BYU is leaving the conference, and Air Force has little scheduling flexibility because of its two non-conference games against the fellow service academies. BYU might be an opponent in the future, but nothing is scheduled.
"There's definitely some history there. Holy cow," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Players haven't concerned themselves much with the politics surrounding BYU's departure from the conference. They are too focused on their own task at hand to get upset over what the Cougars' future affiliation will be.
"BYU is going to do what BYU is going to do. All we worry about is winning on Saturday," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said. "It's kind of irrelevant at this point. All we're looking for is getting the 'W.'"
This is a big game for Air Force, and not just because of the history between the schools and BYU's departure from the conference after this season. The Falcons have had a tough time cracking the top three of the Mountain West in recent years, with TCU, BYU and Utah owning those spots. Air Force hasn't defeated the Cougars since 2003, so that streak has definitely weighed on the Falcons' minds.
If the Falcons are going to have a special season, beating BYU at home on Saturday would be a good start.
"This game is huge for us," Tew said. "It's the second game of the season, the opener in the Mountain West for us, and that alone sends a message to the rest of the conference of either 'Air Force can play,' or whatnot."
--Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has been a huge fan of BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps since he started scouting him this summer. So when he gave high praise to Heaps this week, saying he is "more talented than any QB they've ever had there" -- and yes, Calhoun is well aware Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer went there -- he wasn't just saying it to be nice to an opponent before a game.
"I think the kid is a slam-dunk (NFL) first round pick," Calhoun said. "He's as slam dunk as it gets."
--The Falcons struggled a bit in the first half against Northwestern State, especially on defense. After reviewing the film, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt admitted the scheme might have been a bit too passive, but still, the Falcons were very close to getting off the field and just missed some big third-down plays.
"That quarterback did a nice job of staying alive and getting some balls off under duress," Wallerstedt said. "Two drives went to nine plays when it really should have been three and out."
--After being concerned about the punter situation all offseason, Calhoun praised Keil Bartholomew for his play in the opener. Bartholomew averaged 45 yards per punt, and neither of his punts was returned.
"He's who we're going to go with here at punter," Calhoun said.
Calhoun refused to name Bartholomew the starter throughout training camp, which helped push the new punter.
"I think the competition sparked something in me to do well," Bartholomew said.
SERIES HISTORY: BYU leads Air Force 24-6 (last meeting, 2009, 38-21 BYU).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Air Force showed a little something different against Northwestern State, passing two times in its first four plays for long gains. Quarterback Tim Jefferson had 68 yards and a touchdown on the Falcons' first drive. Air Force didn't pass much more after that -- probably because it ran for 437 yards -- but Jefferson did have a career-best 179 passing yards. That will give BYU something to think about this week. The Cougars will also be plenty concerned about stopping an Air Force rushing attack that looked pretty sharp behind a brand-new offensive line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Falcons didn't play well at all in the first half of the opener, giving up 215 yards before halftime. They calmed down in the second half and pitched a shutout after halftime, but concerns remain. Air Force needs to get much better pressure on the quarterback, and be more aggressive in coverage. Health at cornerback is a huge concern. Reggie Rembert has a neck injury and might not play. Anthony Wright has sore ribs. He's probably more likely than Rembert to play, but Troy Calhoun wouldn't say if either will be ready for Saturday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't want to go out being completely defeated against BYU." -- Fullback Jared Tew on Air Force's senior class, which hasn't beaten the Cougars.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: BYU at Air Force, Sept. 11 -- Air Force (1-0 overall) plays BYU (1-0 overall) in the Mountain West opener for both teams. The Falcons have not been very competitive with the Cougars in recent years, a trend they need to change if they want to finish in the top three of the conference. BYU isn't thrilled to be getting Air Force so early in the season. The Falcons have had much better success against the Cougars when they play early in the year.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Air Force needs to shorten the game by running the ball effectively. The Falcons also have to play to at least a stalemate against BYU's excellent special teams, and on defense, confuse BYU's inexperienced quarterbacks with some exotic looks and force some crucial mistakes.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB Josh Hall -- Hall had almost no experience when he emerged from training camp as Air Force's third cornerback. That changed when Reggie Rembert suffered a neck injury on the first series of the game and Hall had to play the rest of the way. With Rembert and Anthony Wright nursing injuries, Hall could play a major factor in Saturday's game. BYU will test him often if he starts.
RB Asher Clark -- Clark had a solid opener but did leave some yards on the field and never broke a run longer than 17 yards. He is going to have to hit a big play or two if the Falcons are to beat BYU. The Falcons are deep at tailback, but Clark is the best of the group.
WR Jonathan Warzeka -- Warzeka had a huge game in the opener, catching a long touchdown pass on the opening drive, adding a 21-yard run and having a big day on kickoff returns. He is becoming a very effective, versatile weapon for the Falcons, and BYU is going to have to keep a close eye on him. The Falcons' coaching staff could get creative with him this week.
--Starting CB Reggie Rembert is questionable with a neck injury. Troy Calhoun said that he will be cautious in bringing him back.
--Starting CB Anthony Wright suffered a rib injury in training camp, and he came out of the opener sore. He missed practice Monday, but the Falcons are hopeful he will play this week.
--Backup CB Chris Miller, a freshman, could see a bump in playing time if Rembert and/or Hall can't play this week. Josh Hall would start, but Miller is behind him on the depth chart.