October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm
The Mountain West season has largely been a train wreck for Air Force. The defense has given up an average of 49 points during a four-game skid.
But an opportunity for redemption awaits in the Falcons' other "league" - the three-way round robin for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy that begins Saturday at Navy after much doubt throughout the week that the game would be played because of the government shutdown.
The trophy and accompanying trip to the White House is almost enough to salvage a season, even if the conference woes were to continue.
"It wouldn't be a successful season, but in ways it would be something to look back on and be happy about instead of just sulking," linebacker Joey Nichol said.
"The motto around here is always 'Win the West,'" guard Moshood Adeniji said about the conference. "But this is a completely separate thing and a different goal. If we were to win the Mountain West and not the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, that would hurt."
Air Force won the trophy six consecutive years from 1997 through 2002 and took it again in 2010 and '11. Navy reclaimed it last year with a 28-21 overtime victory at Falcon Stadium. The winner of this game has gone on to win the past 16 Commander-in-Chief's trophies.
"Not having it was such an empty feeling," Adeniji said. "Sending those seniors off after watching the two classes before go to the White House was just hollow."
Air Force will go into the game with a renewed hop in its step after sophomore Karson Roberts invigorated the offense with 161 rushing yards - the most by a Falcon quarterback since 2001 - in a 45-42 loss at Nevada. Roberts was thrust into the starting role after a knee injury to Kale Pearson in the season opener and the loss of Jaleel Awini last week when he was ineligible as a cadet.
"For a guy to come in as the No. 3, to have no fear in his eyes and to run the ball like it was his job to begin with was huge," Adeniji said. "And I feel like it was huge for everyone else, too. I feel like maybe it made me play better and gave me more confidence. Other running backs played better, too. There were some big questions, but those have been erased in my mind."