FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2016, file photo, Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien (4) passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Boise, Idaho. No. 14 Boise State hosts BYU on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/
Otto Kitsinger, File
October 19, 2016

At the halfway point of the season, No. 14 Boise State is preparing for what may be the biggest challenge remaining on the schedule.

The Broncos (6-0) host a BYU team on Thursday night that has three wins against Power 5 teams and whose three losses on the season were by a combined seven points. A Boise State win sets the stage for a possible undefeated season with five Mountain West games remaining - and an argument for inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

The Broncos are one of 11 remaining unbeaten teams and this is their first 6-0 start since 2011. Boise State finished 12-1 that season.

''Short week, big week,'' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.

BYU (4-3) is in that odd position as an independent without much to play for now that the College Football Playoff and a New Year's Six bowl are out of the picture, but Boise State represents an opportunity to make a statement. BYU's three big wins were against unranked teams. The Cougars lost to No. 12 West Virginia 35-31 and No. 19 Utah 20-19.

Getting over the hump against a ranked team would be significant for first-year coach Kalani Sitake.

''I've learned we can hang with anybody, not just our defense, but as a team,'' BYU defensive linemen Sae Tautu said. ''I don't think there is anybody in the country we can't stay in the game with.''

Things to watch when Boise State hosts BYU:

BACK VS BACK: The game features two of the most productive running backs in college football. Boise State junior Jeremy McNichols is No. 5 in the country with 129.17 rushing yards per game and BYU's Jamaal Williams is No. 4 with 134.57 per game. McNichols is the second-leading scorer in the country with 14 touchdowns. Williams set the school career rushing record at 3,468 yards last week.

BUSY BRONCOS: This will be Boise State's fourth game in 20 days. That's a stretch that can take a physical toll on the roster. The Broncos will get nine days off afterward before a road game at Wyoming on Oct. 29 with major MWC Mountain Division implications.

IMPROVING: The BYU offense struggled out of the gate with new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. The Cougars failed to score 20 points in the first three games. In the four games since, BYU has averaged 36.5 points per game and hasn't scored fewer than 28 points.

''I think Ty is trusting our personnel,'' BYU quarterback Taysom Hill said. ''We've opened it up a little bit. We started really conservative at the beginning of the season and I think a lot of it was him feeling us out and us feeling out what the play-calling was going to be and not knowing what the defense was going to do to defend us. Now we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.''

RECORD CHASER: Boise State receiver Thomas Sperbeck is 34 yards from surpassing Titus Young's career school record of 3,063 receiving yards. He leads the MWC with 701 receiving yards, is tied for the league high with five touchdown receptions and is second with 38 catches.

QUOTABLE: ''They're efficient on offense and tough on defense,'' Sitake said. ''They get the most out of their players and they've recruited really well. They have a lot of great athletes, a great run game and their quarterback is really efficient. They've got a strong and physical line. They're a tough opponent and we're going to have to play our best.''


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