WHEN: Thursday, October 10, 9 p.m. ET
WHERE: Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, CO (46,692)
CONFERENCES: MWC vs. MWC
2013 SEASON: San Diego State (2-3) (1-0); Air Force (1-5) (0-4)
HEAD COACHES: Rocky Long, San Diego State (19-12); Troy Calhoun, Air Force (48-36)
TV COVERAGE: CBS Sports Network
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads, 19-12
LAST MEETING: San Diego State 28, Air Force 9 (11/12/2012)
Yes, this game is happening on Thursday (no thanks to you, Government Shutdown), so that's a relief. The headaches involved in figuring out a MWC finish that had one less game for some teams would've been awful -- especially for a team like San Diego State that figures to come in around the five- or six-win mark. That loss of a game could mean the difference between the postseason or not, so thankfully, that issue appears to be behind us (for now).
On the actual field, this is a matchup of two teams going in completely opposite directions. After a very rough 0-3 start, State has rebounded to win two straight, including last week's OT thriller against Nevada. Air Force, on the other hand, hasn't won since August (vs. Colgate) and have struggled in nearly every game since. Both teams have shuffled through several quarterbacks, but as of late, stability has apparently taken hold. For the Falcons, Karson Roberts has played adequately these past couple weeks, despite starting the year as a third-stringer. And for the Aztecs, walk-on JUCO transfer Quinn Kaehler has re-energized a stagnant passing game and is now firmly entrenched in the starting role.
Quinn Kaehler, QB/San Diego State: Kaehler's ascension to the top job is somewhat miraculous, but once you take a look at the stat line, it's easy to see how he got here and why he's the solution State's been looking for at QB. The junior is accurate (65.4% completion on the year), with some impressive size (6'4" and 215 pounds) and an improving ability to make critical plays. While it took him a couple games to get acclimated and eliminate turnovers, these past two weeks he's been a force. Throwing for 515 yards and three scores in these past couple weeks, he actually makes the SDSU passing game a viable part of their attack, which was what they needed all along.
Nick Tenhaeff, LB/San Diego State: Defensively, the Aztecs haven't looked too hot this season (see: 40 points allowed to EIU and Nevada's 21-point comeback last week). Nonetheless, they do know how to get into opposing backfields reasonably well, and no player on the team does it better than linebacker Nick Tenhaeff. The senior linebacker has six TFLs thus far, one of which was a sack, and is seemingly getting stronger with every game. Last week, he recorded a season-high eight tackles, and will be a key point in Air Force's offensive gameplan Thursday.
Karson Roberts, QB/Air Force: Roberts isn't the best player on the Air Force offense -- either Broam Hart or Jon Lee could take that honor -- but as of late, he's become the most important. Functioning more as a runner than a passer, he's instrumental in setting up the running backs and his failure to do so has some horrible consequences. Against Nevada, the team scored 42 points and rushed for 375 yards behind his 161. But versus Navy, he picked up just 31 yards and the team only had 231 yards on the ground to go with just 10 points. Roberts will be tasked with establishing a tempo very early against San Diego State.
Joey Nichol, LB/Air Force: Nichol has come on strong for Air Force, becoming the team's leading tackler, while also recording the most tackles for loss. At 6'1" and 230 pounds, he's quick and can get around slower linemen to disrupt rushing plays in particular. He's already notched 11 or more sacks in three different games this year, though for the Aztecs' purposes it's worth noting that Navy largely held him in check last week (just four tackles). They'd be wise to throw an extra body at him when possible, especially since Kaehler isn't incredibly mobile.
If San Diego State can pull in a win here, that'll get them back to .500 overall and at 2-0 on the season, they'd still be very much involved in the West Division race. Air Force, on the other hand, is fighting for their postseason lives this week, trying to avoid a sixth loss that would likely doom them to a win-out-or-bust end to the year. Both defenses are fairly porous -- allowing over 35 points per game each -- so this one's ultimately going to come down to offenses. Roberts has been hot and cold in the starting job, while Kaehler's certainly played well beyond expectations to this point. If SDSU can find some balance and move the ball on the ground as well like they did against Nevada (255 yards), I have to like their chances in this game just a bit more.