It feels like forever since we’ve gotten to see the birds suit up to sink their talons into a team on the football field. An unexpected bye week due to the tragic passing of New Mexico’s Nahje Flowers caused last week’s game to be rescheduled to November 23rd, and now Air Force gets to take on the Rams in the rivalry that isn’t really a rivalry.
On paper, it’s got all of the tell-tale signs of a fantastic rivalry: two Mountain West teams, interstate opponents with one stretch of highway separating them, the only two group of 5 teams in Colorado. What’s not to love? ESPN noticed, giving the game a 7:00 pm Saturday time slot on ESPN 2, which is a distinct upgrade from playing Army and Navy on CBS Sports. Not that there is anything wrong with CBS Sports, but a huge percentage of the population doesn’t get it included in basic cable packages, and these are the games that people outside of the Mountain West may tune into and think “hm, they play some pretty good football.”
Unfortunately, I just don’t think many fans care about this game from a rivalry standpoint on both sides. I certainly don’t. This is nothing more than another mid-tier conference game which serves to rack up another win and pull Air Force out of the classic military contractor title sponsor bowls and into something with some clout.
After Air Force played Colorado, it was clear that the Buffs are much more suitable for a clear in-state rivalry. If it seems like I’m turning my nose up at Colorado’s weird cousin in the Rams, I kind of am. Air Force’s record is 35-21-1 against Colorado State and the Falcons are 11-2 in the last 13 years. At this point, if Colorado State wants this to be a rivalry (I’m really not so sure that the fans or players really do), the onus is on them to start playing well enough to make it a rivalry. Granted, the last three games have all been close wins by Air Force, but this year’s Falcon team feels incredible different.
I appreciate the powers that be pushing for the Falcon-Ram trophy (okay, it’s the Ram-Falcon trophy, but if you win it 35 times to their 21, you should get your mascot first), but it’s origins go back to a Colorado State ROTC commander who saw the teams play in 1978. I applaud the push for legitimacy, but Air Force and the University Colorado are the premier programs in Colorado, not the state school in Fort Collins.
That’s enough bashing. I do believe Colorado State can give Air Force a game, sort of. It seems like the sum of talent is basically just worse versions of what the Falcons have already seen this season, but hey, you never know.
The Rams are captained by a big, immobile quarterback with Patrick O’Brien. At 6’5” and 244 pounds, he reminds me a bit of San Jose State’s Josh Love with a little more size. He’s thrown 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and he’s been sacked 14 times. He runs the ball no more than five times per game, as they leave that up to senior running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. to take the majority of the carries. Kinsey averages 5.8 yards per carry and has carried the ball 121 times.
Receiving wise, I think there is a threat to the Falcons. The defensive line has been unbelievable this season, but if quarterbacks have enough time, Air Force has let up some really big pass plays. I think this speaks more to scheme than skill, as the Falcon secondary is as talented as ever, but huge recievers like Warren Jackson, Trey McBride, and Nate Craig-Meyers could be devastating if given the opportunity.
I think CSU will have a very balanced attack. They key for Air Force will be to getting to the quarterback. The pass rush will be critical to force the run, which will make Troy Calhoun much more comfortable in clock management.
I’ve been doing these previews for a while now and if there’s anything that I’ve realized, it’s that defenses are mostly unpredictable when it comes to playing Air Force. Their success seems almost completely dictated by how aggressive Troy Calhoun and Mike Thiessen run the offense. When everyone is healthy and the Falcons sprinkle some creativity into the dive and sweep-heavy offense, a lot of defenses get caught off guard. The Utah State and Hawaii games are prime examples.
When Air Force plays it safe, avoiding long shots on first and second down, the momentum swings to the defense. In theory, this game should look a lot like the San Jose State or Fresno State games, but we really just don’t know what kind of plan Air Force will bring. I think it would make the most sense to go for a blowout in these last three games, but if they play protected to keep players healthy and squeak out wins, it could come down to the wire and the Rams defense could have a big night.
There is nothing more dangerous for bettors than a late season, bowl-bound Air Force team without a CiC trophy. Troy Calhoun has given no indicators on what he plans on doing or his outlook for the season. Does a bid to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Bowl equate to job security for the head coach? Is the new athletic director Nathan Pine pushing for a ranking now that Navy has made it into the top 25?
A -10.5 spread for Air Force is not something I would ever touch. This game, just like any other against lower ranked Mountain West teams, has the potential to be 35-0 Air Force or 21-20 Air Force. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the team is chomping at the bit to get on the field after a week off and Air Force wins 35-14.