Their combined early-season success sets the table for an intriguing Friday night matchup that could have a ripple effect from the Mountain West Conference all the way to the New Year's Six bowls.
As it stands, Boise State looks like one of the top-two Group of 5 teams in the country. Air Force presents the first of a couple of major hurdles on the Broncos' schedule. An upset win by the Falcons would knock Boise State out of New Year's Six consideration and put the Falcons in the conversation.
Air Force at Boise State
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -8.5
When Air Force Has the Ball
The Falcons are all about running the ball, and that's exactly what you need to do to have a shot at knocking off Boise State on the blue turf. Air Force will look to control the tempo and dominate time of possession by pounding the ball at the Broncos with backs Kadin Remsberg and Tavin Birdow. The two have combined for 355 rushing yards through two games this season. As a team, the Falcons are second in nation with 353.5 yards on the ground per game. Air Force is averaging a healthy six yards per carry and already has 22 runs that have covered 10 or more yards.
An aggressive Boise State defense will need to lock in and play sound, assignment football to stop the Air Force rushing attack. The Broncos won't be able to just pin their ears back and fly after the ball, as the Falcons thrive on misdirection and quick handoffs. Boise State is giving up just 3.5. yards per carry but has given up 16 runs of 10-plus yards. The Broncos lead the Mountain West with 27 tackles for a loss in the early going. Defensive end Curtis Weaver leads the conference and is second in the nation with seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also has six sacks, which is tied for the most in the country, but considering Air Force has attempted an FBS-low 13 passes thus far, he may be hard-pressed to add to that total on Friday night.
When Boise State Has the Ball
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier has been one of the bright young stars of the 2019 season so far. He's fearless in the passing attack and is going to keep the Air Force defensive backfield busy and on its heels most of the day. Bachmeier is third in the Mountain West with 309 passing yards per game.
Air Force has the conference's best defense against the pass thus far, holding teams to 153 yards through the air per game with three touchdowns allowed and two interceptions. However, the Falcons have yet to face a team that has the same type of firepower as Boise State. And if Air Force is able to stifle the Broncos' passing attack, Bachmeier has a pair of solid running backs he can hand the ball to. Through three games, George Holani and Robert Mahone have combined for 431 rushing yards to rank seventh and eighth in the conference, respectively. Boise State can beat you in many different ways. The Broncos lead the Mountain West in plays of 10 or more (62) and 20-plus (25) yards. They also are first in the conference and eighth nationally in time of possession (35:37). One of the keys for the Falcons will be to use their offense to control the clock and to limit the opportunities the home team gets.
Between Air Force's ball-control offense and an underrated, stingy defense that specializes in takeaways, this is going to be a low-scoring affair. If I were wagering, I would take the under. That said, based on the caliber of skill players they have on the roster, look for Boise State to make the most of its possessions and finish more drives with touchdowns than Air Force does. I like Hank Bachmeier to hit on a couple of long touchdown passes late, which will ultimately be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Boise State 24, Air Force 16
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top photo courtesy of Boise State Athletics)