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Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels (4) reacts after scoring a touchdown during Air Force football home game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Falcon Stadium on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

He put “Chill” in his Twitter handle, so of course Demonte Meeks wouldn’t label Boise State as a bigger opponent than any other.

“They’re all the same, and they’re all just tally marks at the end of the day,” said the Air Force linebacker, known as Chill-Monte on the social media platform.

But…

“Granted,” Meeks added, “some games are harder to win.”

Most teams would say that about Boise State, a program that has the second-best winning percentage in college football since 2000 (trailing only Ohio State). Last week the Broncos picked themselves off the canvas following a 2-3 start to beat No. 10 BYU 26-17 on the road.

“They are exceptionally beyond talented,” coach Troy Calhoun said.

The Broncos have won four straight against Air Force, all coming by double digits.

But this followed a three-game winning streak in the series for the Falcons. And the respect in the series flows both directions.

“It’s probably one of the hardest games we’ll play all year just because of how different it is,” said Boise State cornerback Kekaula Kaniho, who will play in his program-record 55th game this week.

“When we practice for Air Force and play our offense, we’re like totally backward and confused just how different it is. And we know no matter how many looks we get in practice, it’s not going to be even close to the speed it is in the game. … We know every single year they are just as likely to beat us as we are them.”

At quick glance, it seemed like maybe this might turn into a rare down year for the Broncos (3-3, 1-1 Mountain West). They lost three of their first five games under new coach Andy Avalos, and of major interest to Air Force, Boise State has been the least-successful team in the Mountain West in running the ball (85.3 ypg) and the second-worst at stopping the run (180.2 ypg).

But look closer and a different picture comes into focus. The losses were on the road against UCF – a perennial power in the American Athletic Conference and soon bound for the Big 12 – in a 36-31 thriller, and against No. 12 Oklahoma State and a 4-1 Nevada team that owns a potential first-round pick at quarterback and is among the favorites to win the Mountain West.

They were in each of those games but didn’t finish. Then came the win at BYU, showing they’d finally climbed that mountain.

And remember the Utah State team that beat Air Force 49-45 at Falcon Stadium? The Broncos held that team without a touchdown in a 27-3 road win.

And while the rushing statistics have been a concern, the Broncos complement the running game with a top-30 passing attack led by veteran quarterback Hank Bachmeier.

“They are physical, they are large, they are old, and they can get to ballcarriers in a hurry,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of the Broncos’ run defense.

And as for first-year coach Avalos, the changes he’s brought on offense and defense have created headaches in terms of preparation.

“We’re putting a little extra time in this week,” Calhoun said.

So, too, are the players.

“We made a joke that this week is not a school week,” Meeks said. “You’ve got to sit down and actually watch a lot of film.”

The stakes are large for the Falcons (5-1, 2-1). A win would mean bowl eligibility, put them in a strong position in the conference race and potentially propel them into the Top 25 as they received votes in both polls this week.

But at the same time, they’re no larger than they were last week against Wyoming or will be next week against No. 24 San Diego State. And then comes Army. Then Colorado State.

As long as the Falcons keep winning, the circumstances will only continue to grow. So that’s been part of preparation this week, drowning the noise.

“I try not to make the platform too big,” quarterback Haaziq Daniels said, noting that the biggest platform he’s seen thus far came at Navy earlier this year in the Falcons’ 23-3 victory on Sept. 11 – their first win in Annapolis in 10 years. “I think they’re very talented, very good team. We just need to play out game and I think things will work out for us.”

And a little chill will help. Meeks remembers the game in Boise in 2019, when the Falcons – who would go on to finish 11-2 – led 13-10 with 1 minute left in the third quarter. But they ultimately lost 30-19.

He knows this team is hard to beat, and it is even harder if a team can’t stay even-keeled through the ups and downs that are sure to present themselves with a team loaded with proven standouts like running back George Holani and wide receiver Khalil Shakir.

“You just have to be committed,” Meeks said, “and ready to fight that fight.”

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