The Mountain West Conference season kicks off after a rocky summer
The next wave of college football's 2020 season arrives in the penultimate weekend of October, with the Mountain West joining the Big Ten among the campaign's newcomers.
Getting to this point hasn't been easy, as underscored in the host of Saturday's nightcap: San Jose State relocated north to Humboldt County for practices until just last week, a workaround in response to COVID-19 measures. With the Spartans making it through their final round of testing, they return home just ahead of the season opener and look to build off a promising 2019.
Air Force comes into the MW opening weekend with a game to its credit, having played Navy in the traditional spot on the calendar (Falcons won easily, 40-7). The experience could play a part when the Falcons visit California.
Air Force at San Jose State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Air Force -7
When Air Force Has the Ball
Although each of the three military academies is known for running option offenses, each has its own unique twist. Air Force, for example, has typically passed with more regularity than rivals Army or Navy. In 2015, for example, the Falcons went to the air 170 times vs. 122 for Navy, and 108 for Army.
Last season, Air Force passed more than Navy once again and as often as Army with 126 attempts, the fewest any Troy Calhoun-coached team has thrown. It's a small sample size, but the one time the Falcons took the field thus far in 2020 resulted in nine pass attempts, right on last year's pace.
If Calhoun and Co. are content on running more often, the near-400 rushing yards put up on Navy is validation. And having a fullback the caliber of Timothy Jackson (118 yards on 19 carries vs. Midshipmen) makes it an easy call.
When San Jose State Has the Ball
Last season, San Jose State scored arguably the biggest win in program history when it went into SEC territory and stole one from Arkansas. That victory was the highlight in a 5-7 campaign filled with heartbreak, but also marked by promise. The Spartans finished 5-7 and would have gone bowling, if any number of games decided by a single possession had broken the other way.
SJSU dropped a three-point decision to UNLV and a two-point contest to MW West division champion Hawaii, all immediately after losing a wild and fun shootout to powerhouse Boise State by just 10 points. The Spartans showed firepower, but need some new faces to step up to maintain it.
Quarterback Nick Nash backed up Josh Love a season ago and brings a new element as a dual-threat playmaker. Transfer Nick Starkel could see the start, however. Whoever is at quarterback will be throwing to maybe the best wide receiver in the Mountain West, Tre Walker, who went for more than 1,100 yards in 2019.
San Jose State's potential shown last season will mature into the Spartans being true threats in the 2020 West division race. They may be able to score with Air Force, but slowing the Falcons down is another issue.
Air Force is a low-key contender to dethrone Boise State in the Mountain thanks to its prolific and multifaceted rushing attack. Points should be in no short supply on Saturday. Look for a monster game from Timothy Jackson in a Falcons win.
Prediction: Air Force 42, San Jose State 31
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Timothy Jackson photo courtesy of @AF_Football)