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Air Force vs. Colorado football preview: Falcons head to Boulder to reignite old rivalry

For the first time since 1974, Colorado’s top two football programs face off.

NCAA Football: Colgate at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I legitimately believe that you could have watched every second of Colorado’s two games against Colorado State and Nebraska, as well as the entirety of Air Force vs. Colgate and have absolutely no idea what to expect when Air Force travels up to Boulder to play the Buffs for the first time since 1974. I can confidently say this because it’s exactly what I’ve done.

Making Sense of the Match-up

How does one begin to make sense of the match-up when Colorado took down an Air Force conference-mate in Colorado State with relative ease and pulled out an overtime thriller against a ranked Nebraska team, while the Falcons have only played one game against an FCS opponent in which the starters played only a half and put up 35 points without a single pass?

You can’t look to Vegas. The opening lines were around 3 points. That tells us absolutely nothing. Air Force is clearly a renewed team after a 5-7 season in 2018, but the implication that this will be such a close game is honestly puzzling. That’s not to say that I don’t have faith in the Falcons, but I’m just not seeing where this idea comes from given the limited showing from Air Force and solid performances from Colorado.

Another think I looked to was ESPN’s matchup prediction. I absolutely never do this because it’s created using their proprietary power index which includes silly factors like days of rest and distance traveled, but it does include previous game performance. In this case, the previous game performance is skewed for Air Force, the distance traveled is negligible, but I don’t expect a huge Air Force fanbase to affect home field advantage, and although the days of rest would seemingly have a positive effect on a team’s rating, I think it’s actually negative for Air Force this week. For what it’s worth, Air Force is given a 41.3% chance of winning.

So after looking at these factors, does the matchup become any clearer? Not really. I guess we’ll check out the stats.

Key Players

Air Force

If you’re an Air Force fan, the Week 1 match-up against Colgate was a blast to watch. We’ve waited so long for football to start back up and a good old fashioned Rocky Mountain beatdown on a school named after a family of soap makers is just plain fun to see at face value.

Donald Hammond III ran in three touchdowns, Taven Birdow ran for 80 yards on 9 carries, and Kade Remsberg ran in two more touchdowns. Other big time starters like Jordan Jackson, Garrett Kauppila, Mo Fifita, Tre Bugg, and Jeremy Fejedelem all looked great, but none of them were truly tested and I can’t say this enough, we didn’t see a single pass from the starting unit.

We also saw Air Force’s depth in the second half, but it really just felt like running a practice against the JV squad. Maybe even the freshman squad. Now it’s simply time for a real test. There’s no real lesson to be learned from the first game.

Colorado

There’s no shortage of talent on Colorado’s team. Are they Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State caliber players? Definitely not, but their 2016 recruiting class, who are now mostly seniors and red-shirted juniors, was comprised of a four star recruit in Beau Bisharat and 14 three star recruits. Air Force has one player from the class of 2016 with a 3 star rating who still plays on the team, that is, Lakota Wills. The rest were two stars or unranked.

Player ranking out of high school is obviously so unimportant that I wouldn’t blame you for wondering what on earth my point even is, or how it applies to this game. It’s a matter of perspective. Colorado doesn’t get a ton of respect in the big picture conversation about power 5 schools and college football in general, but at the end of the day, it’s still a Pac-12 team. They will always draw multiple players who have the talent to make it to the NFL.

Steven Montez is a force to be reckoned with. He fits so well into Mel Tucker’s dream of playing old school football while still being a new era college quarterback. He slung the ball against Nebraska, throwing for 375 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He’s massive at 6’5” and 230 pounds. He’s mobile too, but in the last game it was to his own detriment, totaling a -17 yard loss.

Their running backs, DBs, and linebackers all have a laundry list of accolades and are on every award watch list you can imagine. The bottom line is that much like in Army’s game against Michigan, in head to head match-ups, Air Force is largely outmatched. That’s not discounting Air Force’s players by any means, nor is the margin that large, it simply comes from the ability to bring in and maintain players in a way that the Falcons simply cannot.

Keys for Air Force

This entire article has been a wishy-washy exercise in uncertainty and I fully accept that. Quite frankly, we’re on this ride together. Making sense of everything is tough, but I truly believe Air Force has what it takes to pull out a win. To do it, Air Force needs to stay incredibly disciplined.

Discipline has been a hallmark of Army’s success. They have limited their turnovers and penalties, controlled the clock, and stayed patient. I believe Air Force has deeper talent than they do, so there’s no reason why Air Force shouldn’t surpass their success by taking a page out of their book. If you’re an Army fan reading this, backing up that claim will come another day, it’s simply not the focus right now. Colorado played extremely fast and loose in their high scoring game against Nebraska. They turned the ball over twice, but they can afford to do so because they take shots at the end zone. If Air Force’s high powered defense can prevent scoring enough, a disciplined offense should be able to produce methodical scoring drives.

Taking calculated risks is another thing I believe Air Force needs to do. If the Falcons have the ball with a minute left going into the half, they need to take a shot at a fast paced drive down the field. We’re not 100% certain that’s even in the playbook because we never saw it last season, but at least against Colgate, we got to see a 3-play, 1-minute drive for a touchdown. As much as running out the clock on offense is important to prevent Colorado from having time with the ball, Air Force cannot have many throwaway drives with third and 8 fullback draws that frustrated fans to no end in 2018. Every possession needs to have purpose.

Finally, the Air Force needs to force Colorado to play to their speed and strategy. A huge advantage of triple option football is that teams never seem to be perfectly prepared for it. The thing I loved about Army against Michigan is that they never looked rushed. This may sound contradictory to my point about taking risks, but the point is that even if Air Force gets down by 14, they can’t get down on themselves until someone just happens to break through and create a spark. Granted, this is a much different team, but Air Force seemed to get down on themselves against FAU last season, and by the time they came together and played with some finesse, it was too late. They are at a disadvantage, in my opinion, because they played an FCS opponent and went immediately into a bye week. They have to play confidently.

Even after weighing all of these factors, laying out the facts, and setting the stage, it’s still near impossible to make a prediction as to what happens in this game. This is a little bit of the homer coming out in me, but I would guess that Air Force wins 30-27. At this point, the talking is done. Tomorrow’s game is the true start of the Falcon football season, and while a loss is meaningless in the big picture, a win could set the stage for a huge season.