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John Blanchette: Brett Rypien faces Washington State with something to prove

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 5, 2017

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien (4) throws a pass against Troy in Boise on Saturday, Sept. 2. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien (4) throws a pass against Troy in Boise on Saturday, Sept. 2. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)

The five stages of grief have nothing on the college football fan’s emotional dance with the starting quarterback. Often as not, those reactions – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – become a freeway pileup, cleaned up and towed away by halftime.

The long-view, big-picture chronology goes more like this: signing-day jubilation, outsized expectations, first-heroics elation, first-interception despair and Bring in the Backup.

And now we’ve pretty much caught up with Brett Rypien.

This departs from the leitmotif that’s been Rypien’s sidekick ever since Spokane’s passingest high school quarterback skipped his Shadle Park prom and enrolled at Boise State three years ago. He knew full well then there would be dates ahead with Washington State – 75 miles from his hometown, where he’d been recruited vigorously and whence his uncle Mark launched an NFL career.

And, yes, Rypien agreeably answered a few of those questions on Tuesday, as the Broncos and Cougars re-up again Saturday, this time in Pullman.

“I’ve grown up watching some games in Martin Stadium and going to a few Apple Cups,” he said. “It’s going to be different for sure, being back home, but I’m looking forward to it.”

But now it’s virtually subtext.

Because as the Broncos were outlasting Troy 24-13 in their season opener, Rypien found himself watching the fourth quarter from the sidelines – backup Montell Cozart directing the deciding drive and throwing the clinching touchdown.

And when you don’t finish, lots of people – ticket buyers and whatnot – start asking if you should start.

Even if you’ve started 24 straight games and won 18 as Rypien has – stepping into the job three games into his freshman year, just two months after his 19th birthday. He’ll start again Saturday, too. Coach Bryan Harsin made that clear on Monday – just as he’d made clear in the run-up to the opener that Cozart would get some snaps.

Not exactly the deference you’d think attaches to the first-team All-Mountain West Conference quarterback two years running.

But things have changed, and Brett Rypien is dealing with it.

“We were winning and Montell was doing a great job,” he told the media on Tuesday. “It really wasn’t that hard for me. I want to win championships, first and foremost, and after not getting it done the first two years here, it’s something I’m really looking forward to. Whoever is in the game is in the game. Whoever is rolling is rolling.”

Cozart isn’t your usual backup. He started 18 games at Kansas before taking his college degree and landing in Boise. And why did Boise need a grad transfer with a two-year starter in hand? Because junior college transfer Rathen Ricedorff bounced from the program in the spring, reportedly for a positive PED test. That left two callow freshmen backups – and one of those left last month.

Besides, Cozart had a different skill set – an adequate passer (55 percent at Kansas) with wheels and strong running instincts. It’s exactly what the Broncos needed against Troy, which was roughing up Boise’s inexperienced offensive line – and Rypien, who was sacked four times and pressured on his 28 dropbacks.

“We knew Brett was the starter and Montell knew Brett was going to be the starter,” said offensive coordinator Zak Hill, the former Eastern Washington quarterbacks coach. “We were looking for a guy to create and do things Brett couldn’t, and we found a perfect match.”

Successful – and ambitious – programs don’t stand still.

Just before Halloween last year, Rypien had the Broncos rolling – 13th in the nation, in fact. But Boise was upended by Wyoming and Air Force, and then got rocked by Baylor in the Cactus Bowl.

In those two games and Saturday’s opener, Rypien and the Boise offense have been pretty average – just 35 points with him behind center.

“Brett worked incredibly hard this offseason,” Hill reported, “on deep-ball accuracy, more pocket movement, scramble drills. He’s so professional in how he prepares. But he puts a lot of pressure on himself and sometimes in games – and we talk about this – when things go bad, he does get tight. Keeping him in that flow and handling adversity, not overthinking things, is important for him.”

Of course, it might be easy to overthink suddenly finding yourself in a two-quarterback system, too (“He wants to be the guy,” Hill acknowledged) – and the hyper-criticism of those who see change as the only answer, always.

“You just take one step forward every day and not focus on the external factors – the things you can’t control,” he said.

The fact is, Rypien was the first Bronco player to reach out to Cozart when he committed – and he embraces the challenge of being pushed.

To a point.

“Whether Montell is here or not,” he said, “if we want to win, I have to play well.”

And that’s never been sub-text for Brett Rypien.

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