It was one of the most popular themes from Mountain West media days in July: Who would emerge as the league’s standout quarterback in a largely unproven bunch?
So far, it’s Boise State true freshman Brett Rypien — who wasn’t supposed to play this year.
And another redshirt-to-starter story — Kent Myers at Utah State — is on a similar trajectory.
That’s a testament to how bad the league’s quarterback situation is this season, which has led to an ugly first five weeks in the standings, and also a potential source of optimism for 2016 and beyond.
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Rypien has the highest pass-efficiency rating (190.02), best touchdown-to-interception ratio (6-0) and top completion percentage (73.9) among the Mountain West’s current starters.
“I don’t think he’s where he could be yet,” senior tight end Holden Huff said. “I think he’s got a long way to go, which is obviously a good thing.”
Rypien impressed Huff on the airplane ride to and from Virginia, where the freshman made his first start.
“I sat right next to him — he was watching film the whole time,” Huff said. “Even on the way back, he was watching the game. People notice that type of stuff, especially the coaches.”
Junior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck cited Rypien’s calmness on the sideline as one of the quarterback’s best attributes.
Offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz speaks to Rypien on the headphones after every series. He, too, has noticed the youngster’s focus.
“He’s very matter of fact,” Drinkwitz said. “He wants to know the information. We talk through every decision he made the previous drive — what he was seeing, what I was seeing. He doesn’t need a lot of cheerleading. He just needs information.”
Here’s a rundown of the Mountain West QB situations this season (number of starters used in parentheses):
•Air Force (2):
Nate Romine was injured in the second game of the season. Replacement Karson Roberts has thrown for 222 yards in four games.
•Boise State (2):
Rypien replaced Ryan Finley, who threw four interceptions against one TD pass in three games before breaking an ankle bone.
•Colorado State (1):
Nick Stevens has been replaced at times by Coleman Key, who has been more efficient. Stevens completes 55.6 percent of his passes and threw for 51 yards in the loss to Minnesota.
•Fresno State (3):
The Bulldogs have lost true freshman Chason Virgil and third-stringer Ford Childress to season-ending injuries. Zack Greenlee missed a start for disciplinary reasons. The group has combined for 12 touchdown passes but just 847 yards in five games.
Max Wittek, who started for USC, has completed 45.8 percent of his passes and owns a 96.0 rating.
Tyler Stewart has hit 54.1 percent of his passes and averages 164 yards per game.
•New Mexico (1):
Austin Apodoca got some snaps early in the season, but Lamar Jordan has secured the job. He has 418 passing yards and a team-best 404 rushing yards.
•San Diego State (1):
Maxwell Smith has completed a dreadful 43 percent of his passes but at least has more TDs (five) than picks (two). Christian Chapman was given a chance, too, and was more erratic.
•San Jose State (2):
An injury to Kenny Potter has prolonged the Spartans’ QB race. He and Joe Gray have given San Jose State one of the best QB situations in the league. They have combined to complete more than 70 percent of their passes.
•UNLV (1 — for now):
Blake Decker (54.2 percent completions) was injured last week against Nevada. Kurt Palandech will start this week (91.0 rating).
•Utah State (2):
Star Chuckie Keeton, the Mountain West preseason all-conference pick, threw five interceptions against two touchdown passes before a knee injury forced him to the sideline. Myers, who was 5-1 as the emergency starter last year, scrapped his redshirt and contributed 137 rushing yards and 191 passing yards last week against Colorado State.
Indiana transfer Cameron Coffman has been the Mountain West’s most productive regular starter despite his team’s 0-5 start. Coffman missed one game with injury. He leads the league with a 150.8 rating (highest among qualifiers for NCAA stats).
Not so easy
It might be the easiest touchdown pass the Broncos get all season.
But it wasn’t as stress-free as it looked.
The Broncos burned Hawaii last week with a fake fumbled snap on fourth-and-inches.
On a play that has been in the Broncos’ arsenal for at least a decade, Rypien took the snap like he was going to run a sneak for the first down. He reached down with the ball and shook it to make Hawaii think he fumbled. The offensive linemen yelled, “Fumble!” to help with the deception.
Meanwhile, Huff leaked down the field with no defender in sight. Rypien hit him for a 24-yard TD.
The play was designed for one specific situation — fourth-and-inches on the right hash. It also required an opponent that was overly aggressive defending sneaks, and Hawaii had shown that on video.
In this case, the play was set up by an offside penalty on Hawaii on a field-goal attempt.
“When the penalty happened and we moved up to fourth-and-inches, I was like, ‘Here we go,’ ” Huff said. “That’s what we planned for. Only on fourth-and-inches were we going to call that play.”
The first nervous moment was at the snap. What if somebody followed Huff?
“When I looked to my left and right, there was no one on me,” Huff said.
The second nervous moment was Rypien’s hesitation.
“I could see through the line,” Huff said. “He was just looking like, ‘Where’d he go?’ Finally, we met eyes.”
And the third nervous moment was with the ball in the air. Coaches joked they were worried Huff might drop the ball. They weren’t alone.
“If it works, you’re wide open and that catch is easy but it can also be difficult,” Huff said. “If you drop it, you look ridiculous.”
Boise State players are able to watch video of games, practices and opponents at home or while traveling through the online service Hudl. Players can make requests if something isn’t available in the system.
Big news for Thompson
Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson became a father to a baby girl this week, according to congratulatory messages he received on Twitter.
Chadd Cripe is in his 14th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also votes in The Associated Press Top 25. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.