Published: August 25, 2013
In Air Force's football history, which stretches back to 1956, you would struggle to find a more menacing 49-day stretch than the one that begins Sept. 7 with Utah State and ends Oct. 26 when Notre Dame invades a packed Falcon Stadium.
During that seven-week span, the Falcons face three top 20 teams (Utah State, Boise State and Notre Dame) along with Navy, their archrival, with Wyoming, Nevada and San Diego State thrown in, just for fun.
How frightening is this stretch?
- Utah State, Boise State and Notre Dame combined for 34 victories
last season with Utah State and Boise State scoring 30 or more points 17 times. (Air Force's defense has allowed 30 or more points 12 times in the past two seasons.)
- Navy has defeated Air Force in eight of the past 10 meetings, including last season's come-from-behind 28-21 victory.
- The Falcons will play San Diego State on four days rest after the trip to Navy. SDSU pounded Air Force, 28-9, last season.
- Wyoming arrives at Falcon Stadium highly motivated after Air Force's colorful, controversial victory last season. This win, on a miserable night in Wyoming, featured one of football history's least-civil end-of-the-game greetings by Cowboys coach Dave Christensen.
The stretch is, no doubt, terrifying, but the Falcons are taking a detached, let's-not-worry-about-it approach.
"We've got to take care of today," said coach Troy Calhoun after an August practice. "You can't look too far down the road."
Offensive line coach Clay Hendrix shrugged when he considered all the big challenges in his near future.
"I don't really pay attention to that," he said. "You're not going to change the schedule."
Defensive coordinator Charlton Warren held up his hands.
"You really have to worry about winning the first game," he said.
Charlton, you might want to worry about something else. The Falcons' first game is against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Colgate. The Falcons have defeated their past seven FBS opponents, 361-93.
The 49-day span will do much to define the Falcons. Air Force concludes the season with games against Army, New Mexico, Nevada-Las Vegas and Colorado State. This quartet combined for 12 wins in 50 games last season.
If the Falcons can sail through the death march of September and October with five wins, they could claim 10 victories this season.
Junior defensive lineman Nick Fitzgerald, who started 10 games last season, sees the brutal stretch as an opportunity.
"It's been a while since we really had a great season and finished the way we wanted to," Fitzgerald said, remembering the bowl defeats that ended the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
A win over one of the marquee teams on the schedule - Utah State, Boise State or Notre Dame - would boost the Falcons' national profile, Fitzgerald said.
"And it would get us to a bigger, better bowl game," Fitzgerald said.
Defensive back Chris Miller joins Fitzgerald in seeing a schedule that might be seen as intimidating as an opportunity.
Still, Miller embraces realism as he examines what might be the most daunting stretch of games in Air Force football history.
"I don't think optimistic would be the word I would use," Miller said.
Don't think optimism would be the word I would use, either.