As different as the Air Force Academy and University of Colorado might be academically and culturally, their football programs often have followed similar paths during the past few decades.
Both the Falcons and Buffaloes struggled mightily in the late 1970s. Both surged in the 1980s, Air Force followed by Colorado. Both soared under the guidance of evangelical head coaches, AFA's Fisher DeBerry and CU's Bill McCartney.
Both skidded past the start of the new millennium. Air Force has revived with Troy Calhoun, with CU feeling similar hope behind Jon Embree. But as the two head into 2012, they're in a state of transition, with short-term quarterbacks — Connor Dietz at Air Force, Jordan Webb at CU — playing while others develop.
If you asked Calhoun and Embree for their honest assessments of 2012, both would surely admit playing in any bowl game would be their No. 1 goal this fall.
But will it happen? Neither the Buffs nor the Falcons can say for sure. When your best hope is 7-5, that doesn't leave much margin for error. One or two key injuries, one or two close losses, and they're looking at 5-7 or worse.
So let's project outcomes, game by game, for the upcoming season.
Sept. 1, vs. Colorado State at Denver: Probably convincing. CU, 26-14.
Sept. 8, Sacramento State: Chance to build confidence at home. CU, 33-10.
Sept. 15, at Fresno State: Not an easy trip, but Fresno's still adjusting to new staff. CU, 24-23.
Sept. 22, at Washington State: Cougars will be better under Mike Leach, but not yet. CU, 30-27.
Sept. 29, UCLA: You'd think the Buffs could win this, but Bruins are a step ahead. UCLA, 23-16.
Oct. 11, Arizona State: Thursday night home game, ASU in transition — good timing. CU, 31-23.
Oct. 20, at Southern Cal: No chance against the Trojans. USC, 47-20.
Oct. 27, at Oregon: Ducks might be down a little, but not much. Oregon, 45-31.
Nov. 3, Stanford: If the Buffs are much better, this could be a surprise. But likely not. Stanford, 33-30.
Nov. 10, at Arizona: Wildcats will want revenge from last year. Arizona, 19-14.
Nov. 17, Washington: Likely a scorefest unless weather intervenes. UW, 40-36.
Nov. 23, Utah: Faint bowl hopes for Buffs on the line, after five consecutive losses. Won't be easy. CU, 27-23.
Air Force (7-5)
Sept. 1, Idaho State: Typical easy opener for Falcons. AFA, 38-13.
Sept. 8, at Michigan: Trouble in Ann Arbor, and it won't be pleasant. Michigan, 41-24.
Sept. 22, at Nevada-Las Vegas: One of the season's pivotal games. UNLV will be improved. AFA, 30-27.
Sept. 29, Colorado State: Lucky to catch the Rams early in coach Jim McElwain's first season. AFA, 34-22.
Oct. 6, Navy: Another telltale game, but the Middies will be ready for revenge. Navy, 20-17.
Oct. 13, at Wyoming: Long day in Laramie chasing the Cowboys. Wyo, 37-30.
Oct. 20, New Mexico: Falcons catch the Lobos in rebuilding mode. AFA, 44-17.
Oct. 26, Nevada: Another crucial test against a hard-to-stop offense. AFA, 41-39.
Nov. 3, at Army: Everyone says Army is much better, but Falcons still have the edge. AFA, 24-19.
Nov. 10, at San Diego State: Not a good matchup, with Aztecs heading to the Big East. SDSU, 35-31.
Nov. 16, Hawaii: Friday night in November — should be cold, meaning a major home-field edge. AFA, 26-20.
Nov. 24, at Fresno State: Falcons always have had trouble with the Bulldogs, whose coach is ex-AFA player and assistant Tim DeRuyter. Fresno, 23-19.
Dec. 15, New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque: It would be the Mountain West against a Pac-12 opponent. Who knows, maybe Colorado?