For anyone who likes a series that produces strange results, Air Force and Hawaii must seem awfully appealing.
The teams have met three times since 2012 after taking a 11-year hiatus, and the games couldn’t have been more different.
In 2012, the Falcons beat the Rainbow Warriors 21-7 at Falcon Stadium without attempting a pass — the only time in the past 27 years the team didn’t throw at least once.
In 2015, Air Force went to Honolulu and won 59-7, prompting Hawaii to fire coach Norm Chow the following day.
Then, the following year the Falcons were 17-point home favorites over the Warriors but lost in overtime after Luke Strebel, who had made 22 consecutive field goals, misfired on a chip shot to win it at the end of regulation.
It’s all distant history as far as Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is concerned.
“Even the game three years ago seems like a long, long time ago,” Calhoun said.
But Hawaii still remembers it.
“That was huge,” said coach Nick Rolovich, whose team needed that victory to become bowl eligible in his first year.
“It’s tough getting beat up like that, then coming back the next year,” said quarterback Cole McDonald, who witnessed the lopsided loss during his redshirt year and then traveled – but did not play – in the upset victory at Falcon Stadium.
So, what will this year bring?
The on-paper matchup seems pretty clear between these teams 4-2 teams with similar resumes – two impressive victories (Hawaii over Arizona and Oregon State; Air Force over Colorado and Fresno State) and two losses in difficult venues (both at No. 14 Boise State; Hawaii at Washington; Air Force at Navy).
Hawaii possesses the nation’s No. 4 passing attack (351.5 yards per game), while Air Force has the No. 2 running game (296.5).
“They throw it as much as anyone in the country,” Air Force safety Grant Theil said. “They’re aggressive. Their quarterback has a great arm, I mean, he’ll throw it 60, 70 yards down the field. We’ll have to have probably our best game Saturday.
“They’re coming off a loss. Any good team that comes off a loss, they’re next game is going to be super sharp.”
It’s the kind of run vs. pass disparity, not to mention the polar opposites when it comes to school locations, that Rolovich thinks makes the Mountain West special.
“There’s really good diversity of scheme,” he said. “I think that makes for week-in, week-out, really exciting football.”
It’s the excitement – or maybe the extremes in terms of unpredictability – that has marked this series in recent years. It’s enough to suggest that maybe it will be Air Force’s passing game, and not the running attack, that spurs the Falcons. Or vice versa for the Rainbow Warriors.
Oh, and there’s a trophy on the line – the Gen. Laurence S. Kuter Trophy, which is presented to the winner of the game between the programs.
“I believe we’re in possession of every rivalry trophy that this school has,” Rolovich told Hawaii media, “and I’d like to keep it that way.”