This game was supposed to be the first “big one” for Air Force in a year that could have been filled with them. That is, before 2020 showed its true colors.
Air Force and Boise State stood well above the Mountain West conference last season. The Broncos went unbeaten in the league. Air Force lost only at Boise State and beat everyone else in the conference by at least two touchdowns.
They both finished ranked in the Top 25, figured to have many of their key players back and were supposed to meet at Falcon Stadium on Sept. 12, an early season game that likely would have drawn a national spot on CBS and shaped the direction of the conference race.
How far has it fallen? Air Force is a two-touchdown underdog at home. And to the point that the Mountain West produced a video on Thursday highlighting the big issues around the conference. An expert, when asked about No. 25 Boise State in this matchup, talked instead of the game awaiting the Broncos next week when they face BYU.
Has Air Force really morphed into stepping stone that quickly? Not if you ask some of the principle characters in this game that, despite losing its shine, could still pack some of the uncertainty that has marked this series that is tied 3-3 over the past six years.
“Nothing. Not from our standpoint,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin when asked what he sees as different with the Falcons after they have seen wholesale personnel changes. “Just having a history with Air Force, I don’t think there’s any difference.”
There are, of course, differences. Air Force figured to come into this game with quarterback Donald Hammond III (out after an unspecified academy violation that dropped his cadet standing) and 1,000-yard rusher Kadin Remsberg (injured). And then there’s the almost complete turnover on Air Force’s defense. When the Mountain West announced the season would be postponed, most of the Falcons’ projected defensive starters took turnbacks that sent them home for the semester. The thinking was that they’d return for a spring season, then gain an additional season of eligibility in the fall. They’ll still get that extra fall season, but their departures left the team shorthanded when the Mountain West reversed course. About 40 players left the team this semester under that circumstance.
Despite that, the defense hasn’t been a problem. This makeshift unit has given up just 24 points as this inexperienced group held run-heavy Navy down in a 40-7 victory on Oct. 3, then kept the team in the game in a 17-6 loss at pass-heavy San Jose State.
Now they’ll see a balanced team that features 1,000-yard rusher George Holani standout quarterback Hank Bachmeier, highlighting a unit that opened the season with a 42-13 demolition of Utah State.
“I feel like seeing San Jose was a good thing,” Air Force cornerback Elisha Palm said. “Going against scouts you can’t see that real speed and just that over-the-top passing that San Jose State did. I think that will help a lot for us getting ready for Boise State. They do a lot of similar things. You couldn’t ask for a better opponent to play before Boise.”
Air Force’s offense will return guards Nolan Laufenberg, a preseason All-American, and Kyle Krepsz from COVID-19 protocol. Both missed the loss at San Jose State while under quarantine because of contact tracing. They haven’t had the benefit of much practice time in the past two weeks, but they are back.
Center Nicholas Noyen (ankle) is out, with senior Britton Beasley set to replace him. So, the Falcons should have an all-senior offensive line.
“We don’t look at anybody differently,” senior tackle Adam Jewell said. “Obivously, it’s a big opponent, but if we can just go out and execute and play our best games, we’ll see how it ends out.”
Air Force is 19-78-3 all-time against ranked opponents, including 4-17 under coach Troy Calhoun. Boise State is 118-21 all-time when ranked.
The game won’t be shown on CBS, but on its smaller CBS Sports Network subsidiary.
And, as was the case in the opener against Navy, it will be only cadets in the Falcon Stadium stands, instead of the crowd in the upper 30,000s that this game might have attracted had COVID-19 never entered our lexicon and daily lives.
So, things have changed. The hype is non-existent. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity is any smaller in scale for the Falcons at Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff.
“It’s going to hit different,” Palm said. “Being a Top 25 opponent, this game means a lot to the people who know who Boise State is and what they’re all about.
“It’s not going to be an easy game for them.”