The forecast is calling for 81 degrees and the calendar hasn’t yet flipped from September.
But the vibe given from the Air Force and Nevada football teams suggests an urgency generally reserved for much later in the year as they prepare for the latest meeting in a series that has had flip-of-a-coin uncertainty and could set the course for each team’s season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s desperation,” Falcons defensive tackle Micah Capra said, “as much as a thirst or drive to get there.”
The “there” that Air Force (1-2, 0-1 Mountain West) is trying to reach is a plural. They want improvement, and they want the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. Neither of those outcomes hinge on Saturday’s result as the Wolf Pack visit at 2 p.m.
But the Falcons, who have lost two straight, also want to compete for a Mountain West championship and play in a 10th bowl game in 12 years. Those hopes would take a serious hit with a home loss.
After this comes a visit from Navy and a trip to San Diego State. Following a road game at UNLV there are battles with Boise State and Army. A loss here means the Falcons would already be walking a bowl eligibility tight rope as it enters into that stretch, never mind the closing run of division games against New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State.
A win would ease that burden, at least somewhat.
“Of course the outcomes of the past two games haven’t been what we’ve wanted,” senior slot receiver Ronald Cleveland said. “But we’ve shown signs that we can move the ball, we can make plays. I’m not really worried. It will come to us.”
Nevada (2-2) comes in with an offense powerful enough to win the Mountain West. It received a jolt of confidence from beating Oregon State, knocking off the Pac-12 member 37-35 on Sept. 15. The Wolf Pack now needs to prove it can win away from Reno, where it has dropped eight in a row.
“In order for us to be a good team and have a chance at winning the Mountain West, you have to win on the road,” Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi said. “It’s a big game.”
Added coach Jay Norvell, “This is a game that we really need to have. For our goals this season, we need to go on the road to win. We’re not afraid to talk about that.”
The past three games in this series have been high-scoring and close. Air Force escaped on the road last year thanks to a last-second field goal in a 45-42 victory. In 2014, the Falcons won 45-38 in overtime. In 2013 it was Nevada winning 45-42.
There’s little to suggest this game will be any different. Air Force is averaging 36 points this year, while its defense is allowing 38 points per game to FBS opponents. Nevada is scoring 41 points per game and giving up 40.
“We’re going to have to play these wild kind of games and find a way to win,” Norvell said.
Both teams see this as a highly winnable game, for good reason. Nevada, for all that firepower, is just 5-11 under Norvell. Air Force is just 4-9 against FBS competition since last year.
These are teams with internal aspirations, but in need of victories.
One will sling shot in October on a high note, the other will see its obstacles compounded by another loss.