Air Force back in control

Upset by New Mexico against Fresno State helps Falcons’ MWC title hopes




The Gazette, Colorado Springs


Air Force’s loss to UNLV on Saturday meant it would need the help of the long-odds variety to play for a Mountain West championship. Later that night, the odds were defied and help arrived. New Mexico, an underdog by more than three touchdowns, defeated Fresno State 25-17 on the road in a game that ended just before midnight on Saturday. The stunning defeat for the Bulldogs, their first at home vs. the Lobos since 1994, knocked them out of contention in the conference with three losses. If Air Force (8-3, 5-2) beats Boise State (6-5, 5-2) on Friday, it will now be all but assured a spot in the Dec. 2 title game that would be a rematch of Saturday’s 31-27 loss to UNLV, only this time it would be played in Las Vegas. “We’ve got a big week ahead of us,” Air Force safety Trey Taylor said following Saturday’s loss. It is now significantly bigger than Taylor could have known at the time. Here’s why: If UNLV (9-2, 6-1) beats San Jose State (6-5, 5-2) this coming week, the Rebels would finish as regular-season champions at 7-1, and Air Force, if it beats the Broncos, would be the lone team at 6-2 to finish alone in second place. If UNLV loses to San Jose State on Saturday and Air Force wins, the teams would finish in a three-way tie at 6-2. The Mountain West’s three-way tiebreakers begin with any team’s ranking in the College Football Playoff’s Top 25. That is unlikely to be applicable, particularly under this scenario that would add a loss for UNLV. The next tiebreaker is the three teams’ results against each other in a mini-roundrobin. That would generate another three-way tie, as all teams in this case would have gone 1-1 against each other – Air Force beat San Jose State, lost to UNLV; UNLV beat AFA, lost to San Jose State; San Jose State beat UNLV, lost to AFA. The next tiebreaker is a team’s average position in four computer rankings: Jeff Anderson & Chris Hester, Colley’s Bias Free Matrix Rankings, the Massey Ratings, and those from Peter R. Wolfe. The rankings haven’t all been updated through Saturday’s results, but the averages for the contending teams entering last week were UNLV (34), Air Force (44.25), San Jose State (68.25), and Boise State (73). That will change following Saturday’s results – UNLV defeating Air Force, San Jose State beating San Diego State, and Boise State blowing out Utah State. They would then change again following what would be, in this scenario, an Air Force win over Boise State, and a San Jose State win over UNLV. From the starting point established prior to this week, it would seem the deficit San Jose State would need to make up in the computers might be too large. If Air Force and UNLV lose, it is unclear who would emerge in a similar three-way tie between Boise State, San Jose State, and UNLV that would also go to computer rankings because the mini round-robin format wouldn’t be applicable because Boise State and UNLV did not play this season. The Rebels would still be a safe bet to emerge from the tiebreaker as the host, but it would be a tight computer ruling between Boise State and San Jose State. The saving grace for all four contending teams is the removal of Fresno State from the equation. The Bulldogs averaged 34.5 in the computer rankings prior to this past week and, with two more victories in games they figured to be heavily favored, they would have been impossible for the Broncos, Falcons, and Spartans to overtake. But New Mexico did that for them, setting up major stakes when Air Force visits Boise State’s blue turf on Friday. Of course, any scenario that includes Air Force advancing and remaining alive to win its first Mountain West title starts with a victory at Boise State. That will be a tall task, considering the Falcons have been ravaged by injuries, will be without standout outside linebacker Bo Richter for the first half following a targeting penalty and the team has dropped three in a row. The Broncos, meanwhile, looked rejuvenated under interim coach Spencer Danielson in handling Utah State 45-10 on the road on Saturday. Going into the regular-season finale, Air Force will have a chance and it seems it won’t need to rely on any outside help.