You know the old saying — if you have five or six rivals, then you probably have none.
OK, maybe that’s the first time that phrase has been uttered, but Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin was quick to note that he’s been asked multiple times this season about the Broncos’ rivals.
With Idaho off the schedule, back in FCS and a distant memory, there is a void. Maybe it is Saturday’s opponent, BYU. Considering the Broncos and Cougars have played for six straight seasons and are scheduled for five more beyond this season, it makes sense.
“I don’t know ... but it’s a good game for us to play, for them to play, fans like it, it makes sense where we’re located, and we do recruit against each other,” Harsin said. “If anything, it makes sense. I don’t know if that (makes) a rivalry or not.”
Harsin may brush aside the talk of building up this game, but don’t be fooled, it means a lot to him and his bank account. A new provision in his contract, approved last month, earns him a $10,000 bonus for beating BYU in Boise and $15,000 on the road.
Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos wasn’t shy about it, saying “there’s no question” it’s a rivalry at his weekly news conference. Senior quarterback Brett Rypien was on the same page.
“One, this is a rivalry game for us ... we like playing them,” he said to reporters Tuesday.
The Broncos lead the all-time series 6-2, having won three in a row, but two of the past three in Boise were decided by one point.
Without a conference to call home, the Cougars’ schedule doesn’t always allow tense rivalries to be built, but there’s no question they consider Boise State one. Look no further than a board of goals in the team’s facility, that among them reads, “Win The Rivalries,” and lists Utah, Utah State and Boise State.
“They’re a rival to us, a game that means a lot to both programs,” BYU senior linebacker Sione Takitaki said in a phone interview. “(Former coach) Bronco (Mendenhall) always emphasized it, and now coach Kalani (Sitake) feels the exact same way.”
Perhaps some fans on both sides are hesitant to label it that way, but some extra emotion no doubt exists, from the regional aspect to both teams at different times being the Group of Five poster children, to the infamous groin punch/Tanner Mangum Hail Mary combo of 2015, and so on.
This year there is an interesting twist. Mangum, the Eagle native, has been benched for former Boise State commit Zach Wilson, who changed his mind a week before signing day last December.
Even the Broncos’ newcomers are eager for Saturday.
“I heard it’s a big rivalry,” junior wide receiver John Hightower told reporters Wednesday. “They’re really amped up for the game.”
RYPIEN’S CHIN’S IN STITCHES
During last Saturday’s 48-38 win at Air Force, Rypien was hit under the chin as he threw on a fourth-and-10 late in the second quarter. He connected with CT Thomas for a 35-yard touchdown, and then got six stitches at halftime.
“He got a little street cred for that,” Thomas said.
Rypien’s stitches resemble patchy facial hair, and it also created some issues he hadn’t considered, such as practicing with them this week.
“Other than shaving, I haven’t really noticed it too far, so it hasn’t been too bad,” Rypien said.
VERSATILITY TO THE MAX
Hightower’s success at Boise State is making teams around the country wonder how they missed out on the speedy receiver. At Hinds (Miss.) Community College, he had 31 catches and scored seven touchdowns in two seasons, so credit Boise State for spotting a hidden gem.
But even at a school that has thrived with versatile talents like Doug Martin and Jeremy McNichols, Hightower is on another level. He averages 16.8 yards per catch (488 yards on 29 catches), 20.4 yards per carry (163 yards on eight carries), 22 yards on eight kickoff returns, and has blocked a punt. He has eight total touchdowns, and Pro Football Focus has him graded as the nation’s No. 3 receiver this season.
It’s all part of his whatever-it-takes mentality.
“It’s definitely fun, I just want to help the team out as much as I can — I’d go out and hold field goals if they wanted me to,” Hightower said.
BYU has four Idahoans on its roster: Mangum, offensive lineman Tristen Hoge (Pocatello), running back Morgan Pyper (Idaho Falls) and defensive lineman Wayne Tei-Kirby (Pocatello). ... Boise State is 25-1 in nonconference home games since the start of the 2006 season. ... Rypien needs 250 yards passing Saturday to become the Mountain West’s all-time leader. San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley (2008-11) is No. 1 with 12,690 yards. ... Two of the top three crowds in Albertsons Stadium history were for BYU games, in 2012 and 2014.
BYU AT BOISE STATE
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Kevin Brown, Andre Ware, Alex Corddry)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 6-2 overall (won 48-38 at Air Force on Saturday); BYU 4-4 (lost 7-6 to Northern Illinois on Saturday)
Series: Boise State leads 6-2 (Broncos won 24-7 on Oct. 6, 2017, in Provo last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 13 1/2
Weather: High 40s, cloudy
Tickets: Office on the west side of Albertsons Stadium, visit BroncoSports.com/tickets or call 208-426-4737.