Air Force hoping to avoid October slide

Updated: October 10, 2003, 1:44 PM ET

DENVER -- Whether it's the demands of being a student-athlete or the rigors of military life, Air Force always seems hit a wall around October.

In five of the past six seasons, the Falcons have followed an October loss with another one the next week. After a 28-25 loss to Navy last week, Air Force (5-1, 2-0 Mountain West Conference) is hoping to end the trend Saturday against Nevada-Las Vegas (4-1).

"There probably are 10 to 15 schools in Division I who are in the ballpark with our academic requirements," said assistant coach Blane Morgan, quarterback of the 1998 team that went 12-1. "When you add up the military obligations, the academic obligations, the lack of sleep, it amounts to something."

Air Force's October loss-fest started in 1997, when the Falcons opened the season 7-0 before losing to Fresno State and San Jose State in consecutive weeks. In 2000, Air Force was 5-1 when it lost to New Mexico and to Notre Dame in overtime the next week.

It continued in 2001, when Air Force lost to Brigham Young and New Mexico after a 4-1 start. A 6-0 start last year was followed by three consecutive losses, starting with a 21-14 setback to Notre Dame.

Of Air Force's 23 losses the past six seasons, 11 have come in October.

"We are certainly mindful we got off to a similar start last year and we stubbed our toes a little bit and we fell out of the polls as quickly as we got in," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "That could easily happen this year if we don't improve every week."

It doesn't get any easier this week, which might be considered strange since the opponent is UNLV.

Air Force has won five of the eight games in the series, including a 49-32 win last year that ended UNLV's postseason chances.

Then again, just about everyone has had it easy with the Rebels. UNLV has one winning record in the past eight seasons and has won more than three games three times.

It's been a different story this year.

UNLV has won five of six games dating to last season and is 4-1 for the first time since 1984, when Randall Cunningham led the Rebels to an 11-2 record and a trip to the California Bowl.

Last month, the Rebels stunned then-No. 14 Wisconsin at home, 23-5. In all, UNLV has won three straight games for the first time since 2000, including last week's 16-12 comeback win over rival Nevada-Reno.

"We're improving, we feel good about where we stand in terms of getting ready to play the next games, but it's going to be awhile," UNLV coach John Robinson said.

No doubt about that.

Even though UNLV has played five games, Saturday's will be its first in conference. In case seven straight conference games to close the season wasn't daunting enough, the Rebels have to do it on the road. UNLV hasn't won a conference opener on the road since 1994, when it beat Utah State 23-21 while in the Big West.

"We have seven conference games ahead. I think everyone is a toss up," Robinson said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index