right) isn't hiring an agent so he can always change his mind, but it looks like Idaho State's basketball schedule got a little bit more manageable next year. The Bengals are scheduled to travel to South Bend, Ind. next season to take on Notre Dame. Harangody, of course, has been an All-American forward for the Irish for the past three seasons, but he announced today that he's making himself eligible for the NBA draft.

Because he isn't hiring an agent, Harangody has until June 15 to pull himself out of the draft and retain his eligibility for next season. The various draft projections I've seen show the 6-8 forward landing somewhere in the middle of the first round. As he works out for pro teams over the next two months, he'll get a better feel for where he's likely to be drafted, and then make up his mind whether he's "all in" as far as the draft is concerned.

The Fighting Irish finished second in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) last year after a mid-season collapse that cost them an NCAA tournament berth. If Harangody does go pro, they'll lose their top three scorers off that team, including three-point gunner Kyle McAlarney and forward Ryan Ayers. Playing in the fabled Athletics and Convocation Center will be no picnic for the Bengals, but it will be a lot less intimidating without the rabid Harangody bulling his way through the lane.

The Bengals haven't completed their basketball schedule yet for next year, but Frank Mercogliano tells me that, while it probably won't match this year's killer slate, plenty of challenges remain. For one thing, ISU has to return trips to Utah, BYU and Utah State. They also have to travel to South Dakota State, and they get Boise State at home. I'm sure Frank will have more details as the schedule gets defined.

Farewell to Bruce Snyder

A lot of famous people in the sports world passed away this week, including Harry Kalas and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Somewhat lost in the coverage of those two passings was the death of former Utah State football Coach Bruce Snyder. Snyder, who was most noted for producing ranked teams at both Cal and Arizona State, consistently fielded representative teams at Utah State in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Bengal fans will most remember him, however, from an appearance at the then-ASISU Minidome in 1981, when Idaho State's eventual national champions eviscerated the Aggies, 50-24, in the second-to-the-last regular season game that year. ISU wide receiver Chris Corp had a career night, catching three touchdowns and making some of the most athletic catches I've ever seen. Snyder, whose team was denied a winning record that night, was classy following the game, calling Bengal quarterback Mike Machurek, "as good a quarterback as we've seen this year." That was a mightly nice compliment, especially considering the Aggies had played BYU and All-American Jim McMahon earlier in the season.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Desktop Background

Like I said....I've been inspired by our fanatical internet fans....I don't know how to post this stuff to our site yet, but I have a schedule wallpaper (oops, sorry Mr. Gates....Desktop Background) featuring Isaiah Burel, Jaron Taylor, and JD Ponciano (the three top returning receivers) available in the standard sizes (I checked wikipedia!) 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x960 and 1600x1200. That's a really small version of what it looks like....right up the upper left.

Until I can figure it out (posting them for instant downloadability), I'm happy to just email them out...just hit me at, and let me know the resolution you need, and I'll replay back with it. Oh yeah, constructive criticism is encouraged (along with other ideas on folks). Hopefully when we get a soccer and volleyball schedule done and final we can do the same for those guys as well.

FYI, three blog posts on a Wednesday!

1600 x 1200

1280 x 960

1024 x 768

800 x 600

Schedules, schedules, schedules

So as you may have seen (or maybe not, the ISU website wasn't updating for a few hours yesterday, but problem solved), Idaho State made a change in their schedule. After seeing a few things from fans that aren't thrilled about it, it occurred to me that I'm guessing most folks don't know how much goes into scheduling, especially at Idaho State where coaches are basically told how much money their schedules have to raise.

In football, you have the opportunity to make a bunch of money in a hurry in scheduling by picking up big money games. For Idaho State, originally, only one of those existed for 2009...Arizona State for $400,000. That was a deal brokered by Paul Bubb, who used his contacts with ASU, their A.D. Lisa Love whom he knows, and of course, their former coach Dirk Koetter, whom he obviously knew as well. Add a game at North Dakota, and a game at home against Cal Poly and the schedule is done.

However, that trip to North Dakota had just a $20,000 buyout, and let's face it, it is a tough game out's very, very expensive, and a tough game to win. Well, here comes Oklahoma. Jeff Tingey says no....they didn't offer enough...can't do. Well, here comes potential budget cuts. Well, here comes Oklahoma offering a half a million dollars ... hey, we are going to Oklahoma. Out goes UND, in comes Oklahoma, because let's face it ... if you are going to lose a game, get $500,000 for it, no? (Side note...last year Idaho State's games with Boise State, Cal Poly, and Idaho netted ISU just shy of $400,000. Have you ever held $400,000 in your hands? Well....I did. Oh. My. For a brief moment.....that was awesome...I digress)

So, now the issue is Oklahoma vs. ISU is on the same date at Cal Poly vs. ISU ... well, that's not good LOL. Tingey then swings basically the deal to save the season in a way, by getting Cal Poly to go to Weber instead of ISU, giving the Mustangs a shot of revenge against the Wildcats, getting the Wildcats a home game, and we are paying the $30,000 we had to pay Cal Poly anyways to come here, instead they are coming there. We still have to go there in 2010 (along with Utah State on September 11 for $200,000 ... that's another great get ... $200,000 for a day trip...woo-hoo! Aggie ice cream for everyone!)

So...ASU and Oklahoma, followed by Weber State, then a bye, with a bye at the end of the season too. Jeff worked pretty hard with Weber State to move that game, but they didn't want to move it to the end of the season on November 21 because of the BYU-Utah game that day (total assumption on my part, but in the past that has always been the reason. Paul tried desperately to get us and Weber to always be the final game, much like Montana and Montana State, who just move their game off the scheduled date and play it on the final day every year).

So, Jeff scheduled Montana-Western on a date that is allowable for Division II, Division III, and NAIA, but not for Division I unless you get a waiver from the NCAA. Because of the economic climate (not just at ISU, but the rest of the country), the Bengals scheduled Montana-Western on August 29, knowing they might have to move the game to the 26th. UMW has Carroll on the 26th, but they agreed to move the Carroll game to the end of the season. However, Carroll didn't want to move the game since it would mean playing UMW twice in three weeks. Not stated by Carroll, but I'm sure it was in there, is that we dropped them in 2004 to add San Diego State when Jim Senter got a chance to pick up an extra game. I don't know if folks remember that we got that game in part because Notre Dame agreed to move a game and add San Diego State in like 2015 or something silly like that.

So, when word started trickling down that the waiver wasn't going to get approved, which is understandable since the NCAA doesn't want to start a precedent (although let's face it....everyone else in America is playing that weekend...except Division I? Please...) Jeff had to work on an alternate plan. There were many involved (trust me...I came up with several scenarios) and finally, Jeff landed Central Washington.

While the Wildcats were 10-2 last year and very good, they do lose their All-World QB and some very big pieces of the puzzle. Still, it's funny for me, who hears almost everything the public says (folks in the grocery store and church have no problems informing me of things) that people hate playing NAIA teams, and then you drop one to add Central, and folks hate that too.

Now, I will readily admit, as would Jeff, Z, and the players, that it sucks to not have a home game against a perceived easier opponent prior to heading to ASU and Oklahoma, and starting with three straight on the road really, really, really sucks, but the reality is this....we ain't Montana. I don't mean that on the field...I mean it in the stands. Until the community comes out and fills Holt Arena (granted, we gotta win a bit more, but still....we didn't fill it in 2002 or 2003, save for a close one against Montana...11,434), playing money games is going to be a reality, and those money game dates are going to usually be the first two weekends of the season. There is a reason Montana doesn't have to play a money game...actually about 26,000 reasons.

Someone posted on the Bengal Den that playing three lower Division folks would at least mean if you go 3-5 in conference, hey, you are 6-5 and you can have a good record to talk to recruits about, but how are the coaches getting to see recruits? Say we did that this year...we generally pay out $20,000 to $25,000 for a lower division opponent, so that $75,000 we are paying out, and not bringing in $900,000 ... that's a million dollar sadly we can't afford right now, especially in this economic climate.

Anyways, this is a ridiculously long post, but I'm hoping it gives a little insight into the process of things. You do have to admit...the whole CWU/ISU thing is intriguing with the three former ISU coaches there, and five former CWU coaches here ... I would think folks would want to show up for it.

Well, we made the Top Five Twice
This is more of a diss on our opponents however, but we are there twice...gotta love the need for cash, eh?.

Quick, which program recorded the best winning percentage in 2008-09?
If you said softball, well, you probably cheated, because most folks probably didn't know that answer, but the team is 15-19 (shockingly I might add), and they have seven more games left, all at home. They have three this weekend against Northern Colorado, and if you want to see some of the best athletes in the school...come out to Rainey Park. The school record for hits is 46 set in 1979 by Chris Shoemaker, and you have the chance to see two players surpass it this weekend in Caitlin McGrath and Megan Miller. Kandis Clesson will go for the single-season win record too....should be a good weekend. Tim Flagstad has been dutifully impress as well.

Former Bengals Still Take Down Boise State
Ouch...Heather Dixon is ISU's career leader in home runs....ouch.

Nothing to Do with ISU Athletics
But all the same, these folks are deserving of the accolades...

Interesting Day on the Bengal Sports Front

For an off-season day in April, the Idaho State athletic department managed to make news on a couple of fronts on Tuesday. First came the announcement that two ISU women's basketball players -- guard Sheila Adams and forward Verity Peets -- have been granted releases and are transferring out of the program. Then came the announcement that the football team was unable to get an NCAA waiver to open its season early against Montana-Western, and will instead take on Division II power Central Washington in the fourth game of the season.

The football scheduling change will probably have the biggest impact, and it may not be a good one. The Bengals, already facing a brutal two-game run at Arizona State and Oklahoma, were hoping to open the season with a home win over a Montana-Western team that finished 2-9 last year. That would have at least given the home fans something to savor as ISU then steeled itself for a three-game road trip that also included defending Big Sky champions Weber State.
The ISU athletic administration knew scheduling Montana-Western on Aug. 29 was a gamble, however, because that date was earlier than allowed by NCAA rules. ISU appealed for a waiver, but was denied. Thus, they were forced to fill the hole in their non-conference slate with Central Washington, a team that lost to Montana 38-35 on a last-minute Griz field goal in Missoula last fall.

The Wildcats will lose all-American quarterback Mike Reilly (who, ironically, is from Kalispell, Mont.) and tight end Jared Bronson, an NFL prospect who may be drafted this weekend, but they still will return 13 starters from the 10-2 squad that lost to West Texas A&M in the first round of the Division II playoffs last season. Key among those returning starters will be Johnny Spevak (above), a 6-3, 200-pound wide receiver/kick returner who scored 20 touchdowns last year. Spevak caught 91 passes for 1442 yards.

While the Wildcats will clearly miss Reilly, who had an other-wordly 37-6 touchdown to interception ratio, they feel like they have an adequate replacement in Kyle Miller, a 6-3 senior-to-be who completed 6 of 8 passes in seven appearances last fall. Central also returns leading rusher Jerome Morris (500 yards, 12 TDS), and second-leading receiver Mike Waller (44 catches, two touchdowns).

Defensively, CWU brings back eight starters , including linebackers Buddy Wood, their leading tackler who also had five sacks, and Adam Bighill, who picked off five passes.

As Frank noted in his release announcing the switch, the ISU-CWU matchup will create all kinds of coaching crossover subplots. Not the least of which is that Bengal Coach John Zamberlin came to ISU after serving as Central's head man.

For a program in desperate need of a few breaks (and an easy win or two), yesterday's announcement was not exactly what Bengal fans had in mind. But Coach Z is one of the best I've ever known at not worrying about things he can't control and going about his business of preparing his football team. His equanimity will surely be tested next fall.

On to the Bengal Transfers

While Peets' transfer was not a surprise (she got very little playing time, even when the Bengal bench was badly depleted), Adams' departure comes as a bit more unexpected. She had moved into the starting lineup by the end of the season, after Chelsea Pickering went down with a knee injury, and was making a significant contribution offensively. The rub apparently came because she saw herself as a point guard, a vision that Bengal coach Seton Sobolewski did not share. Especially with veteran Andrea Videback returning to the program next year, backed up by redshirt Andrea Blodgett and incoming freshman Kaela Oakes.

Sobolewski would have preferred to keep Adams as insurance against Pickering's knee rehab and as an offensive option off the bench at the two guard. It remains to be seen if her late departure and the already-large recruiting class means Seton will roll these scholarships into next year. I'm told he's still recruiting hard this spring, though, so perhaps not.

Will the Big Sky Present in the NFL Draft?

I've done a little cursory research into various sites on the web, in anticipation of this weekend's NFL draft. Just based on that web-surfing, it does not appear that any Big Sky Conference players are projected to hear their names called on Saturday or Sunday. None of the draft prospect lists I've seen include a Big Sky player, and no one from the league was invited to the NFL Draft Combine.

I would expect some BSC players to be signed as free agents, and Idaho State's D.J. Clark, the all-league defensive back, tackle Evan Dietrich-Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Eddie Thompson would seem to be potential signees. It's a tough way to get into the league, but as former Bengal linebacker Pongo Tongafau showed, if you're good on special teams and find the right team with a hole at your position, the dream can be achieved.

Names familiar to ISU fans that may be called this weekend include Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, whose 4.57 time in the 40 at the combine may cause him to slide down from a second round projection I saw on him last fall; Boise State running back Ian Johnson, whose performance at the combine reportedly boosted his stock; BSU WR Jeremy Childs; and Idaho tight end Eddie Williams.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal, it aint' always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bengal QB Duel Offers Clear Choices

As I watched the Bengals' first scrimmage of spring on Saturday, it occurred to me that the quarterback duel between Russel Hill (right) and Kyle Blum offers the ISU coaching staff some pretty distinct choices. The differences in styles between the two QBs was very apparent, and once the coaching staff makes its decision on who will start in the Bengal opener against Montana-Western on Aug. 29, they will also be making a clear statement about the team's offensive approach.

In a nutshell, here's how I see the two contenders: Hill is obviously the more accurate of the two. He completed 9 of 10 passes in Saturday's scrimmage, while Blum was just 2 of 7, and those numbers are consistent with each QB's performance last season. Hill completed almost 62 percent of his passes last year, compared to Blum's 45 percent.

Hill is also the more cautious -- he dumps off the football a lot, and while that boosts the completion percentage, it also has led some critics to complain that he can't throw the deep ball. Indeed, the numbers show that last season, Hill's completions were good for an average of 10.4 yards per catch, while Blum averaged over 15 yards a completion.

Blum also seems more mobile, even though Montana dropped him for six sacks in his first start last year. Blum made a couple of big plays while scrambling away from the Griz defense in that contest and he put his big-play penchant on display in the season finale, ISU's only win of the year, over Sacramento State.

So accuracy goes to Hill, big play capability to Blum. And then there are those "intangibles" that all quarterbacks are judged on -- can they make big plays at important moments in games; do they provide leadership, on and off the field; can they read defenses? Those are factors the coaching staff will judge as they come to their final decision, probably sometime late next August.

Whatever that decision is will certainly impact the style that new offensive coordinator Brian Jensen chooses to employ. In going with Hill, you'll be looking at more of a "West Coast" offensive approach--short drops, quick passes, emphasis on accuracy and receivers making plays after the catch. Blum, meanwhile, offers the opportunity for deeper drops and longer patterns, more downfield passing and more long down-and-distance situations. It will be interesting to watch as the competition develops, with the next chance to rate the two coming in Saturday's annual Spring Game.

Truth in Advertising (And Weights and Heights)

Anyone who has taken the time to compare the listed heights and weights for the Bengal players shown in the ISU Spring Prospectus with those listed in the roster handed out at Saturday's scrimmage will notice some significant discrepancies between the two. Bengal SID Frank Mercogliano said the measurements in the latest roster reflect those taken at the recent ISU Pro Day, when NFL scouts come to campus to check out potential NFL prospects. Just looking at the offense, here are some of the more noteworthy differences:

Blum lost two inches, from 6-4 to 6-2, but gained two pounds over his previous "official" weight. Hill dropped from 6 feet even to 5-11, and fell from 200 to 193. Little running back Ben LaPorta didn't grow or shrink any in height (he's still 5-7), but lost 7 pounds, to 198. Wide receiver Keith Goins dropped 10 pounds, from 205 to 195.

The Bengal tight ends seemed to benefit the most from the arrival of NFL personnel bearing tape measures and scales: Bryant Ward went up from 215 to 225 pounds; Jon Van Vliet, although losing an inch to 6-1, grew from 220 to 239 pounds; and Tyler Hjelseth, while losing an inch to 6-4, put on 16 pounds to 231.

Frank said he's accepted heights and weights from the players in the past, and program heights and weights have always been highly suspect, not only at ISU but in all programs. The NFL Draft Combine typically "exposes" prospects who are shorter or smaller than advertised by their schools' programs.

I remember when I first started covering ISU football in the mid-1990s, I would drop by the training room every Thursday before my meetings with the coaching staff and check out the playing weights of the Bengals on a chart they had on the wall there. I remember watching the weight of Bengal All-American defensive end Josh Hays fall each week, until he was under 200 pounds by the end of the season. He started the season at about 220 (I think he was officially listed at 235), and lost weight just about every week of the year. He was still a heckuva football player, though.

Insightful Story on Three New Bengals

I really enjoyed Kelvin Ang's recent story in the Journal about three new Bengals, Roderick Rumble, Rustin Phillips and Kenny Viser. The article talked about the different ways each wound up being a Bengal, and none got here through the traditional way we all think about recruiting. Viser, for example, got into legal difficulties at Nevada and was booted off the team. Both Rumble and Phillips sustained injuries in their last seasons in high school and saw scholarship offers to bigger programs dry up.

More than anything, what the story illustrated to me is the nature of recruiting at the FCS (nee 1-AA) level. Most high school and junior college football players dream about playing at the FBS (Division 1) level. Those that wind up at a place like Idaho State do so for a reason. Sometimes the reason is as simple as no Division I program thought they were good enough. But frequently it is a case like those of Rumble, Phillips and Viser. The key to being successful at the FCS level is finding enough players who are good enough to compete at the FBS level, but, for whatever reason, did not get the opportunity.

More Off-Season Basketball Notes

  • A tip of the cap to Pocatello's Scott Thornley, who officiated the North Carolina-Villanova game in the NCAA Final Four this year. All the officials who work the NCAA tournament are rated each week, and their numbers whittled down based on performance throughout the tournament. To reach the Final Four is a huge compliment to any official, and Thornley has made it several times now.

  • Portland State is going to introduce Tyler Geving, who has served as a Viking assistant coach since 2005, as its new head coach today. Geving succeeds his former boss, Ken Bone, who is moving on to Washington State. Geving, 35, has been an assistant at a number of smaller programs, all in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Just a reminder that the beginning of the late recruiting period for both men's and women's basketball is April 15 (Wednesday). Unlike the football signing period when most recruits put their name on the dotted line the first day, basketball recruiting typically takes a while to shake out. Don't panic if the Bengals don't announce any signings for a week or two. The last I heard, the ISU women are hoping to fill two scholarships this spring, the Bengal men one.
  • (Update: Idaho State announced Tuesday that Sheila Adams and Verity Peets have been given releases and are leaving the program. Adams is a freshman guard who moved into the starting lineup following Chelsea Pickering's mid-season knee injury. Peets, a forward, didn't play much, even with the Bengals' thin bench. It is uncertain if ISU will try to fill their slots this late in the recruiting season, or hold their scholarships for the next recruiting class).

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy but it's always fun.