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October 21, 2011

Boise State, Air Force tune out conference shuffle

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Despite all the speculation and chaos swirling around conference realignment, coaches and players for Boise State and Air Force can at least agree on one thing: Just focus on football.

"I'll start worrying about that at the end of the season, but right now all I care about is getting ready to play football," said Boise State linebacker J.C Percy. "Right now, it doesn't matter where we play next season."

The No. 5 Broncos (6-0, 1-0 Mountain West) host Air Force on Saturday in a game that months ago was generating buzz as Boise State's first home game as a member of the MWC.

For Broncos fans, the Falcons' presence would cement Boise State's split from the Western Athletic Conference and signal the next step in the program's quest for national respect. Maybe the first-ever meeting between the Broncos and Falcons, a team with a winning tradition and four straight bowl appearances, could touch off a new Rocky Mountain rivalry?

But some of the excitement and significance may have waned amid speculation both schools could be playing in the Big East or some other conference next year.

None of that matters now, however, for players and coaches.

"All they know right now is we're getting ready to play Boise State," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "Anything else is a side item, as it should be."

For the Falcons (3-3, 0-2), Saturday marks a chance to turn things around. The Falcons have been beaten badly in the last two games, a 59-33 blowout at Notre Dame and 41-27 loss at home last week to San Diego State. Air Force is 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 1994, when it was a member of the WAC.

The problem hasn't been on offense.

The Falcons' triple option, led by senior quarterback Tim Jefferson, is unique in the college football landscape and presents a preparation challenge each week for teams that have never faced it before - such as Boise State.

Air Force is averaging 506 total yards per game, 10th best nationally, and Jefferson accounts for about 180 yards of that rushing and passing. With an effective zone blocking scheme, the Falcons also boast the nation's third-best rushing attack, averaging a whopping 336 yards, and head into Bronco Stadium scoring more than 35 points a game.

"It will be as big of a challenge, without question, as we've seen this year," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "We haven't seen any team that uses cut blocking quite like them. It's difficult to prepare for.

"They are going to get their yards. The strategy for us is to score as many points as possible," Petersen said.

And there lies the challenge for Air Force.

Stopping Kellen Moore & Co. is a test for any defense, particularly one that has given up 122 points in the last nine quarters and been hit hard by injuries along the front line.

Calhoun points to execution breakdowns and mental lapses that have led to big plays. As a unit, the Falcons are allowing 229 rushing yards and an average of 35.5 points, both among the worst in the country.

Players acknowledge chronic problems with tackling have wilted the confidence of the defense.

"Our defense is probably where morale is the lowest right now," said linebacker Alex Means. "All of us are disappointed with how we are playing. We're a .500 team right now, but we're better than that."

It may be tough for Means and his teammates to prove that against the Broncos.

Boise State's offense is humming along and scoring points in bunches - and doing it quickly. In the last two games, blowouts against Fresno State and last week's MWC debut at Colorado State, the Broncos rolled up 120 points.

Against Colorado State, tailback Doug Martin rushed for a career-best 200 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns, including a long run of 65 yards.

And Moore, who is 44-2 as a starter and one win shy of former Texas QB Colt McCoy's all-time collegiate record, has gotten his groove back after a lukewarm performance against Nevada on Oct. 1. In his last two games, Moore has thrown for 592 yards and seven TDS with no interceptions. Last week, he completed his first 18 passes and engineered six scoring drives that took fewer than two minutes off the clock.

The perceived mismatch between the Broncos' offense and Falcons' defense may explain why odds makers have pegged Boise State as 31-point favorites.

But as Means points out, the pressure to win - and in big fashion - remains on the Broncos.

"We've got nothing to lose," Means said. "I like pressure, but this is a no-pressure game for us. We're already expected to lose. If we just have to go out there and play football and have fun ... we could shock some people."












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