Boise St.-Colorado St. Preview
The top two teams in the Mountain West Conference last season are handling inexperience at the quarterback position with varying levels of success, and it's predictably sent them in different directions.
No. 25 Boise State has thrived with freshman Brett Rypien and plenty of defensive help, while Colorado State can't find any week-to-week rhythm with sophomore Nick Stevens as the Rams' run defense struggles to keep them in games.
The teams meet Saturday night in Fort Collins with the Broncos looking to stay perfect in the series and win a fourth straight game in blowout fashion.
Boise State (4-1, 1-0) cruised to a 55-0 home win over Hawaii last Saturday with Rypien going 19 of 25 for 271 yards and three touchdowns in his second start since Ryan Finley went down with a broken ankle in a 52-0 win over Idaho State on Sept. 18.
Rypien debuted in that game and made his first start in a 56-14 win at Virginia on Sept. 25. In two-plus contests, he's thrown for 718 yards and six touchdowns with no turnovers and a 190.0 passer rating that would place him in the top three in the FBS if he had the requisite number of attempts.
"Brett's limited in his experience, but he's playing within the game plan we give him each week," said coach Bryan Harsin, whose team will try to match a four-game run of 50-plus points in regulation from 2002. "Each game plan has a theme for the opponent we're playing, and he's going out and executing."
Against Virginia, that meant going to the air more frequently (24 of 35 for 321 yards) as Boise ran the ball 31 times for 89 yards. In the Hawaii game, the Broncos ran 59 times for 279, which figures to be the method of attack against the Rams.
Colorado State (2-3, 0-1) has given up an average of 193.0 rushing yards, which ranks 98th in the FBS. It's been substantially worse the last two weeks with the Rams surrendering a season-high 298 in last Saturday's 33-18 loss at Utah State.
That bodes well for Boise running back Jeremy McNichols, who leads the FBS with 12 TDs - 10 rushing and two receiving.
While the Rypien-led offense has dazzled, the three straight wins by at least 42 points have as much or more to do with the Broncos' defense. Boise has held its last three opponents to an average of 4.7 points and 247.0 yards while forcing 10 turnovers. The team had a minus-2 turnover differential through two games. Since, it's plus-10.
"That's a stat that matters most," Harsin said.
Stevens and the Rams could further that. The first-year starter leads the conference with 10 passing TDs and 1,129 yards, but he's also thrown five interceptions and lost a fumble. The Rams have a minus-nine differential, and their 14 turnovers have them tied for sixth-most in the FBS.
"It's one person here and there and that's what kills our drives and defense and stuff like that, so I think that for the most part we do a really good job taking care of those," Stevens said. "It's just we'll take a play off and that's what kind of springs it. A long run or we do something on offense we aren't supposed to."
While the Broncos spent last season transitioning to a then-first-year coach in Harsin and had little trouble after losing Chris Petersen to Washington, the Rams haven't been as lucky in Mike Bobo's first five games after Jim McElwain left for Florida.
Colorado State has already matched its 2014 loss total, though two of those came in overtime to Colorado and Minnesota. The first of the three last season came in Boise. The last came in the Las Vegas Bowl against No. 23 Utah for the Rams' latest on a 16-game losing streak to ranked opponents dating to 2004.
The Broncos' win was their fourth in as many meetings with the Rams since joining the Mountain West in 2011, and they've come by an average of 25.8 points. Last season's 37-24 home final gave them the inside track over the Rams to first place in the Mountain Division and eventually the conference title. Boise ran for 324 yards on 56 carries.
Colorado State has won six straight conference home games with its last loss coming Nov. 2, 2013 to Boise.