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Is It a Rivalry? Boise State vs. Air Force

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Our writers dig deep to find the answer

Air Force at Boise State Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In this new series, our writers will be looking at various Mountain West matchups and determining whether or not they qualify as rivalries. Our second edition features Boise State vs. Air Force.

Record: Boise State has 5 wins to Air Force’s 3

Longest winning streak: Both teams have had three game winning streaks, Boise State can win their fourth in a row in 2020.

Largest margin of victory: Boise State 44-19 in 2017. Air Force 28-14 in 2014.

How does each team feel about the opposition and its fanbase?

Danny: If you took a poll of all Boise State fans asking for one word that represents their feeling on a gameday versus Air Force, I think the most popular response would be some form of “Frustration.” Air Force and the triple option drives Boise State fans crazy. The ball-hogging, mistake-free, and grind-you-down style makes an entire city pull their hair out.

The feeling of absolute frustration has started to ease during the three-game winning streak, but any team that beats Boise State three games in a row is going to garner respect from a Bronco fan. As for the Falcon’s fanbase, Boise State fans respect the players and fans of Air Force for far more than the competition on the field.

NittanyFalcon: The Falcons set the same three goals every season. Of course, the top goal is to beat Army and Navy, and win the Commander’s Cup. The second goal is to get Bowl eligibility, and the third goal is to win the Mountain West championship. The road to Mountain West champ always goes through Boise State, so the fans definitely view the Broncos as a rival. As far as I am aware there is no animosity between the two fan bases, and I believe there is a high level of mutual respect.

Would you consider the rivalry competitive?

Danny: This series has been competitive by any standard, but it’s been an intensely competitive series by Boise State standards. Only once in eight games (Boise State’s 25-point win in 2017) has either team lost by four possessions, and only once (Boise State’s 22-point win in 2013) has either team lost by three possessions. Each team has winning streaks of three games, and the average point differential of the series is BSU winning by just over six points.

NittanyFalcon: The results of past games suggest that it is a competitive series. Going forward, it appears that Boise State has taken the lead and may continue on that path. Early on, the Falcon offense confounded the Broncos and allowed the Falcons to overcome the talent/size advantage that the Broncos will always have. The option still provides the Falcons with a leveler in the matchup, but the Broncos are now familiar with it. For the Falcons, the key will be to become more consistent on defense, and get the offense the ball. The constraints of recruiting for an academy can result in some up and down performances on defense.

Which matchups stick out in your mind?

Danny: Speaking to the competitiveness of the series, a Boise State loss is the matchup that sticks out most in my mind. The game that I carry around with me is the 20 – 27 heartbreaking loss in Colorado Springs in 2016. Brett Rypien was a mind-blowing 9 – 26 for 316 yards! Rypien completed just 35% of his passes and averaged 35 yards per completion. Also, Boise State gave up 314 rushing yards to just 45 passing yards. To solidify the game in my mind, in their last possession, Boise State drove the ball 90-yards down to the Air Force one-yard line and couldn’t punch it in to tie the game. That one yard (or another yard in Laramie) prevented the Broncos from having a shot to compete for a MWC Championship title. I am sad now.

NittanyFalcon: I guess I’m a partisan Falcon supporter, because the game I remember is the first of the three wins by the Falcons in 2014. If you read my articles on the Falcon offense and defense, this game is the gold standard in how to execute those schemes. In particular, this game started to put Weston Steelhammer on the path to All-American with his three interceptions and a sack, which helped to overcome 370 passing yards by the Broncos. The offense racked up 300 yards rushing and established a 32-28 minute time of possession advantage.

If you asked Air Force fans what they think about Boise State what would they say aloud? What would they secretly be thinking?

NittanyFalcon: I’m confident that most Falcon fans would say that the Broncos are consistently the most talented and well coached team in the Mountain West. In private, I am just as confident that all Falcon fans would say, “Get rid of the smurf turf, it’s very distracting trying to watch the game with that awful blue rug on the field!”

If you asked Boise State fans what they think about Air Force what would they say aloud? What would they secretly be thinking?

Danny: For any other team that might be considered a “rival” of Boise State, the difference between what the fans say aloud and what they think secretly would be striking, but with Air Force I’d guess it’s similar. Boise State fans respect Air Force both on and off the field. Both aloud and in secret Bronco fans hate the triple option and curse the inexplicable legality of cut blocks (and bemoan the times it’s done illegally and not called).

The one area of difference between the dark thoughts better left unsaid and the words spoken aloud is that a small portion of the BSU fan base, myself included, secretly think the Broncos have figured out the triple option and the losses to Air Force are a thing of the past. I guess I let the cat out of the bag on that one.

Final verdict, would you consider these two teams to be rivals?

Danny: I think I can speak for the majority of BSU fans on this one and say no, Air Force is not a rival of Boise State. Air Force has been a thorn in the side of the Broncos, are well respected by the fanbase, and fans are on high alert during the entire week that culminates in a clash with the Falcons, but that doesn’t constitute a rivalry.

A rivalry is about tradition, animosity, competitiveness, and both squads considering the battles to be of upmost importance. This matchup will never meet that threshold. Boise State vs. Air Force might ultimately meet the tradition and competitiveness test, but Bronco fans are never going to hold hate in our hearts for folks that represent the United States Air Force, and BSU will never match the importance of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. As good as the games may be, this will never be a rivalry game.

NittanyFalcon: I agree with Danny on this one, the Broncos are not a rival in the strictest sense. Only Army and Navy can claim the tag as rivals for the Falcons. However, I would put the Bronco-Falcon matchup as the third most anticipated game of the season for most fans, and I hope that continues into the future.