It took just one hit for No. 24 Boise State to see two of its season goals possibly go bouncing away.
Last week's loss at Wyoming was a major blow to Boise State's hopes of earning the Group of Five berth to one of the major New Year's bowls. It also severely damaged the Broncos' hopes of even winning a Mountain West Conference title with Boise State now needing Wyoming to lose twice just to win the Mountain Division.
If the Broncos (7-1, 3-1 Mountain West) are to keep their hopes alive for either of those accomplishments, they can't afford another stumble from here on out, beginning with Friday's game against San Jose State.
''You're not in the drivers' seat but to be honest with you you're not in the drivers' seat until the end of the season anyway. It all has to play out,'' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
That's an optimistic view from Harsin, but there is history behind his optimism. Two years ago, the Broncos lost a conference game at Air Force, but got the breaks they needed to win the Mountain Division, win the conference championship game and landed as the highest-ranked Group of Five team to earn a Fiesta Bowl bid.
The difference two years ago: Boise State's loss came at the end of September with seven games remaining. Boise State has just three games left after hosting the Spartans.
That's why the loss to Wyoming could be so damaging. There may not be time for Boise State to make up enough ground and get help from others.
The Cowboys rallied to tie the game at 28-all. Then Chase Appleby sacked Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien and forced a fumble that bounced out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 1:25 left for what proved to be the winning points.
''We didn't make enough plays in the game,'' Harsin said. ''There's always things that you want back. There's always things that you want back in games that you win.''
San Jose State (3-6, 2-3) has won two of its past three and must win its final three games to become bowl eligible for a second straight season. But the Spartans haven't beaten a ranked team on the road since winning at Baylor in 1980.
''They've got good players across the board. A well-balanced football team,'' San Jose State coach Ron Caragher said. ''We're going to need to play on a very high level for four quarters.''
Other things to watch as Boise State looks to improve to 13-0 all-time against San Jose State:
RYPIEN'S BOUNCEBACK: Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien's play will be closely watched after it was his fumble that bounced out of the end zone and gave Wyoming the decisive points for its upset victory. Rypien threw for 295 yards and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play against the Cowboys, but the Broncos punted on four of six second-half possessions and the last possession ended with the safety.
FEED JEREMY: Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols had another standout day against Wyoming, rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns. McNichols has topped 100 yards six times this season. He rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns last year against San Jose State.
McNichols is one of three running backs in the Mountain West already topping 1,000 yards rushing, and is No. 6 in the country. But he trails San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey and Wyoming's Brian Hill.
NO TURNOVERS: Boise State has yet to find the key to forcing turnovers.
Through eight games, the Broncos have forced just four turnovers - three interceptions and one fumble recovery. That's last in the country and Boise State has a minus-9 in turnover margin.
''I can't recall being minus-9 in turnovers, ever, and having as few as we've had,'' Harsin said.
San Jose State knows how important it is to protect the ball. In their three wins this season, the Spartans have not committed a turnover.
''It's no coincidence we've won the turnover battle the last three weeks and won two of those three games,'' Caragher said.
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