Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien had just completed his stunning starting debut two years ago at Virginia when the fan fever back home got a little out of control.
“We’re just counting down to 51 wins,” someone tweeted to the reporters covering that game — a reference to what it would take for Rypien, one of the Broncos’ most-heralded recruits, to break Kellen Moore’s college football record for career victories.
That tweet might have been somewhat in jest — but it provided a glimpse of how high, and unrealistic, the expectations for Rypien would become.
And that high bar has colored the reaction to everything Rypien has done since.
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Coming off the Broncos’ worst home loss in 16 years against that same Virginia program, many Bronco fans would prefer that coaches turn the offense over to senior backup Montell Cozart — a less-gifted passer but the only consistently effective rusher the team has.
And whether that happens could depend upon how Rypien responds to his adversity-filled September — beginning Friday night in Provo, Utah, against a BYU team that has given BSU quarterbacks fits.
“It’s a really tough challenge for him,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “... He’s had some struggles. Does that make him a bad football player? No, it doesn’t. It just means he’s struggled. So how are you going to come back and respond? What did you learn?
“... Any competitor in this world has an edge to him when there is adversity. You don’t want that. You want to find a way to get out of it as fast as you can.”
Rypien was pulled from the season opener against Troy because of ineffectiveness at least partially caused by an overwhelmed offensive line. He fumbled for a defensive touchdown on a crushing hit against Washington State and was knocked out of the game on another big hit before the first quarter was over. He missed the New Mexico game with an undisclosed injury, then was let down by an array of drops in the Virginia game (the Broncos had nine total).
Rypien’s efficiency rating of 114.7 ranks 105th in the nation — a stunning drop-off for the two-time All-Mountain West quarterback. Of those 105 quarterbacks, he’s the only one without a touchdown pass.
Rypien is surrounded by inexperienced players and that has contributed to his slow start. He needs to lead that young offense, Harsin said, but he can’t catch his own passes.
“We’ve got to execute better around him,” Harsin said. “He can’t put on a cape and go out and do everything.”
Nor can the Broncos (2-2) achieve their primary goal — a Mountain West championship — if their offensive leader doesn’t overcome an ugly September that Rypien surely didn’t see coming.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of,” Harsin said after the Virginia debacle, “when we get a chance to go play again.”
And the winner is ...
It’s hard to believe this is the Boise State team that will get the Broncos’ first win in Provo since 2003. It’s also hard to believe a BYU team that scores 12.6 points per game is going to find an offensive spark against a talented Boise State defense that’s coming off a subpar performance and a bye week.
The game was a topic this week on ESPN’s “Behind the Bets” podcast. Boise State is favored by seven points, down from nine earlier in the week.
“I absolutely love BYU this week,” said co-host Steve Coughlin, known as Stanford Steve on “SportsCenter.” “... I don’t like what I see (from Boise State). I thought I liked Rypien, too — huh-uh.”
If we knew that BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum would play and be reasonably healthy, I’d take the Cougars. But given how bad their quarterback situation is without him, I’ll take the Broncos in an ugly game that will be high-scoring only if turnovers get out of control.
Boise State 20, BYU 17
College football spotlight
National game of the week — No. 23 West Virginia at No. 8 TCU (-13.5), 1:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1: The Horned Frogs befuddled Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They should be able to do the same against the Mountaineers at home. TCU 47, West Virginia 24
Pac-12 game of the week — Stanford (-4) at No. 20 Utah, 8:15 p.m., FS1: The nation’s No. 10 rush defense takes a shot at Stanford’s Bryce Love, who averages a mind-boggling 11.1 yards per carry (98 rushes, 1,088 yards). Utah 24, Stanford 20
Mountain West game of the week — Colorado State (-8) at Utah State, 2:30 p.m., ROOT: The winner emerges as the top challenger to Boise State in the Mountain Division. The Rams are on the road again after a trip to Hawaii — and they’re headed to Logan, the Land of Turnovers. Colorado State 31, Utah State 27
On TV: Panthers at Lions (11 a.m. Sunday, Fox), Seahawks at Rams (2 p.m., CBS), Packers at Cowboys (2:25 p.m., Fox), Chiefs at Texans (6:20 p.m., NBC), Vikings at Bears (6:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN).
Broncos in the NFL: Former Boise State running back Doug Martin made his 2017 debut Thursday night against the New England Patriots after spending 45 days in a drug-rehab program and serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Martin says he’s “very grateful” the Bucs didn’t cut him and has received consistent support from his teammates. “I love these guys, and these guys love me,” he said, according to ESPN. “I know that (when) I wasn’t here, I know they were thinking of me, and they can’t wait for me to get back here. Now I’m back, and I’m going to play for these guys.”
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.