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Mountain West preview: Air Force’s short season won’t be so short

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Forget a two game season, the full Mountain West slate is back on the menu for the Falcons.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Navy at Air Force Photo by Mat Gdowski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Just over a month ago, I wrote that the Air Force Falcons had the potential to breeze their way to the playoff on the back of an undefeated Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winning season. Well, they’ll have to work a little bit harder now but at least we all get to see a lot more Mountain West action.

That’s right, the Falcons now have a solid schedule to play, and it all gets rolling on Oct. 24 against San Jose State. We’ll take you game-by-game and give you a quick hitter on all of Air Force’s 2020 conference foes and then we can all start dreaming about the playoff together. After all, what tops a (possible) conference crown and a (more likely) Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy?

We’ll leave Army off of the list since I already offered a look at the Black Knights the first time around — and since, you know, Army doesn’t play in the great MWC. So, up first: The Spartans of San Jose State

at San Jose State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 San Jose State at UNLV Photo by: Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When: Oct. 24, 2020 @ 10:30 p.m. ET

How to watch: FS1

Need to know: The Spartans have spent much of their fall camp at Humboldt State due to Santa Clara County restrictions, but a new directive will allow San Jose State and Stanford to return home for all remaining practices. In addition to practicing away from home, the Spartans only rank at 107 in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, so there may not be much good news in San Jose this season.

One of the few bright spots for this San Jose State team is the arrival of graduate transfer quarterback Nick Starkel. Starkel’s career includes stops at Texas A&M and more recently, Arkansas. He brings 3,114 career passing yards, 22 total touchdowns, and an overall passer rating of 132.1 from his SEC days to an offense that finished 2019 with a record of 5-7 and just 2-6 in conference play.

vs Boise State

Air Force at Boise State Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When: Oct. 31, 2020 @ 6:00 p.m. ET

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Need to know: The Broncos of Boise State are the only Mountain West foe that ranks above Air Force in Bill Connelly’s rankings, coming in at 35 compared to the Falcons’ rating of 62. Boise State is also coming off of the best season of any Air Force opponent, having gone 12-2 last year. The Falcons fell on Boise’s blue field in 2019, 30-19.

Sophomore quarterback Hank Bachmeier is back to build on an impressive freshman campaign where he threw for nearly 1,900 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to a 7-1 record as a starter. He’ll be surrounded by a strong group of junior and senior receivers as well as redshirt senior tight end John Bates. Running back depth behind sophomore George Holani may be questionable, but this Broncos team stacks up as one of the toughest Air Force will see this year.

at Wyoming

Wyoming v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

When: Nov. 14, 2020 @ 10:00 p.m. ET

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Need to know: Dipping back into the Bill Connelly pool of ratings, we find that Wyoming weighs in at spot 94. That certainly gives the Falcons an advantage in the numbers, but another number to keep an eye on is 11. So far, 11 positive COVID-19 tests have forced the Cowboys football program to isolate all 31 members of its freshman class. While it shouldn’t have an impact by the time November rolls around, it’s an early depth concern to be missing that many practices.

As for the team that will take to the field, the Cowboys are coming off of a solid 8-5 season that finished with an Arizona Bowl win over Georgia State. Coach Craig Bohl plans to name a starter before the season kicks off, though he plans to play both Sean Chambers and Levi Williams at quarterback according to the Casper Star Tribune. It brings the old quote “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none” to mind, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

vs New Mexico

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 New Mexico at Boise State Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When: Nov. 20, 2020 @ 9:30 p.m. ET

How to watch: FS1

Need to know: The New Mexico Lobos may want to have a word with Mr. Connelly about their rankings — they come in at 122 of 128 eligible teams. They are by far the lowest ranked team that Air Force will face this year, and the ranking comes on the heels of a dismal 2-10 record. The Lobos managed two wins in their first three games in 2019 before falling into an 0-9 skid to end the year.

Ultimately, the 2019 campaign resulted in New Mexico parting ways with coach Bob Davie following an eight year stint and a 35-64 overall record. This fall, former Arizona State defensive coordinator and New Mexico player Danny Gonzales will take the helm, and redshirt junior Tevaka Tuioti is back under-center to lead the Lobos.

vs Colorado State

Colorado State v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

When: Nov. 26 @ 2:00 p.m. ET

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Need to know: The Rams are another top 100 foe for the Falcons, coming in at 84th in the land, per Connelly. Once again, coaching changes figure to play a major role in Colorado State’s season with Mike Bobo gone in favor of former Boston College and Temple coach Steve Addazio. In case you’d forgotten Addazio’s greatest contribution to the world of college football, here it is:

Redshirt senior and former Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien is back at quarterback for the Rams following a decent year where he threw for 2,800 yards and 13 touchdowns. He figures to have weapons in Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Myers, redshirt junior E.J. Scott, and senior back Marcus McElroy Jr. There’s nowhere for the Rams to go but up, though the Falcons should be able to continue to dominate the state.

at Utah State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 20 Frisco Bowl - Utah State v Kent State Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When: Dec. 3 @ 9:30 p.m. ET

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Need to know: Utah State is another team that has to look up at the Mountain West leaders, coming in at 105th in the S&P+ rankings, just above San Jose State. Head coach Gary Andersen is back to lead an Aggies team that finished with a 7-6 record in the 2019 slate. He returns running back Jaylen Warren and right guard Karter Shaw in his second year of his second stint at Utah State.

The Aggies have to replace first-round draft pick Jordan Love, 900-yard rusher Gerold Bright, a 900-yard receiver in Siaosi Mariner, and even offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. Replacements may be the name of the game for a Utah State team that figures to take another step backward this year.

Wrap-up

There are no Mountain West divisions this year, and it seems to work out in the Falcons’ favor this time around. With just one conference foe in the top 50 of Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, it may be tough for the Falcons to find love from voters this year, especially if they stumble. However, the early road doesn’t seem too treacherous, so we may be in for a treat in this pandemic-modified season.