Brett Rypien had a lot of time to think after one of Boise State’s worst performances in years.
The Broncos had lost 42-23 at home against Virginia on Sept. 22 to fall to 2-2, and a bye week followed before facing BYU on the road.
A first-team All-Mountain West pick his first two years, the junior quarterback had not thrown for a touchdown in his first 73 passes. He missed a game for the first time Sept. 14 against New Mexico with an injury. Senior transfer Montell Cozart was earning more and more playing time.
“That was the lowest moment, wondering how I was going to be used the rest of the year, how it got to that point,” Rypien said.
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So Rypien relied on the people who mean the most to him — his family and his teammates. He made frequent phone calls home, trying to keep up the confidence so necessary in a quarterback. He turned to his fellow captain, roommate and top target, too.
“We talked about it all the time,” senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. “I’m just like, ‘Bro, just go back to being you and throw the ball,’ and that’s what he did. You could sense (the disappointment). ... Everybody has it, but the great ones come back from it, which he did.”
[Las Vegas Bowl: No. 25 Boise State vs. Oregon, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday, ABC]
Considering the offensive line was in flux that first month, most of the receivers behind Wilson were inexperienced and running back Alexander Mattison wasn’t running as hard as he knew he could, the struggles made sense.
And that makes what happened after even more impressive.
In the nine games since the Virginia loss, Rypien has thrown for 1,994 yards with 14 touchdowns to two interceptions, completing 64.6 percent of his passes. He still came back to earn second-team All-Mountain West honors, guiding the Broncos to the Mountain West championship.
Following that win over Fresno State on Dec. 2, Rypien said, “I didn’t contribute to the team as much as I had in the past.” But there were other ways he helped, showing maturity as he and Cozart rotated.
“I can honestly say it’s been my most successful year so far,” Rypien said. “At the end of the day, when you’re a champion, that feels way better than anything I could do statistically.”
Cozart, like any competitor, wanted to get onto the field, but what separated the Kansas transfer from many in his spot was his willingness to move aside once Rypien got hot.
“It’s been great for him to get back to himself,” Cozart said. “Every time we’re going out there, I’m like ‘4, just be you.’ It’s been nice to see him get that pep back in his step, and go out there with his chest high, putting our offense in a situation to be successful.”
Rypien said there wasn’t a time when there was jealousy between the pair, and any discomfort was trying to figure out how the system would work.
“If it would’ve been anyone else but Montell, it would’ve been tough,” Rypien said.
Against Mountain West teams, Rypien had 13 touchdowns and one interception, with at least 246 yards in each of his last six games.
Coach Bryan Harsin reflected on Rypien’s season after the conference championship game.
“Somebody has better numbers, but I don’t know if someone has better leadership qualities than he does,” Harsin said.
“The leadership he had to display this season was really important,” Harsin added Tuesday. “... He’s learned more this season than he’s ever learned. To me, the way he played in conference games was exceptional.”
Entering the Oct. 6 game at BYU, Rypien ranked 105th nationally in pass efficiency rating. He enters Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon ranked 32nd. The Ducks have faced only two quarterbacks currently ranked higher, and they went 0-2 in those games.
“I’ve seen him get better and better. We’ve watched a lot of their recent games and he’s looking really strong,” Oregon defensive end Jalen Jelks said. “We have to pressure him, make him be less of a factor, try to get him onto the turf, get some turnovers.”
Of course, Jelks and company will have to contend with not only Rypien, but the guys protecting him. In the first four games, the offensive line allowed 13 sacks. It gave up 15 in the final nine games.
“Beginning of the season, with a struggling offensive line, he had a tough time,” senior center Mason Hampton said of Rypien. “As we progressed throughout the season, he progressed.”
Though he will lose Wilson, Hampton, tight end Jake Roh and tackle Archie Lewis to graduation, Rypien likely will be in the conversation to be a future NFL Draft pick a year from now.
“I’m definitely coming back next year, hope I can have a better year and put myself into a good position for when my time comes,” Rypien said.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BRETT RYPIEN
You’re a big hockey fan. How did you get into it?
“It was the only sport I played from when I was 4 to 8. I had to make a decision to keep playing hockey if I wanted to get into the bantam draft, play juniors as I got into high school. It was tough, but football was the right call. I love playing pond hockey. ... My dad is close friends with (Maple Leafs) coach Mike Babcock. I got to see a few games in Toronto this spring, which was a total bucket list item.”
How much did you love your sister when she tweeted a video of you after getting your wisdom teeth removed?
“She likes to give me a little bit of a hard time on social media, so I just kind of have to laugh. After I saw that video, it was pretty hysterical because you’re so loopy after you get that done.”
What are the best and worst parts of playing quarterback at Boise State?
“The best part is being able to play for a national program, a team with a winning tradition, and expectations to be good every single year. That last part could be seen as a negative, but no one wants to go somewhere that doesn’t want to play high-caliber football. I knew the expectation was to win championships, and to finally get that was no better feeling.”
Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or tradition?
“It’s got to be ‘A Christmas Story,’ it’s just a classic. I bet I could quote ‘Elf’ pretty well, too. I had so many traditions with my grandma, so her not being around last year was really weird, because we’d go make cookies at her house, stuff like that.”
What have you enjoyed about being in Las Vegas?
“My sister (Brigid) lives here, that’s been a lot of fun, being able to see her. She hooked us up with tickets to see a magic show here, and I’ve always kind of liked magic. My dad always did card tricks. I’d like to learn those sometime. This summer, I hung out with (Wyoming’s) Josh Allen and (Colorado State’s) Nick Stevens here, it was fun to get to know them, and even better because I won some money and they didn’t.”
Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
When: 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas (35,500, Sprinturf)
TV: ABC (Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Molly McGrath)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Vegas line: Oregon by 7