BOISE - The Boise State football team opens conference play on Saturday with a road trip to Laramie to face the Wyoming Cowboys.
Both the Broncos (2-1, 0-0 MWC) and the Cowboys (2-2, 0-0 MWC) are coming off bye weeks, and from all indications, both teams are itching to get back on the field.
"I'm fired up this week," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. "I'm ready to get out there."
Both coaches acknowledged that the bye was good for their players, but for different reasons.
Early in the season Wyoming was plagued with injuries to a number of key players, including starting running back Nico Evans. After losses to Power 5 teams Washington State and Missouri, the Cowboys narrowly escaped with a 17-13 victory against FCS team Wofford two weeks ago, and had to rally with a touchdown in the final nine seconds to pull out the win.
Evans had a 190-yard, two-touchdown game in the opener against New Mexico State, so his return to the starting lineup is a big deal for the Cowboys, who managed just 89 yards on the ground against Wofford.
GAME TRACKER: Boise State vs. Wyoming
Coach Craig Bohl said he expects both Evans and tight end Austin Fort to return on Saturday. Both are senior starters and captains.
"We're back to our normal self offensively," Bohl said. "Makings of a great football game. I know as a coach, I'm personally really excited about this game... and I know our players are as well."
For the Broncos, the bye may have come earlier in the season than they would have liked, but after the frustrating loss at Oklahoma State, the extra week gave the team time to work on the issues - like O-line protection - that were exposed in Stillwater.
Harsin called the mistakes that led to sevens sacks of quarterback Brett Rypien and two blocked punts "uncharacteristic" and "disappointing." But he noted that his players have done a great job of not dwelling on the loss and shifting their focus to the task at hand.
"That's the beauty of when you're playing, you move on because the challenge is right in front of you and you better have your mind right," Harsin said. "And I think our guys have done a really good job of that - they've switched gears. It's time to get ready to play.
"The sun came up, our guys showed up," he added.
Boise State's loss to Oklahoma State may have destroyed their already-distant shot at a berth in the National Championship Playoffs, but they are still in play for a New Year's Six bowl game - if they can end the season as the top-ranked Group of 5 conference champion.
That quest begins Saturday in Laramie.
- Boise State at Wyoming
- Saturday, Sept. 29
- War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming
- Kickoff: 5 p.m.
The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, which can be found on the following channels:
- Cable One: Channel 139 / 1139 (HD)
- DirecTV: Channel 221
- Dish Network: Channel 158
- Cox: Channel 234
ON THE RADIO
Fans can listen to the game on the Bronco Radio Network, which can be found online or on the following stations in the Boise area:
- KBOI 670 AM in Boise
- KTIK 93.1 FM in Boise
- KDZY 98.3 FM in McCall
- KSNQ 98.3 FM in Twin Falls
For a list of Bronco Radio Network stations outside the Boise area, click here.
BRONCO ROUNDUP GAME DAY
KTVB's Bronco Roundup Game Day show will be live from War Memorial Stadium from 4 - 5 p.m. on KTVB (Digital Channel 7.1), KTVB.com and in the Bronco Roundup app. Join Jay Tust and Will Hall for a live look at all of the major storylines leading up to kickoff.
The Broncos have largely avoided the injury bug that tends to hit teams at this point in the season, but there is one position group that is looking a little thin right now: cornerbacks.
On Monday Harsin announced that freshman Tyric LeBeauf suffered a season-ending ACL tear in practice last week, and will undergo surgery in the coming weeks.
Harsin also addressed the injury to senior captain Tyler Horton, who missed the Oklahoma State game.
"Tyler does not have a season-ending injury, and I'll just leave it at that," he said, adding that he is comfortable with the growth of Jalen Walker, who filled in at OSU.
“His habits have improved and it shows up in his play," Harsin said. "I think that's a credit to his work ethic."
The plan, according to Harsin is to move some players around to fill in the gaps at cornerback.
"I don't feel like we have a huge issue right now because the safeties and other guys that can play those positions, but it is certainly a challenge for those guys every single day because of the depth."
REPLACING A GAME-CHANGER
With former star QB Josh Allen now taking snaps for the Buffalo Bills, Wyoming's Tyler Vander Waal has been tasked with filling a very large pair of shoes.
Through four games, the freshman signal-caller has grown as a player and a leader of the offense.
"They got another young quarterback that has a lot of the same features (as Allen)," Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. "He's a freshman, but he's grown a ton."
Similar in stature to Allen, the 6'4", 220-pounder from Elk Grove, California is coming off the best performance of his career so far, throwing for 224 yards on 25 completions while adding two scores and engineering a game-winning drive against Wofford as the clock ran out.
While the Cowboys have a freshman under center, the Broncos counter with senior Brett Rypien, who's playing the best football of his career this season. He's thrown for 1047 yards, and is one of just two quarterbacks in the country with at least 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Despite being sacked seven times by Oklahoma State, Rypien managed to throw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, thanks in large part to his poise.
"Brett's played very tough," said Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill. "He got hit in [the Oklahoma State] game, but it didn't seem to affect him. He's thrown the deep ball a lot better, with a lot more confidence... He repped a ton, and you can see the results."
At his press conference on Monday, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl spoke highly of Rypien. Bohl knows a rare talent when he sees it, considering he coached two current NFL starting quarterbacks in Allen and the Eagles' Carson Wentz.
"He's a top-notch quarterback," Bohl said of Rypien. "When you have somebody like that, really enjoy them, because they don't come along very often."
The Broncos are 11-1 all-time against Wyoming, with the lone loss coming the last time Boise State played in Laramie, back in 2016. In that game, Rypien was sacked and fumbled the ball out of the end zone for a safety with just over a minute left, giving the Cowboys a shocking 30-28 victory over the No. 13 Broncos.
The teams have played each other every year since 2010 (they've been in the same conference division since 2011), and matchups have often been lopsided in Boise State's favor, including a 63-14 win in Laramie four years ago.
Last year in Boise, the Broncos claimed victory 24-14.
"We've had a couple competitive games (in recent years), so we're anticipating that [the Broncos] will be ready to play," Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. "On the flip side, our players are embracing this challenge as well. It's gonna be a really competitive atmosphere and really competitive game."
It's worth noting that the Broncos are just two spots outside the AP Top 25, so racking a string of wins through conference play would go a long way toward a prominent ranking, and a shot at a big-money bowl game at the end of the season.
But they will need a little help along the way: UCF (3-0) is currently ranked No. 13 (AP) and No. 14 (coaches), so the Broncos will likely need the Knights to lose a game at some point if they hope to jump them. While hoping for a UCF loss, Bronco Nation will also want to root for BYU (3-1) which is ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25, at least until the Broncos and Cougars face each other on the Blue Nov. 3.