(AP) – Control of the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division is in the hands of Air Force.
The Falcons can thank New Mexico and an unlikely stumble by Boise State for being in position to potentially win its first conference title in nearly 20 years.
Having won five of six, the Falcons (7-3, 5-1 MW) travel to Boise State on Friday night needing wins over the Broncos and New Mexico in the final two weeks to wrap up a division title and spot in the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 5. Air Force went into last week needing to avoid a stumble against Utah State and needing to get help from others to have the division race in its control.
Air Force did the first part, knocking off Utah State 35-28 at home. And then late Saturday night watched New Mexico pull off the unlikely upset of the Broncos in Boise to leave the Falcons as the only one-loss team in the Mountain Division.
“I’d definitely say we’ve all kind of caught our second wind here to finish out the season,” safety Weston Steelhammer told reporters. “We’re taking it one game at a time and we’ve got a pretty big one this week.”
Boise State (7-3, 4-2) was in the position where three wins to close the season would land the Broncos in the conference title game for the second straight season. But the mistake-prone Broncos couldn’t overcome four turnovers and too many dropped passes against the Lobos, losing just their third conference game at home since 1998.
“Probably the best thing for us is having a short week,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “After reviewing the game, we just hurt ourselves. It really came down to a game of inches with a few catches here or there.”
Here’s what else to watch as the Falcons and Broncos meet for the fourth time:
PASSING FANCY: One place where Boise State looks to have an advantage is in the passing game.
While Air Force is 12th nationally in total defense, giving up 306 yards per game, the Falcons have been vulnerable through the air. Utah State threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns last week and Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien will put it up as many times as necessary. Rypien had 74 attempts last week against New Mexico.
CATCH EVERYTHING: Overshadowed by the numerous dropped passes last week was a record-setting day by Boise State wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck. The junior caught a school- and Mountain West-record 20 passes for 281 yards in the loss to New Mexico. The 20 receptions were the most by any player in the FBS in one game this season.
Sperbeck is tied for 15th in the country with 69 catches, but had just five receptions through the first two games. He has 30 catches for 444 yards in the past two games.
PROTECTION FIRST: Granted the Air Force offense is largely based around its run game, but after 10 games the Falcons are the only team in the country that has yet to allow a quarterback sack. Karson Roberts, who has started the last eight games after Nate Romine was lost for the season due to an injury, has attempted 91 passes without getting sacked.
The last time Air Force allowed a sack came in Boise – in the fourth quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last December.
SENIOR CLASS: Boise State will honor 20 seniors in its final home game on Friday night. The group needs two wins the rest of the season to become the 14th consecutive senior class at Boise State to finish with at least 40 career victories.
– By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
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