CFB Preview: Air Force @ San Jose State

By Simon Carroll

Saturday brings a jam-packed slate of blockbuster College Football matchups. But why wait until then, when you can whet your appetite the night before? Friday brings us a mouth-watering Mountain West tilt between the Air Force Falcons and the San Jose State Spartans: 

The Story So Far...

Troy Calhoun and the Air Force Academy’s football program are tied at the hip. After playing quarterback for the Falcons from 1985-1988, Calhoun immediately began his coaching career as a grad assistant in Colorado Springs. After assuming roles such as reruiting coordinator and junior varsity offensive coordinator, Calhoun left Air Force and wouldn’t return for 12 years, taking in stops at Ohio and Wake Forest, as well as spells in the NFL at Denver and Houston.

After running Gary Kubiak’s offense with the Texans, Calhoun finally returned home in 2007 as the 7th head coach in Air Force history. 2023 marks his 17th season at the helm of the Falcons, an incredible tenure usually matched only at the other service academies. Friday’s trip to San Jose State marks his 200th game in charge.

Calhoun won’t be given an easy ride in this personal landmark moment, coming up against a potent and tricky Spartans program enjoying healthy consistency of their own. Brent Brennan has been head coach at CEFCU Stadium for more than six seasons. A West Coast native, Brennan’s father Steve actually played receiver for the Spartans back in the sixties.

SJSU has perhaps been conspicuous by it’s mediocrity since joining the Mountain West conference in 2012, but Brennan has achieved something in six years that Calhoun hasn’t in 16; win a conference title. The Spartans went undefeated in conference play in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and was ranked nationally (#24) for only the third time in the school’s history.

San Jose State are considered to be on an upward trajectory under Brennan – so much so that donors, boosters and alumni have just forked out $70m for a brand new, state of the art athletic center for the program. With two schools on the rise, Friday’s game looks set to be a Mountain West classic.

Week 3 Review

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It’s fair to say that San Jose State have not had the easiest of schedules thus far. After being despatched by two PAC-12 powerhouses in USC and Oregon State, the Spartans unsurprisingly took FCS opponents Cal Poly to the woodshed in Week 2.

Last week’s defeat to Toledo from the outside might seem like a disappointing loss, but the Rockets are quite the force under Jason Campbell; the previous week they scored 70 points, and lost to Power 5 Illinois by just two points in their season opener. With four games already in the books, SJSU will be relishing embarking on conference play.

Spoiler alert: Air Force were my tip for the Mountain West this offseason. But despite heading into Saturday’s game undefeated, the Falcons haven’t been as convincing as you might think. A tough ten point victory over FBS newcomers Sam Houston State was hardly this program’s finest performance…

With that said, they opened their conference slate with a clean win against Utah State – and one look at the stats tells you that despite being a former quarterback himself, Troy Calhoun remains religious to the triple-option offense. A whopping 334 yards on the ground gives you an idea of what Brennan and his defense are attempting to combat on Friday night.

The Quarterbacks…

Analysing any of the service academy’s quarterbacks feels a little disingenuous. The triple option offense is so unique that those under center require different attributes to your average QB. And so it goes for Air Force’s Zac Larrier, who has thrown just ten passes through three games this season. Six completions has resulted in sixty yards and one score. Perhaps compare that to what he can do with his legs though; 220 yards and three TD’s on the ground allude to his speed – something further enhanced with his history as a medal-winning 200m runner.

Things are a lot more conventional under center for San Jose State. Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is in his second season with the Spartans after transferring from Hawaii. The big-armed gunlinger passed 10,000 career yards against Toledo on Saturday, and has started 2023 on an absolute tear. Six touchdowns versus one interception and nearly 800 yards, and we’ve still got one more game to go in September – Cordeiro set career numbers for SJSU last year, but has a real chance of eclipsing them as his team enters conference play.

Prospects To Watch…

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Nick Nash – WR, San Jose State: If it wasn’t for a heartbreaking injury that has seen him sidelined for the entire year, then we might have been talking about Justin Lockhart here. Lockhart might use a medical redshirt and be back in San Jose in 2024, so how about his teammate? Former QB Nick Nash started 2024 on FIRE with three touchdowns against USC in the season opener, and already has 20 catches and 206 yards this year. Consider him a taller Antwaan Randle El, with the resume to be used in trick plays as a passer.

Trey Taylor – S, Air Force: Not many NFL Draft prospects hail from Colorado Springs, but Taylor may just break the mould. The senior safety, who began his Air Force career as a running back, has an undoubted nose for the football. Nine pass breakups and three interceptions has seen opposing MWC quarterbacks throw away from the center fielder. Defensive Coordinator Brian Knorr trusts Taylor to erase pesky slot receivers too, giving his talented DB some nickel duties when needed. Taylor is a fun watch – and unlike other service academy prospects has the measurables the NFL can use.

Fernando Carmona, OT, San Jose State: As a redshirt sophomore, I would be stunned to see Carmona declare himself for the 2024 NFL Draft. But there is zero doubt in my mind that this hulking left tackle can play on Sundays. 6’5″ and already 325lbs, Carmona has dancing feet and has consistently locked down the blindside for the last year – allowing Chevan Cordeiro to thrive in the gold, white and blue.


I find it difficult to believe that a team as talented and well coached as San Jose State fall to 1-4, but a brutal schedule makes this a very real possibility. Air Force are giving 5.5 points at the time of writing, and this seems to be getting bigger as we get closer to kickoff. The Spartans are at home and have the firepower to hang with the Falcons even if they fall to defeat, so I think they cover.

A low line of 46.5 is a result of Air Force’s run heavy game, but even still I’m inclined to take the over in what should be a fascinating battle of styles.

Prediction: Air Force 27 – 24 San Jose State

Feature Image Credit: Getty Images

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