There are lots of teams with something to play for in 2014, but Air Force may have the greatest motivation: To play well enough to prove to a league -- any league! -- that the Falcons are a viable lacrosse asset and that the school's mere location isn't enough to keep Air Force as a ronin in Division I lacrosse's landscape.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
Come to Me
March 8: Bellarmine; March 29: Michigan; April 12: Fairfield; April 19: @Ohio State
While the demise of the ECAC is bittersweet, Air Force is reaping a huge reward in the league's final tour: The Falcons will play three of its four home games in Colorado Springs, traveling only to Ohio State. (Bellarmine is actually Air Force's closest league rival, but the trip to Columbus is only about 100 miles longer than the trip to Louisville.) This stands in stark contrast to 2013 when Air Force played a more balanced conference slate: Three on the road (Bellarmine, Michigan, and Fairfield) and four in Colorado (Ohio State and Hobart were at home; two -- Loyola and Denver -- were in Denver). The benefit to the Falcons is clear: Bellarmine, Michigan, and Fairfield will all need to make the long flight to Colorado and face a hungry and potent Air Force team at altitude. This isn't pure nonsense as the Falcons were fairly strong in Colorado in 2013: Air Force went 3-4 in Colorado last season, including a win over Lehigh and two crazy efforts against Denver (an overtime loss) and Ohio State (a 9-10 loss). If the Falcons are able to sweep their home dates, Air Force puts itself in a position to potentially (1) play for the ECAC regular season title against the Buckeyes, and (2) put themselves in a position to earn the league's top seed for the postseason tournament, likely avoiding Ohio State until the final.
February 15: Furman; February 22: v. Canisius (at Denver, C.O.); February 23: v. Marist (at Denver, C.O.); March 2: @VMI; March 15: @Jacksonville; March 23: @Binghamton; April 5: Mercer; April 26: @Quinnipiac
That's eight games -- all nonconference dates and excluding the game against Denver -- against manageable competition. While these games may generate a lot of wins for the Falcons, it is a double-edged sword: A minimum of a .500 record is almost assured for Air Force, but if the Falcons run through these games with ease, Air Force could be in the position that Robert Morris faced in 2012 (a lot of wins but a path to the NCAA Tournament that is limited to winning a league tournament). There are a handful of interesting dates here -- Marist is re-tooling but potentially dangerous; Jacksonville is the class of the Atlantic Sun and could create some problems for the Falcons; and Quinnipiac and Binghamton took quiet, yet important, strides last season (especially the Bobcats) -- but the Falcons are still in a position where it should earn a high volume of wins in the out-of-conference portion of its agenda. This isn't sexy, but it could create some important momentum for a program that hasn't established a sparkling ECAC tradition.