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Bowl Game To Bowl-less: Air Force vs. Nevada

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Will coach Troy Calhoun guide Air Force to a seventh straight bowl game...
...or will quarterback Cody Fajardo lead the Wolf Pack back to the postseason in Brian Polian's first season as head coach? Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

Earlier this month, we debated which bowl-less 2012 Mountain West Conference program has the best chance at qualifying for 2013 postseason play.

Now, we’ll examine the opposite scenario: Which of the seven 2012 MWC bowl qualifiers is in the most danger of falling out of the postseason picture?

And with the conference possessing six official bowl tie-ins, it’s highly probable that at least one of the seven will be home for the 2013 holidays.

Anyway, let us debate:

The Case For Air Force

The Falcons have made six straight bowl appearances, qualifying each season since coach Troy Calhoun took command in 2007, but that run is in real danger this coming season.

First, AFA squeaked into the postseason a year ago, finishing 6-6 in the regular season and beating only one .500-or-better FBS team (Nevada) to get there.

This season, the Falcons will enter the 2013 campaign as one of the least-experienced squads in the nation with a Mountain West-low eight returning starters and ranking 123rd out of 126 FBS programs in college football analyst Phil Steele’s thorough NCAA Experience Chart.

Moreover, the youth and inexperience is concentrated where AFA can least afford it. The Falcons’ forte remains their triple-option attack, but there will be a new starting quarterback at the helm along with a new tailback and fullback and three new starters along the offensive line.

The QB, of course, is the key position here, and neither of the two leading candidates — junior Kale Pearson or sophomore Jaleel Awini — possesses previous starting experience.

Sure, it’s easy to say the Falcons simply will learn on the fly, but with six 2012 bowl teams — Utah State, Boise State, Nevada, Navy, San Diego State and Notre Dame — among AFA’s first eight games, Calhoun’s troops hardly will have time to catch their breath.

The Case For Nevada

Eleven bowl games.

That’s how many the Wolf Pack have played in, including a current run of eight straight, since moving up to the Division I/FBS ranks in 1992.

However — and here’s the rub — Chris Ault has coached Nevada in all but one of those contests, and the College Football Hall of Famer stepped down in the offseason, handing the reins to 38-year-old Brian Polian, who’s tackling his first head-coaching gig.

Polian will have 12 starters back, including All-MWC second-team QB Cody Fajardo, from the Pack’s 7-6 season a year ago, but he also inherits one of the nation’s worst 2012 defenses and must deal with arguably the most rugged schedule in the 12-team conference.

Overall, Nevada finished 95th in FBS total defense (442.5 yards per game), 99th in scoring defense (33.8 ppg) and 110th in rushing D (211.8 ypg). Anywhere close to a repeat 2013 performance in a larger and tougher league rife with QB talent will almost certainly guarantee Nevada its first bowl-less campaign since 2004.

And then there’s the schedule, which is loaded with road land mines as the Wolf Pack faces no fewer than five 2012 bowl teams on enemy turf with games at UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State, Boise State and Fresno State.

Buckle up, Polian.

Running that gauntlet is no way to start a head-coaching career.

The Winner (Or The Odd Team Out)

We’ll go with the Wolf Pack, giving the edge to Calhoun and the usually-resilient Falcons.

Air Force and Nevada actually square off Sept. 28 in Reno in a game that could settle this debate right then and there, but there still will be two months of football to be played afterward.

Still, putting the merits and minuses of AFA and Nevada aside, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see another MWC program,  such as a Wyoming, UNLV, New Mexico or Colorado State, turn things around and keep both teams home for the holidays.