Here it is, folks. It’s the final game of the season. It’s a game that means everything and nothing at the same time. On one hand, this team has earned so much recognition for their incredible hard work and grit throughout the season. The prospect of a 10-2 season is something to be incredibly proud of. Yet, on the other hand, I look at this season with a degree of frustration. Aside from all the what-ifs as it pertains to play calling and clock management in the Boise State and Navy games, it’s frustrating to be in a situation with a lopsided conference, where championship hopes were effectively dashed in the first half of the season, and it’s equally, if not more, frustrating to come this far without a Commander in Chief’s trophy. I maintain that Air Force is the most talented Service Academy in terms of player personnel and had Air Force played Boise State on a number of other weeks, we could be looking at unprecedented success. But this is football. It’s as much luck and timing as it is playbooks and strategy. Falcon fans can only go into this game with the excitement that comes with being an 11 point favorites and the chance to end the season with double digit wins.
Who is Wyo?
Wyoming is one of those teams that graduates will collectively have mixed feelings about. If you catch a graduate from the right year, they would tell you that the Cowboys are Air Force’s premier rival in the Mountain West, but if you’re like myself, you may see them as a standard Mountain West team that tends to be a little better than average. Somehow, the Wyoming coaching staff has been able to convince some serious talent to come to the Cowboys, most notably current Bills quarterback Josh Allen. However, the recruiting never seems consistent enough to make a big impact, with their last ranking coming in 1998.
A little better than average is exactly what Wyoming looks like this season. They opened the season with a win over the currently 5-6 Missouri Tigers, but a the next two games with fairly close wins over Texas State and Idaho reminded us that they wouldn’t be serious contenders in 2019. The Cowboys are 7-4 and 4-3 in the Mountain West. They’re a team that wins games over underwhelming opponents and holds good opponents pretty closely. To distill my thoughts on the game into a single sentence, I feel comfortable projecting an Air Force win, but it should be a good game to watch.
The primary gunslinger for the Cowboys (sorry, I had to say it), Sean Chambers, is out for the game after sustaining a knee injury in their game against Nevada, but the sophomore Tyler Vander Waal has done a fine job of filling his shoes. It’s fine because Chambers didn’t leave particularly large shoes to fill in terms of performance, but Vander Waal has completed 51% of his passes in 88 attempts, which is an improvement over Chambers’ 43% in 121 pass attempts. However, with the injury, the Cowboys are now missing the running threat that Chambers had, and Vander Waal is painfully immobile with -8 yards over 26 keepers and a longest run of 11 yards. Air Force has proven to play extremely well against these types of quarterbacks like CSU’s Patrick O’brien and SJSU’s Josh Love.
In terms of the running game, Xazavian Valladay has been the man, but he will be playing in this game with his own knee injury, so it’s unclear what to expect. He’s been reliable this season, maintaining 4.9 average yards per carry, but Air Force’s defense has been undeniably great this season, so it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Finally, the Cowboys receivers seem primed for matchups with the Air Force secondary. Air Force’s highlight play-makers like Tre Bugg and Zane Lewis have been phenomenal this season, but they have struggled at times with the size of some opponent’s WRs. In this game, the Cowboy’s top players hover around the 5’10”-6’0” and 175 pounds, so I think they will be more about finesse and raw over-powering. It should be one of the more interesting things to watch, that is, if the backup QB can put balls on target.
This is the first time this season that I’ve seen a defense with stats that mimic aspects of the Falcon defense. Namely, Soloman Byrd, a disruptive defensive end who clocks in at 6’4” and 243 pounds, reminds me so much of Air Force’s Jordan Jackson. He’s had 6.5 sacks this season and will likely become a problem if the offensive line can’t contain him.
Overall, they’ve done a good job of keeping games close. Wyoming averages 17.6 points allowed per game, and the 41 point over/ under shows how serious both team’s defenses really are.
Straight up, I have to take Air Force to get the win. This game doesn’t do anything for the Falcons other than perhaps making a case for a ranking, but it’s also an opportunity for the team to leave everything out on the field. I would like to see them be more dynamic than ever, but Troy Calhoun tends to oversee a pretty conservative game plan, even in these nothing-to-lose games. When it comes to the 11 point spread, that’s a tough number to see Air Force cover in what I think will be a fairly defensive battle. With Wyoming keeping Boise State, Utah State, and San Diego State closer than that, I am not confident in Air Force against the spread.
I see something around a 7 point win, 24-17 Air Force.