Items of intrigue we'll track as Air Force (7-3, 4-2 Mountain West) visits Nevada (7-3, 4-2) at 7 p.m. Friday on FS1 and 740 AM KVOR.
The Mountain West race
With two games remaining, Air Force is alive in the Mountain West title chase, but needs help. The Falcons (7-3, 4-2 Mountain West) enter this weekend one game behind Utah State (8-2, 5-1), and the Aggies hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. One path to a championship game berth would require two Air Force wins and Utah State losses to Wyoming and at New Mexico. The more likely path would be two Air Force wins, Boise State wins vs. New Mexico and at No. 23 San Diego State and one Utah State loss. This would create a three-way tie between Air Force, Boise State and Utah State. Utah State would be eliminated based on record in division – losses, in this scenario to Boise State and either Wyoming or New Mexico; while Air Force (to Utah State) and Boise State (to Air Force) each would have just one division loss. With two teams remaining in the tie, it would revert to head-to-head and Air Force would advance past Boise State. If Air Force loses Friday, it could be mathematically eliminated from the race Saturday.
The ‘other’ parts of the offenses
Most everybody knows about Nevada’s No. 4-ranked passing offense, led by potential first-round NFL draft pick Carson Strong at quarterback. And Air Force has become synonymous with its triple-option offense, which has produced the nation’s No. 1 ground attack two straight years. So, which team will be more effective in the other aspects of its offense? Air Force has passed for 347 yards in its past two games, it’s best two-game output this season. Nevada, on the other hand, hasn’t rushed for more than 53 yards or scored a rushing touchdown in the past four games (although some of the Wolf Pack’s short passes and screens effectively serve the same purpose as runs). The more effective either team is in establishing this alternate side of its offense, the more the defense will have to stray from selling out to stop the strength. Yards will be put up with these teams sticking to their strengths, but don’t be surprised to see the game turn based on an Air Force pass or Nevada run.
Air Force’s new cornerback
The Gazette learned through a source Thursday that Falcons sophomore cornerback Michael Mack II will miss Friday's game with a shoulder injury that might end his season. In his place, sophomore Eian Castonguay (6-foot, 185 pounds) is expected to make his first start. With an opposing quarterback like Carson Strong who is a veteran with pinpoint accuracy and a command of the offense, expect Nevada to challenge Castonguay frequently. The Falcons have plenty of veteran options, including seniors James Jones IV and David Eure as well as junior Zion Kelly should they need it. Castonguay was a three-sport athlete in high school in Garden City, Mich., paying both ways in football and churning out an 11.01-second 100-meter dash as an all-state sprinter in track. The Air Force coaches liked him enough to put him on the two-deep depth chart released this past summer.