A week ago, Boise State's hopes of a Mountain West Conference title got a significant and unlikely boost from UNLV.
The Rebels' reward for helping out the Broncos? Having to face No. 22 Boise State on Friday night knowing the Broncos have no room for error in their attempt to catch Wyoming in the conference's Mountain Division.
So much for saying thanks to the Rebels.
''They know how to game plan. They seem to have a plan for each opponent, and their guys make plays,'' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. ''I think it's a very tough football team. And offensively, they find ways to move the football. They do have some creative ways of doing it by using their quarterback.''
Boise State (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West, No. 20 CFP) still does not control its path to the Mountain West championship game even with UNLV's 69-66 triple overtime win over Wyoming last week. The Broncos must win their final two and have Wyoming lose at least once to claim a spot in the title game.
Getting there gained more importance this week when the Broncos leaped Western Michigan in the College Football Playoff rankings, putting them in position to claim the Group of Five berth in one of the major New Year's bowl games. But the Broncos must win the conference title to gain that berth.
''We never feel like we control anything until the end of the year. ... We've got UNLV. That's it,'' Harsin said. ''As simple as that. We've learned our lesson. We have UNLV. We're going to focus on UNLV. We're trying to play our best game of the season. We feel like we have a little bit of momentum in some areas. A little bit of confidence. We're executing better in some areas.''
UNLV (4-6, 3-3) needs to win its final two games to become bowl eligible. The win over Wyoming was a huge moment for coach Tony Sanchez's program in overcoming mounting adversity. The Rebels are on their third quarterback of the season and lost all-conference wide receiver Devonte Boyd to a season-ending broken arm.
Boyd was the fourth wide receiver to be lost to a season-ending injury.
''It's kind of a crazy deal. Our whole staff talked about it - that we've never seen one entire group,'' Sanchez said. ''It's one of those deals where you almost have to laugh about it.''
Other things to watch as the Broncos go for their fifth straight win over the Rebels:
RYPIEN'S SURGE: Over the past two games, Boise State QB Brett Rypien has been nearly perfect. That's not an exaggeration. Against San Jose State and Hawaii, Rypien was a combined 34 of 43 for 557 yards and seven touchdowns - nearly as many touchdowns as incompletions.
It's an impressive rebound for Rypien after struggling in the Broncos' loss at Wyoming.
''He's just getting better. Experience for him. He never had that redshirt year, there are things that he is learning as he's gone through this season,'' Harsin said.
NEXT IN LINE: Kurt Palandech was third in line at quarterback for UNLV when the season started. He enters Friday's game as the Mountain West offensive player of the week after setting career highs in completions, yards passing, yards rushing and touchdowns in the upset of Wyoming. Palandech was 20 of 32 for 252 yards and three TDs, and added 157 yards on 16 carries.
SPERBECK'S FAREWELL: It could be the final game on the blue turf for record-setting Boise State wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck. He's the school record-holder for yards receiving and one of five receivers in school history with more than 200 receptions.
After a quiet game against San Jose State where he had just two catches, Sperbeck rebounded last week against Hawaii with five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns, pushing him over the 1,000-yard mark in receiving for the season. Sperbeck's nine touchdown catches are tied with Cedrick Wilson for the team lead.
RANKED WIN: UNLV is 4-34 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The last such victory came eight years ago when the Rebels upset Arizona State. All four of UNLV's wins over AP ranked teams have come on the road.
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