Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien gets a pass off while being pressured by Oregon State's Bright Ugwoegbu in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. Boise State won 38-24. (AP Photo/Timothy J. G
Timothy J. Gonzalez
September 30, 2016

The most challenging stretch of Boise State's season comes just as the Broncos have returned to the rankings.

Four games in just 20 days await the 24th-ranked Broncos, beginning with Saturday night's matchup against Utah State.

Hosting the Aggies is the start of a hectic stretch that will largely determine whether Boise State (3-0) is in the conversation for a major bowl game at the end of the season. After hosting Utah State, the Broncos play at New Mexico next Friday; host Colorado State on Oct. 15 and five days later host BYU.

Following its successful run through two Pac-12 schools, knocking off Washington State 31-28 and last week winning handily at Oregon State 38-24, Boise State is back to being focused on the Mountain West Conference.

''That's what these three games have been about is getting into Mountain West play and we certainly start with a very good team,'' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.

And there could be no better opponent for Boise State to start with than the one that a year ago handed the Broncos their most lopsided loss in conference play since 2001.

''That was last year's team. That was last year's group that played in that game. This is a different team, different group,'' Harsin said. ''Certainly guys played in that game but it's a completely different team and all you can do is go back and learn from it and say that doesn't really apply to what we're doing right now. You certainly don't want to see that repeated. You learn from it and you move forward.''

Utah State's 52-26 romp in Logan last October was a dozen years in the making, snapping Boise State's 12-game winning streak over the Aggies. Utah State (2-2, 0-1) forced eight turnovers, scored 21 points during an 85-second span, and handed the Broncos their worst setback in a conference game since a 2001 loss to Rice when they were in the WAC.

''If we would've taken a loss to Boise State last year, I would take it personally. So, I would hope that they would, too,'' Utah State wide receiver Andrew Rodriguez said. ''But any game, especially going there and playing them, it's going to be an interesting situation. It's going to be a privilege to play there and I hope it's going to be a great game.''

Here are things to look for when Boise State plays its first game as a ranked team since mid-October of last season:

JEREMY SPOKE: Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols is coming off the best game of his career with 208 yards rushing and four total touchdowns last week against Oregon State. It was McNichols' second straight 100-yard game after a slow start in the season opener against Louisiana.

McNichols missed last year's game at Utah State due to injuries.

''I think we missed him in the pass game and running the football, too. ... When one of your better players isn't in, that shows up,'' Harsin said.

TURNOVER PARTY: Utah State would love to replicate what it did last year against Boise State, forcing a school record-tying eight turnovers. The Aggies forced five fumbles and had three interceptions after Boise State entered that game with just six turnovers on the season.

This season, Boise State has committed five turnovers in four games.

LEARNING PROCESS: Brett Rypien was far better protecting the football against Oregon State after some lax moments in the victory over Washington State. Rypien was 19 of 36 for 215 yards and a touchdown against the Beavers. In his start versus Washington State, Rypien threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that gave the Cougars a chance to rally.

INJURY CONCERNS: Utah State could be down two of its top players due to injuries, one on each side of the ball. Running back Devante Mays had just two carries last week against Air Force before aggravating an existing leg injury. Safety Dallin Leavitt injured his ankle in the third quarter against the Falcons.

Mays is the Aggies' leading rusher, but most of his yards came in the opener against Weber State when he rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

You May Like