Monday, December 31, 2007

Halftime Update

Air Force leads Cal, 21-14, at halftime of the Armed Forces Bowl.

The Falcons went up 21-0 by scoring on their first three possessions, but Cal rallied behind backup quarterback Kevin Riley, a freshman.

To be honest, I’m pretty impressed and surprised that Cal mounted a comeback.

The Golden Bears entered the game having lost six of their previous seven, including three in a row. I figured if Air Force built an early lead Cal would put a stamp on this game and mail it in.

But the Bears haven’t. Riley has looked very good, as have his speedy receivers, and the Cal defense seems to have woken up.

Air Force will get the ball first in the second half. If the Falcons can mount a scoring drive, they might be able to re-establish control. But if they are forced to punt and Cal gets a chance to tie the game early in the third quarter, look out.

Game Time

I am looking live at the field at Amon G. Carter Stadium, just a few minutes before game time.

It’s sunny – a bit chilly (game-time temperature 51 degrees) and windy.

Air Force’s captains are Chad Hall, Drew Fowler, John Rabold and Sean Carney. Fisher DeBerry is the honorary captain.

On the east side of the stadium, across from the press box is a sea of Air Force blue – and not so many Cal fans. Definitely will be a pro-Air Force crowd.

Air Force won the toss, deferred and will kick off.

I’ll check back in at halftime.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rusty BlogDog

When Air Force takes the field for Sunday’s Armed Forces Bowl, it will be playing for the first time since its Nov. 17 game against San Diego State.

That’s a 43-day layoff.

Pretty long. But nothing compared to what the BlogDog has endured.

He made his last pick the day before the San Diego State game (Nov. 16). He attempted his next pick on Christmas night. That’s 38 days between picks. But in “dog years,” that’s 266 days.

Two hundred sixty-six days!!! Practically an entire offseason.

The rust was evident. In front of a crowd of about 15 friends and family members, BlogDog showed no interest in making picks. Time and again, he walked right past me and the pieces of paper I was holding (one with the Air Force logo, one with the Cal logo).

I decided not to take that as an indictment of the Armed Forces Bowl. I think the crowd, the fatigue from a trip back to the East Coast and, of course, the rust all played a part.

I traveled to Fort Worth the next day, and the BlogDog stayed behind with the BlogWife at my in-laws’ house. I left the prediction in their hands/paws. Three days later, BlogDog begrudgingly made a pick.

(For readers who have had a long layoff between BlogDog posts, here’s a quick refresher: Since I am not allowed to predict the outcome of Air Force games, my dog, Norm, does it. Typically he chooses between mini-replica helmets of the two teams. But this time he picked between the Air Force logo and the Cal logo. It’s best-of-five. If Norm picks one team three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he goes for one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking it will be about a 10-point game. If it’s three times to two times, he’s thinking barn-burner.)

According to the BlogWife, Norm went to Air Force twice in a row, then Cal, then Air Force. Not fully understanding the principles of the “best-of-five” series, the BlogWife had Norm pick again, and he picked Cal, even though Air Force had locked up the overall pick.

When I pointed this out to her, she told me I was lucky that she didn’t make Norm wear his “Ho, Ho, Ho” bandana or his Reindeer antlers for the photo below.

Good point. That might have taken away some of the credibility Norm has built in his outstanding rookie season.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Norm’s Pick: Air Force 38, Cal 30
Norm’s Record: 8-4

BlogDog shakes off the rust and picks the Falcons

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Practice Report - Saturday

Air Force held its final practice in preparation for Monday’s Armed Forces Bowl today at TCU.

The Falcons used TCU’s indoor facility for about an hour and a half in the morning. The tempo of practice was high, but there was little contact and players had dialed it back a tad.

Players said they will be ready to go Monday after what will have been a 43-day layoff since the Nov. 17 regular-season finale against San Diego State.

“We’re looking good,” Air Force senior running back/receiver Chad Hall said. “And now we get to rest for a day and a half before the game.”

“Our guys will be ready to play,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “We’ll crank up, we’ll go, we’re just going to have to execute.”

Calhoun’s biggest concern remains adjusting to game speed and Cal’s speed early in the game – “That’s going to be a shock to us,” he said. He also is worried about ball security – “how well you hold onto the ball when you’re getting drilled.”

On-field notes: With linemen Peter Lusk and Caleb Morris both back to practice this week, and with Chad Smith seemingly running at full speed, Air Force is as close to healthy as it has been since the start of the season.

Senior outside linebacker Julian Madrid, who put off knee surgery to return to the field this year, said his injured knee is not giving him any trouble. He also said he’s putting off surgery until April to get some skiing in. …

Calhoun said senior tailback Jim Ollis and junior receiver Ty Paffett are two players on offense who emerged and impressed him late in the season. He praised sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas and senior inside linebacker Aaron Shanor on defense.

“Shanor has played really well at linebacker,” Calhoun said. “The last couple of ballgames he’s been outstanding.”

Off-field notes: When asked what they’ve enjoyed most about the bowl experience, most players have said spending time with their teammates.

“The funnest thing is being with the guys at night and here at practice,” senior inside linebacker Drew Fowler said. “You want to say it’s a normal practice, but it’s still different knowing you’re going back to a hotel. It’s like one big house that we’re living in. … I woke up on the 26th, and I was all mad because I got that normal, sick feeling. It felt like I was just going back to Colorado – my bags were packed. But once we saw everybody I had to tell myself, ‘We’re going to have fun, we’re not going back to school.’” …

The weather has gotten progressively better as the week has gone on. Today at Cal’s practice temperatures were in the 50s, and the sun – absent most of the week – finally made an appearance.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Practice Report - Friday

Air Force’s practices have been well-attended by potential future players from local high schools.

Today I heard about two other likely future Falcons who weren’t there. You may recognize the last name they share.


Yep, senior tailback Jim Ollis has two younger brothers, and both seem headed to the academy, according to their parents, Bruce and Jane, with whom I spoke at practice today.

Austin Ollis is at the academy prep school. He’s built about like his older brother and, like his older brother, can play both quarterback and running back. Jordan Ollis is a junior at Polk High in Columbus, N.C., where his brothers went and where his father coaches football. Like his older brothers, he’s a three-sport athlete (football, wrestling, baseball). But he’s a bit bigger – about 5-foot-10, 215 pounds. He played fullback this past season, but might move to quarterback as a senior.

According to Bruce and Jane, both Austin and Jordan are tough kids thanks to the brotherly influence of Jim.

On-field notes: Air Force’s practice was enthusiastic and high-energy for a third straight day. While the Falcons wore shorts, there were still plenty of pads popping throughout the session. The junior varsity players who made the trip did some extra work after the main practice and got after each other. …

The rust seems to be fading. Fewer dropped passes, fewer fumbles today.

“We were better ball-handling-wise than we were two days ago,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “And you just don’t have busts assignment-wise. We’ve got guys that are glued in to what we’ve asked them to do on both sides of the ball. … We’ve been a little crisper, and yet we never turn a practice away, so we’ll utilize tomorrow too.” …

The receivers played another round of their modified Harlem Globetrotters circle (see Thursday's post for an explanation). It was cut short when the receivers had to join a full-team drill. The final four were Chad Hall, Ty Paffett, Mark Root and Josh Cousins. …

Off-field notes: Air Force players looked sharp in the black-and-white warm-ups they wore to the team luncheon at the Texas Motor Speedway. … At the lunch Calhoun and Cal coach Jeff Tedford both received cowboy boots with the Armed Forces Bowl logo. … The approximately 42,000 tickets sold for the game beats the previous high of about 38,000 for the 2003 game between TCU and Boise State. … Calhoun said he’s been pleased with how his players have conducted themselves off the field. “We’ve done very well, and yet I don’t think we should brag about that,” he said. “That’s one of those things that I think we should do.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Practice Report - Thursday

It still is pretty chilly in Fort Worth, but that didn’t seem to bother Air Force one bit at its practice today.

The Falcons went for nearly two hours in full pads at TCU, and while the session included contact and plenty of intensity, the players seemed to be having an awful lot of fun too. There was laughter, cheering, smiles and a high tempo throughout the session.

That seems like the right mix for a bowl game. It’s a contest, to be sure, but the bowl experience is meant to be a reward for a good season. Finding the right balance between work and fun is a crucial element of these games. Air Force is doing a good job of finding that balance. So far.

On-field notes: Air Force went “live” – full speed with full contact – during several drills including kickoff coverage. Players flew down the field and there were a bunch of big collisions. Junior Ty Paffett made a particularly nice stop on one long kickoff. …

As I noted for tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette, rust was most noticeable in dropped passes. There were a handful early in practice by defensive backs and offensive players. …

Speaking of receivers, they went through a couple of pretty cool drills that, according to receivers coach Mike Thiessen, are designed to make them catch with their hands instead of cradling the ball to their bodies.

In one, the players laid flat on their backs and then leaned up slightly to catch balls that Thiessen rocketed at them. In the other, one player would stand behind a partner and wrap his arms around the partner’s waist. Thiessen would throw the ball at the player in front, and the player behind would have to catch it.

But my favorite drill the receivers have is a kind of modified Globetrotters circle. The receivers stand in a circle and throw the ball to each other. When a player drops the ball – or if one makes an off-target throw – he is eliminated. This, of course, leads to behind-the-back passes, no-look flips and all other sorts of surprise tosses. Fun to watch. …

Got a quick peek at Cal today. Only the first 10 minutes of the practice were open, so I didn’t see a whole lot, but I’ll say this – the players pass the eye test. They are big and very athletic. I understood immediately why they were No. 2 in the nation after five games. But it made me wonder even more why they collapsed so dramatically. I know they had injuries, but it had to be more than that.

Off-field notes: All the Falcons were clean shaven after getting that order from Calhoun. … The Falcons had dinner last night at Reata, a restaurant downtown that the locals say is very good. … Haven’t had too much time to check out the city, but the downtown area seems to have potential. Lots of restaurants, bars and people walking around. … Tomorrow night there will be a Madden Football Tournament (that’s a football video game for those that grew up without Segas and PlayStations) at a local establishment. I hear 10 players from each team will play in the tournament, but I’m still trying to find out who the Falcons are trotting out there. I wouldn’t be of much help. My video game prowess ended with Nintendo and Tecmo Bowl.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AFB Practice Report - Wednesday

Some Air Force players looked a tad different Wednesday.

It was evident when they took their helmets off after the team’s practice at TCU, the first of four there in preparation for Monday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

A bunch of the Falcons – always clean shaven at the Air Force Academy – were sporting some facial hair.

Junior receiver Ty Paffett had the beginnings of a goatee, junior outside linebacker Hunter Altman looked like he’d put the razor down for a few days and senior quarterback Shaun Carney had a beard.

But not for long.

When asked after practice when he would have to shave his beard, Carney said: “About five minutes. I told (Air Force coach Troy Calhoun) it took me 23 years to grow it. But it’s got to go.”

On-field notes: Calhoun was pleased with Wednesday’s session, which lasted about an hour and a half. Coaches were intense, demanding several times that players increase the pace of practice and getting after them for the inevitable sloppy mistakes they made after five days off. …

Senior guard Caleb Morris, who missed the Falcons’ regular season finale with a knee injury, was playing with Air Force’s first offensive line. Senior tailback Chad Smith, who severely tore his groin in the regular season finale, seemed to be running full speed.

Off-field notes: Air Force players left the locker room at TCU after practice on Wednesday pulling new rolling travel bags adorned with the Armed Forces Bowl logo. According to players, each also got a watch, a ball and a Slingbox, a product that gives them the capability of watching television on any computer or mobile device that has an Internet connection.

Players have been impressed by the treatment they have received at the bowl.

“It’s been amazing,” senior cornerback Garrett Rybak said. “This is just really cool to get treated like we’re getting treated – I feel like I don’t deserve it.”

Paffett said Calhoun has not installed a curfew for players.

“No, he let us curfew ourselves,” Paffett said. “We’ll get to bed, though, I think we know what time we need to be back.”

Greetings from Fort Worth

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted – some projects and a trip back home for the holidays have kept me away. But that’s no excuse. So I’m back with a vengeance for Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Week.

Here’s the plan – daily updates on everything from the weather to the town to the teams. I’ll definitely post something after each practice. And, yes, the BlogDog will make a pick.

I flew into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport late this morning. It was raining and chilly – 45 degrees or thereabouts. It’s warmed up a bit since then.

Noticed some flags advertising the bowl on my way out of the airport, as well as some ads inside the airport. More than 42,000 tickets had been sold as of a couple of days ago, according to bowl officials, so the game should be pretty well attended.

I am off to practice and will post later this evening.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jake's Take

No, not mine. Jake Burtschi’s.

Burtschi, who helped spearhead Air Force basketball’s renaissance, graduated last year. But he is back at the academy, coaching at the prep school.

Burtschi – who played in more games (125) than any other player in academy history and is the school’s all-time leader in steals and 10th-leading scorer – attended the Falcons’ 65-53 victory over Norfolk State on Thursday night. It was the first game he’s watched in person, as he had been in Europe playing with the All-Air Force basketball team.

After the game, he shared his thoughts with me on the 2007-08 Falcons.

Jake Schaller: What’s your assessment, overall, of your old team?
Jake Burtschi: Not bad. A little slow out of the gates, they take a little bit. They’re kind of like a diesel engine, it takes a little bit to get going, but once they do, they can be an explosive team. They’re still young, but they’re not bad. They’ve still got some growing to do, but hopefully by about conference time they’ll really be clicking and things will be rolling along.

JS: How do you see the offense running? Seems like it isn’t as smooth as it was last year – maybe because these guys didn’t play together as much as you guys did.
JB: That is one thing, that’s a big thing. Especially (against) a zone. Because I think man-to-man was working pretty well, they were getting shots. But whenever (Norfolk State was) in a zone, sometimes they were stagnant. That just comes from time, being with one another, knowing where guys are going to be at all times, knowing their tendencies. That’s just one thing that’s kind of involved. But hopefully a couple more weeks, couple more games, they start getting the feel for one another. They haven’t had the luxury, like we had the last year, to have guys that have been together for four years. But they’ll start clicking soon.

JS: Talking about the slow starts, I’ve mentioned to some people that this team seems like it needs a Jacob Burtschi personality to get it fired up.
JB: (Laughing) I don’t know if they need a Jacob Burtschi. That’d be more of a head case, if they got anything. No, I mean, it’s tough, that was just my personality, that was how I played. I think some guys are trying to figure out their roles still on the team. I think that kind of personality, that type of hard-nosed mentality, is going to come out in some of the guys soon. That’s the biggest thing, they’re just still trying to find their roles on the team. But I think come conference time you’ll kind of find out who the spark is going to be, who’s going to do those certain little things.

JS: How’s the prep school doing?
JB: They’re doing well. They’re 12-8. We’re lacking size, a 6-foot-6 guy is our center, but he’s mainly a 3-point threat. We’re small, but the guys are really resilient. They’ve got a lot of heart, and they battle. Like this past weekend we were down 18 with 3 and a half (minutes) to go, and we cut it to 3 with 30 (seconds) to play. Ended up losing by 4, missed a big shot at the end. Just a great group of kids, never a head case down there. It’s been a joy coaching them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bird, Hall Honored

Air Force senior cornerback Carson Bird and senior running back/receiver Chad Hall were listed as honorable mentions on the Sports All-America team.

Bird led the Mountain West Conference and ranked fourth in the nation in interceptions with 0.55 per game (six in 11 contests). He tied for second in the league in fumble recoveries (0.27 per game) and tied for third in passes defended (1.0 per game). He led Air Force in takeaways with nine, including an interception with 49 seconds left in regulation against TCU to force overtime. Air Force ended up winning that game, 20-17 in the extra session.

Hall, who was listed on the team as a running back, led the Mountain West Conference and ranked 16th nationally in rushing (117.9 yards per game). He also led the league and ranked tied for third nationally in all-purpose yards (208.7). He is the only player in the country to lead his team in rushing yards (1,415), receiving yards (488) and all-purpuse yards (2,504).

Hall earlier was named to the All-America third team.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Keeping Calhoun

With Air Force coach Troy Calhoun being mentioned as a possible candidate for openings at several colleges, the academy is doing its best to keep the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year at his alma mater.

According to sports information director Troy Garnhart, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh and Calhoun are discussing potential contract improvements.

Southern Methodist contacted the academy for permission to speak to Calhoun about its coaching vacancy, and multiple media outlets reported that Calhoun was a candidate for the Duke job. Calhoun was not interested in the SMU job.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Night Football

Remember the scene from "Invincible" – the football movie staring Mark Wahlberg – when Wahlberg and his friends play in the rain on a muddy field at night using their car lights to light the field?

That’s what the latter stages of Air Force’s Friday practice looked like. Save for the car lights.

From the parking lot east of the field – maybe 30 yards away – you couldn’t see any players. But you could hear them hooting, hollering and loving every minute of practice.

Calhoun has said all season that one of the things that sets the 2007 team apart is the players’ love for the game. They even love practice, he says. That was apparent on Friday night as they battled the cold, a steady, sleety rain and darkness.

But nobody complained or batted an eye when Calhoun told the players they'd be outside in 30-degree temperatures and freezing rain.

“They just said, ‘Pad up, and here we go,’” Calhoun said. “That’s just our guys, attitude-wise. They’d rather be outside.”

“It was fun,” senior inside linebacker Drew Fowler said. “Just to get out here and play. It was kind of like backyard football there.

“It got tough there at the end. Everything was blending in with everybody.”

Not tough enough for Calhoun. “I wanted it to be a little darker,” he joked.

“As long as you’ve got some decent footing, I want to practice outside. I just think you get so much more done, and I think the elements are real in football. This isn’t a sport that you only play when it’s between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I just think you’ve got to train that way.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

All-MWC All About Falcons

Air Force’s dramatic turnaround season was rewarded Tuesday when the Mountain West Conference revealed its postseason honors.

First-year coach Troy Calhoun was named the conference coach of the year, and four Air Force players were named to the all-conference first team, including senior running back/receiver Chad Hall, who was named the conference’s offensive player of the year. The selections were made by the league’s nine coaches and a panel of media.

Senior center Blaine Guenther, senior outside linebacker John Rabold and senior cornerback Carson Bird all also were named to the first team, giving Air Force its most players on an all-conference first team since 1998 when five Falcons made the All-Western Athletic Conference first team.

Senior inside linebacker Drew Fowler, a first-team selection in 2006, and sophomore offensive lineman Nick Charles were named to the all-conference second team, while senior quarterback Shaun Carney, junior tight end Travis Dekker, junior defensive end Ryan Kemp and sophomore safety Chris Thomas received honorable mention honors.

Calhoun, who earlier in the day was named the American Football Coaches Association 2007 Region 5 Coach of the Year, is the first Air Force coach to win a conference coach of the year award in his first season and the second coach at the academy to earn such an honor. Former coach Fisher DeBerry won three.

Calhoun, who replaced DeBerry and took over a team that had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, constructed a staff of assistants with academy ties, altered the team’s offensive and defensive philosophies, put a premium on in-season strength and conditioning and re-energized a program that had stumbled to a 4-8 mark in 2006.’

The result was a 9-3 record – the second-largest turnaround in academy history – a second-place finish in the league and the first invitation to a bowl since 2002.

“Really as a coach, your feet are on the ground and you realize it’s earned by staff members, the administration, players and coaches,” Calhoun said. “Whenever you identify a coach, it’s a reflection on an entire school, especially here at the Air Force Academy.”

Hall became the sixth Air Force player – and first non-quarterback – to win a conference offensive player of the year award.

He made the all-conference first team as a running back, but he made his contributions all over the field. The 5-foot-8, 180-pounder from Atlanta was the only player in the country to lead his team in both rushing yards (a league-high 1,415) and receiving yards (488). He also set academy records for all-purpose yards in a game, career and season in 2007, averaging a conference-high 208.7 all-purpose yards per game.

Guenther, who moved from tackle to center, was the lone full-time returning starter from the 2006 offensive line. He helped pave the way for the nation’s second-best rushing attack (298.5 yards per game).

Rabold ranked second in the conference with 16.5 tackles for losses and led the conference with four fumble recoveries. Bird led the conference and ranked seventh nationally with six interceptions and ranked second in the conference with three fumble recoveries.

UNLV linebacker Beau Bell was named the conference’s defensive player of the year. Utah place kicker/punter Louie Sakoda, one of a league-high 10 Utes on the all-conference first or second teams, was named the special teams player of the year for the second consecutive season. And BYU’s Harvey Unga was selected as the conference’s freshman of the year.

Calhoun Honored

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was named the American Football Coaches Association 2007 Region 5 Coach of the Year today – and that might be just the first award he receives on the day.

The Mountain West Conference will reveal its all-conference teams and individual awards later today, and Calhoun – who in his first year engineered a five-game turnaround – is expected to run away with that honor.

A year after going 4-8 in Fisher DeBerry’s final year at the academy, Air Force went 9-3 in the regular season, its best since 1998, and will face Cal in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.

The AFCA recognizes five regional coaches of the year in each of the association's five divisions: Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), Division II, Division III and NAIA. The winners are selected by active members of the association who vote for coaches in their respective regions and divisions.

The AFCA will announce its five 2007 National Coach of the Year winners at the 2008 AFCA Convention in Anaheim.

The other Football Championship Subdivision winners:
Region 1: (tie) Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia) and Jeff Jagodzinski (Boston College)
Region 2: Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State)
Region 3: Ron Zook (Illinois)
Region 4: Mark Mangino (Kansas)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

So Who's it Going to be?

Good question.

Saturday’s upsets threw the BCS into the kind of turmoil the system’s critics have been predicting for years, and Air Force's opponent in the Dec. 31 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl still is uncertain.

While everything hinges on tonight’s BCS selections, here’s how things look for the Falcons.

There are 10 BCS teams – six conference winners and four at-large selections. The at-large selections would seem to be an additional SEC team (Georgia), an additional Big 12 team (Kansas), Hawaii and then either an additional Pac-10 team (Arizona State) or an additional Big Ten team (Illinois).

If Illinois is pulled into the BCS, there will be enough bowl eligible Pac-10 teams to fill out the conference's bowl tie-ins. That would mean a Pac-10 opponent for Air Force – most likely reeling Cal.

If Arizona State is pulled into the BCS, Air Force would probably face a Big Ten team – possibly Purdue.

We’ll wait and see what happens tonight with the BCS selections.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Basketball BlogDog?

The three questions I’ve heard most this week:

1) Do you think Bzdelik will get booed?

2) Who will Air Force play in the bowl?

3) Does the BlogDog know anything about basketball?


1) Yes

2) There are way too many scenarios that all depend on this weekend, so all I can do is guess. Um, Purdue?

3) We’re going to find out.

Pressed into service by his fans – most notably Gazette columnist David Ramsey – BlogDog will be making some hoops predictions for selected games this winter. (For those unfamiliar with the BlogDog - it's my dog, Norm. He predicted Air Force football games this fall and compiled a stellar 8-4 record. Check the archives for any blog post with "BlogDog" in it to see his previous work).

They don’t get much bigger than tonight’s grudge match against CU, so we decided to start today.

Note: I went with pretty much the same selection routine that the BlogDog uses for football – I set out a post-it note with “CU” written on it and a post-it note with “AF” written on it. Whichever one BlogDog goes to first (best three out of five times), is who he thinks is going to win. Not sure if this will work for basketball, so the method is under review.

Anyway, BlogDog went to the CU post-it first, then the AF post-it, then the CU post-it, then the AF post-it twice in a row. So BlogDog is thinking the Falcons will fall behind early, trail at halftime but then prevail late.

By the way, scroll below his picture for some quotes from fans that didn’t appear in today’s paper regarding Bzdelik’s return.

Norm’s Pick:
Air Force 59, Colorado 54
Norm’s Record: 0-0 in hoops; 8-4 in football


That is the question facing the Clune Arena crowd that will greet former Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik tonight when he leads his new team, Colorado, against the Falcons at 7 p.m. Here are some thoughts from those who will be in attendance at Clune Arena.

“I usually just ignore the other teams, and I'll probably do the same this time. Although I just might give in and throw a few boos in for good measure. I’m with many of the fans that (Bzdelik) leaving wasn’t the worst part, it was the way he left that was just wrong.”
-Pam Burton, 42, Denver; Air Force fan who has attended games on and off for 20 years and held season tickets for six years.

“I will show respect to coach Bzdelik for his contributions to our basketball program. … Some say they are not happy with the way coach Bzdelik left Air Force and intend to show him their displeasure during the game. Others have no animosity and believe it’s merely the nature of the business where a coach chooses to do what he thinks is best for him and his family.”
-Roger Allison, 66, Colorado Springs; Air Force fan who attends most home and away football and basketball games.

“I think the crowd will treat Bzdelik as a traitor, but do not think there will be a lot of booing. If I had control of the Cadet Wing, I would give every cadet in Section 8 a sheet of newspaper and would have them hold it up in front of their face when the CU coaches are introduced. I would also make sure the cadets cheered loud for Jeff (Reynolds).”
-Ted DeRousse, 67, Colorado Springs; Air Force fan

“I dislike booing in all sports and will not boo him. I’ll politely clap when they comment on him being the former coach, then I'll yell like heck for our Falcons and against the Buffs.”
-Rick Pialet, 52, Monument; Air Force graduate and fan.

“I am not in the habit of booing opposing teams or their coaches unless they do something which is dirty or offensive or are obnoxious (I even clap when they are introduced). But I probably will go with the flow and no doubt will clap for coach Bzdelik and also will boo him at the same time when he is introduced, while yelling, “Show me the money!” And, as the game progresses, I will join the cadets in Section 8 in getting all over Bzdelik as often as possible. I respect him as a coach but I do not like the way that he treated the academy.”
-O.K. Niess, 72, Colorado Springs; Air Force fan who has attended many Air Force football and basketball games since 1964

"I know there will be people booing him, but I don't think that is appropriate. I have heard that some people may wave dollar bills at Coach Bzdelik, but I don't believe money was the only reason he went to CU, so I won't do that either. If I have the opportunity to speak to him, I will welcome him back and wish him well.
-Tori Miller, 43, Colorado Springs; Air Force fan.

“I’m sure it’s going to be crazy in there. They’ve always had good fans, so I’m sure the atmosphere will be crazy. But we’re going to go out and play our hardest, try to execute our stuff and hopefully get a win. That’s all we can worry about.”
-Colorado freshman guard Levi Knutson, who was recruited to Air Force by Bzdelik

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Light from Losses

Air Force fans should feel better about their young and inexperienced men’s basketball team after two losses the past two days than they did during its 5-0 start.

Immediately after Sunday’s 71-62 loss to No. 9 Washington State at the Cougar Hispanic College Fund Challenge in Spokane, Wash., Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds said the game “was not a moral victory.” Players also shied away from that term.

Maybe that’s a good thing. No reason to try to feel good about losses.

Still, there were things about which the Falcons could feel good. On Saturday they stormed back from a 23-point second half deficit, pulling within one of Montana before losing, 59-57. On Sunday, in front of a hostile crowd, Air Force gave the nation’s ninth-ranked team its toughest test of the tournament.

For a team that lost an Oct. 31 exhibition game to Brock – a Canadian university with no scholarship players – that’s what you call progress. Big-time progress.

Now, there still are some significant concerns – most notably the Falcons’ depth. Not including reserves Eric Kenzik and Andrew Henke (a de facto starter), Air Force’s reserves have scored just 24 points this year – 5.5 percent of the team’s total output.

Reynolds is searching for some more dependable bench players – specifically guards who can ease some of senior Tim Anderson’s burden. Anderson, who played all but two minutes of Sunday’s game, is averaging 34.6 minutes per game. That's a pace that could wear him out mid-way through conference play.

In addition, there should be some concern that Air Force plays to the level of its competition – and that’s great against Washington State, but it could come back to bite the Falcons later in their non-conference schedule.

But this past weekend – especially Sunday – should give fans more hope for the season.

“I think we played hard,” Henke said. “I guess we can’t be too disappointed in ourselves because we knew we played our butts off the whole game, played hard the whole game and pushed a very, very good team to the limit.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

Look Again

Greetings from Spokane.

My first time in the city.

First impression on the cab ride into town? I wasn’t a big fan. A bit run-down, cold and dated, I thought. Though some of that, to be sure, might have had to do with the frigid temperatures and gray skies.

But after seeing some of the new restaurants and cool, old hotels downtown, walking through Riverfront Park and taking a bridge over the picturesque Spokane River, I started coming around a bit. Actually rather charming. Kind of has the feel of an Eastern European city.

Or maybe I’m just going insane due to the massive amount of turkey I inhaled yesterday and an early flight today.

Whatever, the point I’m trying to make is you sometimes need to look past your first impression.

Which brings me to the Air Force men’s basketball team.

My first impression of the team was its dreadful exhibition loss to Brock of Canada. And I creamed it in this Blog.

But the Falcons have won five games since and shown some flashes – here and there – of potential. Andrew Henke has shot the ball as well as anyone could have hoped, Anwar Johnson is playing great defense, Keith Maren and Eric Kenzik are combining to give the Falcons solid post play, Evan Washington isn’t looking like a freshman and Tim Anderson has done a little bit of everything without having to carry the team by himself.

So that’s the good news. The second impression, if you will.

Tomorrow and Sunday, however, it gets tougher. Air Force’s opponents thus far have been pretty much Division I dregs and a Division II team. Tomorrow the Falcons face a tough Montana squad that has speed and size. The next day it’s a date with unbeaten and ninth-ranked Washington State – a fast, athletic team with a few great shooters.

In other words, let’s wait until after the third impression. We’ll know a lot more about the Falcons after this weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bzy's Buffs

With Jeff Bzdelik’s return just more than a week away, I rolled up to Boulder for the Colorado-Colorado Christian game on Tuesday night to check out the former Air Force coach’s new team.

Initial impressions of the Buffs?
  • They’ve got more athletes and more size than the Falcons – but what else is new?
  • Colorado Christian gave them more of a fight than they probably wanted in the first half, though the Buffaloes put the game away early in the second half.
  • Marcus Hall is a pretty nice player. The 6-foot-1 senior guard made 8 of 11 shots, including 4 of 6 3-pointers, and scored a team-high 21 points. He seemed like the best player on the floor.
  • Senior Richard Roby looks like he’s regressed, big time, from his sophomore year. Roby considered going pro after that season but came back for last year’s strange, lame-duck campaign under Ricardo Patton. He averaged 16.0, 17.0 and 17.3 points in his first three seasons. This year he’s averaging 13.2 and he just looks a little lost.
  • Part of that might be because he and his teammates haven’t quite picked up on the offense Bzdelik has implemented. Sophomore guard Dwight Thorne told me as much after the game. Air Force’s new players are having the same problems at the academy.
  • Levi Knutson – a player Bzdelik recruited to come to Air Force – made his first start and played fairly well: nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.
  • On paper – though certain people at CU will tell you differently – the Buffaloes seem to have an edge. But the game will be at Clune, and something tells me the Air Force players will be up for it.

Plenty more thoughts on the CU-Air Force game to come.

Hope everyone who checks in on the blog has a happy Thanksgiving. I’ll check in from Spokane, Wash., on Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Confidence Builder

The crucial victory for the 2007 Air Force football team came in Week 2, when the Falcons made a goal line stand to seal a win over Utah, a team none of the players on the team ever had beaten.

It showed the players that they could make big plays in big situations, and it gave them a taste of winning.

Yes, we can do this.

Monday night’s 52-47 overtime victory over Radford might do the same for this young Air Force men’s basketball team.

Now, I don’t expect the Falcons to have surprising success akin to the football team’s. While the football team is stocked with experienced seniors, the basketball team has just one player (Tim Anderson) back from last year with any significant playing experience. And Air Force likely will struggle when it faces some of the more difficult teams on its schedule – look no further than the upcoming trip to Spokane.

But Monday night was a step in the right direction.

The moment that seemed to make Air Force believe came when Evan Washington splashed two rainbows through the net with 3.1 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. That’s a freshman on the free throw line in front of 6,008 fans. And when he came through, the burden of doubt seemed to lift.

Washington’s smile said it all:

Yes, we can do this.

“We definitely came into that huddle after Evan hit the free throws and kind of looked at each other and said, ‘All right, let’s take this one from them, let’s take this one,’” junior Andrew Henke said. “And we came out and hit shots early in overtime.”

Give the coaching staff credit for encouraging its players to keep shooting, keep shooting, keep shooting with confidence. And that had to have been tough after Air Force missed 20 of 24 shots in the first half (including all 14 3-pointers), the worst half of shooting since a March 2, 2000 game against BYU.

“I think it’s a mental thing with shooters – you either quit shooting, or you continue to shoot,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “And we kept telling them in the huddle, they’re gonna drop, they’re gonna drop. Just keep believing.”

The players did. Henke hit a pair of 3-pointers after missing his first six. Anderson hit one in overtime after missing all six of his regulation tries.

But the Falcons did not just wait until their shots started falling. They also took the ball to the basket more aggressively, played tougher defense and did whatever else they could to get back in the game.

“Any time you face adversity and you respond to it, it shows the character of a team,” Henke said. “Whether it was Tim hitting shots in overtime or me or Anwar getting to the free throw line to kind of help us get back into the game, it shows those younger guys what it takes – that resilience to win the game and to keep pushing and keep pushing no matter what the situation. We faced that adversity and we responded well to it tonight.”

Yes, we can do this.

Ollis Earns Honor

They won’t have to name the award after Chad Hall after all.

Air Force senior tailback Jim Ollis was named the Mountain West Conference’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for his performance in the Falcons’ 55-23 victory over San Diego State on Saturday. Hall, Air Force's receiver/running back/returner, won the award three times in a five-week span earlier this year.

Ollis, who rushed for a career-high 163 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, shared the honor with BYU quarterback Max Hall. Ollis had touchdown runs of 54 and 31 yards and seven of his carries went for first downs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bryant and BlogDog

My colleague, Milo Bryant, is too much of a gentleman to gloat and say ‘I told you so.’

But I’m not. So I’ll do it for him.

He told you so. While most magazines, radio and TV shows and newspapers were predicting a difficult re-building year for Air Force – most I read and heard called for the Falcons to win about four games – Milo said the Falcons would go 8-4, and he put it in print. Check it out – it’s right here.

Nobody thought they’d win that many (and when I say “nobody,” I don’t include the members of the team or the team’s fans – they’re supposed to think their team will win that many). Some of his fellow journalists thought he was nuts, but he stuck to his guns.

His first inclination was to say 9-3, but he eventually backed off of that – and I take some of the responsibility for that because I told him emphatically I thought a nine-win season was just about impossible.

Then again, I don’t make predictions in print. I leave it to my dog, Norm.

In his first year as a certified football prognosticator, the BlogDog has been nothing short of brilliant. Not even Milo could have foreseen the success that he’s had. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the BlogDog is 8-3 and has posted five consecutive correct predictions.

What I like best about the BlogDog’s work this season is that, like Milo, he hasn’t been afraid to go out on a limb. He took the Falcons when they were eight-point underdogs at Utah, and he thought they would blow out CSU in Fort Collins when they were three-point underdogs. He was right both times.

He’s taking a chance and thinking outside the box again this week. Air Force has won five of its past six games and is an 11-point favorite at home Saturday against San Diego State. But BlogDog likes the Aztecs.

(Norm chooses between mini helmets of each team. If he picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one three times and the other once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game.)

This week, Norm went to the San Diego State helmet first, then the Air Force helmet, then the San Diego State helmet two more times.

Norm’s Pick: San Diego State 31, Air Force 23
Norm’s Record: 9-3
Who does Milo like in this game?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Anderson named Player of the Week

Air Force senior guard Tim Anderson was named the Mountain West Conference Men’s Basketball Co-Player of the Week along with San Diego State junior Kyle Spain on Monday.

Anderson, the lone returning starter from last year’s record-setting Falcon squad, helped lead Air Force to the 2007 Air Force Classic title with victories over Dartmouth and Northern Colorado.

Anderson, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, scored 13 points and added three steals, two assists and two rebounds in the Falcons’ 67-38 semifinal victory over Dartmouth. In the championship victory over Northern Colorado, Anderson scored a career-high 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, including 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


So how does this sound: An Air Force Mountain West Conference Trifecta.

Troy Calhoun, MWC Coach of the Year.

Chad Hall, MWC Offensive Player of the Year.

John Rabold, MWC Defensive Player of the Year.

Let’s break them down one by one, from most likely to least likely.

He's just about locked it up with the most impressive stretch of offensive performances in academy history. In the last seven weeks he’s averaged 244.9 all-purpose yards per game, rushed for 1,135 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.

He leads the conference in rushing yards per game (114.9) and all-purpose yards per game (203.0). He ranks ninth in receptions per game (3.91), third in punt return average (12.3) and ninth in kickoff return average (23.6).

No single player is more important to any team in the Mountain West Conference than Hall is to Air Force. It should be a lock.

Toughest Competition: I think the New Mexico skilled position players (quarterback Donovan Porterie, receivers Marcus Smith and Travis Brown and running back Rodney Ferguson) all are candidates, but they’ll probably take votes from each other. So Hall’s biggest competition is his namesake – BYU’s Max Hall, who has averaged 310 yards passing in nine games. But that might say as much about the BYU offense as it does about Hall.

If Air Force wins Saturday, he’s got a great case. The Falcons will be 9-3 and 6-2 in the league (which will be – at worst – tied for second). That’s a five-game turnaround. And Calhoun’s done it without an influx of talent.

Think about it: Inside linebacker Aaron Shanor is back after sitting out last year to boost his grades. And freshmen Reggie Rembert, Savier Stephens and Andre Morris all have played some. But none of the members of the Class of 2011 has made a huge impact. And, of course, there have been no impact transfers.

In fact, the argument can be made that Air Force lost more talent in the seniors that graduated from last year’s team than it added in freshmen.

It’s a point that most of the folks at Air Force won’t make out loud because it can be interpreted as a swipe at former coach Fisher DeBerry. But it cannot be ignored. Calhoun has taken a team that won four games last season and has doubled that total with one game to play.

His assistants deserve a lot of the credit, but assistants usually get a piece of head coaches’ coach of the year awards.

Toughest competition: Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. The Utes have won six straight to improve to 7-3. He kept his team from quitting despite a 1-3 start and a slew of injuries – most notably to standout quarterback Brian Johnson. Right now, Utah might be playing better than any team in the conference (see the Utes’ 50-0 drubbing of Wyoming yesterday). If Utah can knock off BYU, Whittingham might be the choice. Then again, if BYU goes unbeaten and wins a second straight crown, Bronco Mendenhall would be a natural choice too.

One could argue that inside linebacker Drew Fowler, strong safety Chris Thomas and cornerback Carson Bird are playing just as big a role for the Falcons.

But you can’t argue with Rabold’s stats. He’s made 70 tackles, including 15.5 for losses, forced three fumbles and recovered three – including one he took for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

He’s been a bit unsung this year, which could hurt him in voting, but for all-around defensive performance, few if any have been better than Rabold.

Toughest Competition: Defense is always harder to read. UNLV’s Beau Bell, the conference’s leading tackler, BYU’s Jan Jorgensen and TCU’s Chase Ortiz all probably will be in the mix.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Below the Radar BlogDog

On my flight to Chicago this afternoon, I was watching ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. Both of the show’s hosts – Mike Wilbon and Bob Ryan – gave Air Force a better-than-50-percent chance of winning tomorrow’s game at Notre Dame in the show’s oddsmaker segment.

Now, I think both Wilbon (who said there’s an 80 percent chance) and Ryan (who went with 68 percent) were basing their predictions more upon what they know about Notre Dame than what they do about Air Force. And that’s fine. Because they probably have no idea what Air Force has done this year.

That’s neither of their faults. Most people who don’t actively follow Air Force or the Mountain West Conference have zero idea that the Falcons are 7-3. They have no idea Air Force has a first-year coach that likely will be the league’s coach of the year and – with two more wins – should be in the discussion for national coach of the year. And they are clueless that Air Force has a player who – all kidding aside – probably at least should be mentioned in Heisman Trophy chatter. Honestly, is there any player on a bowl-eligible Division I-A football team that means more to his squad than Chad Hall?

So why doesn’t anybody know about this stuff? At least part of it has to do with the conference’s much-maligned television contract. It’s great that so many more games are televised than in the past and – more selfishly than anything – I love that games are (mostly) on Saturday afternoons instead of Monday and Tuesday nights.

But outside of fans of Mountain West Conference teams who actively seek out the games – nobody is watching. My parents wanted to watch Air Force’s game against New Mexico, but they don’t have Versus on their satellite package (they found this out after I explained to them that “Versus” was indeed an actual network).

What made me think about all this was the feeling of utter shock that I got when I saw Air Force highlights on PTI. While Wilbon and Ryan were talking, several plays were shown, including a Chad Hall touchdown run against New Mexico and Jimmy Ollis’ fourth-and-1 touchdown run against TCU.

I was legitimately stunned seeing the Falcons on the Worldwide Leader.

Earlier this week, I was talking to somebody at Air Force about this and he told me that on the morning after Air Force’s huge, thrilling OT victory over TCU, there was one highlight of the game on SportsCenter. Just Ryan Harrison’s game-winning field goal. Not Carson Bird’s key interception – with discussion about TCU’s decision to throw the ball instead of setting up for a field goal. Not Ollis’ run. Just Harrison’s kick.

Now, certainly some of this is a backlash to the Mountain West leaving ESPN to go it alone. Naturally, the network is going to give a little more love to conferences and sports with which it has agreements. Fair? Probably not. But the fact remains – if you ain’t on ESPN, people just don’t know about you.

Ask the NHL.

Speaking of not getting enough TV time, where’s the love for the BlogDog? Norm has nailed four straight games to improve to 7-3 and guarantee a winning season. But I don’t see any pundits talking about the BlogDog – even on The Mtn. I think Norm, at 7-3, deserves his own show.

Maybe that would convince the satellite providers to add the channel.

Since I do not have a Notre Dame helmet, Norm picked between a piece of paper with “AF” written on it in blue and a piece of paper with “ND” written on it in blue and gold. (Remember, if Norm picks the same team three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game).

This week Norm went to Air Force, then Notre Dame twice, then Air Force twice.

Norm’s Pick: Air Force 27, Notre Dame 21
Norm’s Record: 7-3

I'm taking the Falcons. Now where's my TV contract?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Enemy Lines Revisited

Had a reader ask if I could contact my friend who covers Navy for The Washington Post, Christian Swezey, to get his take on the Notre Dame-Navy game. “It amazes me that Navy can lose to Delaware one week and beat ND,” the reader wrote. “Is Notre Dame that bad, or is Navy bi-polar?”

Swezey and I traded e-mails on this blog prior to the Navy-Air Force game, and he was kind enough to send one more with his thoughts.

Here’s his take:

Navy matched up better against ND than it did against Delaware, for a couple reasons.

1. Delaware has a pro QB; scouts from at least 12 NFL teams have gone to watch the kid practice. It’s one thing to send scouts to a I-AA game, but these guys aren’t going to Newark, Del., on a Wednesday afternoon unless they are serious about somebody. The QB put real pressure on Navy’s depleted secondary (the Mids were down to their fifth-string safety in that game).

2. Notre Dame’s strength is its defense. The offense is very ordinary. The Irish are starting their third QB this year, i.e. their third-string guy. They have very few playmakers on offense – they ran the ball 40-plus times against a small Navy defense on Saturday, but their longest run was 14 yards. No wonder they were so desperate to get Arrelious Benn, who spurned them for Illinois.

One other thing to consider: My theory has been that Navy's defense is no different from a lot of other young defenses, especially those that have had some success in the past – namely, the players tend to pick their spots. They were a lot more lively for Air Force and the second half of Duke, i.e. name teams, than they were for Ball State and Delaware (two losses). So there’s no question they were going to show up big-time to play ND, which they did.

I’m afraid that Navy may have been like the rock band that trashes a hotel room, then leaves the bill for the next occupants. ND is going to be ready for AF. It should be an amazing game.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hall, Harrison Earn Honors

Air Force senior receiver/running back Chad Hall and junior kicker Ryan Harrison were named the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week, respectively, on Monday for their performances in the Falcons’ 30-10 victory over Army on Saturday. Harrison shared his award with San Diego State punter Michael Hughes.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Hall, who earned the honor for the third time this year, broke the school record he set three weeks earlier by rushing for 275 yards and a score. In addition, Hall hauled in three passes for 19 yards and returned three punts for 39 yards, and his 333 all-purpose yards also broke a school single-game record.

Hall already has the most all-purpose yards in a season in Air Force history (1,961), and he needs 373 rushing yards to break the school single-season mark of 1,494 set by Beau Morgan in 1996.

Harrison, meantime, made all three of his field-goal attempts – from 35, 56 and 40 yards. The first-year starter, who is 14-for-22 on the year, is the only player in the nation to have made three field goals of 50 yards or more this season. Harrison also averaged 42 yards on two punts and kicked off seven times with four touchbacks.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Big-Time BlogDog

The BlogDog didn’t show much interest in this week’s pick.

And I think I know why.

Typically, when he makes his prediction, he chooses between two mini-replica helmets. Whichever one he goes to (best three of five times) is the team he thinks will win.

But this week, with Air Force playing Army, I had to have BlogDog choose between a piece of paper that had “Air Force” scribbled on it and a piece of paper that had “Army” scribbled on it.

Why? Because I only have the helmets of teams from the Mountain West Conference. Sorry, BlogDog, I would love to have all 119 Division I-A schools here at the BlogHouse, but I don’t, OK?

And guess what? Paper was fine when he made his first ever choice (Air Force v. South Carolina State). And it was nooooo problem at all when Air Force played Navy and he was still in the first month of his career. But now that he’s predicted a career-high three straight games correctly, he gets in a huff when he has to choose between pieces of paper instead of helmets.

Well he better get used to it. Because unless I paint a TCU or CSU helmet gold by next Friday, he’ll have to do the same for Air Force’s game with Notre Dame.

Here’s how this week’s pick unfolded (remember, if Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game): Norm went to the Army paper first. Then he went to the Air Force paper three straight times, progressively tearing it to shreds.

Norm’s Pick: Air Force 34, Army 17

Norm’s Record: 6-3

What? No helmets?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Less Than Confidence Inspiring

Well, on the positive side …

I liked the new scoreboards at Clune Arena.

Other than that?

Yikes. There weren’t too many positives to draw from the Air Force men’s basketball team’s 66-63 loss Wednesday night to Brock University, a team from Canada that does not have any scholarship players.

Yes, it was an exhibition. And, yes, Air Force is very young and inexperienced.

But the Falcons didn’t exactly play like it was an exhibition – only nine players were given significant minutes. And they couldn’t claim it was the first time they’d played together because they had the benefit of a five-game trip to Canada in early September and two weeks of practice before that trip.

Here are some other disconcerting observations from the game:

  • Brock didn’t have much size – a pair of kids listed at 6-foot-7 who didn't seem that big and didn't seem that athletic – but it still managed to grab as many rebounds as Air Force (29).
  • Even though Air Force knew Brock would shoot a bunch of 3-pointers, the Badgers still were able to make 17 of 31. Was that an unusually good shooting performance by the Badgers? Yes, Brock’s coach admitted as much. But Air Force should have done a better job defending the 3.
  • It didn’t take Brock long to figure out how to defense Air Force – run a box-in-one defense to neutralize Tim Anderson. The Falcons will be in big trouble unless Anderson gets some help.
  • A general lack of emotion, except for when Andrew Henke yelled at his teammates mid-way through the second half.

All that said, however, maybe Air Force needed something like this to make players work harder and understand the value of playing hard and with intensity every minute of every game. The players from last year’s team understood that. Maybe the guys on this year’s team need to learn it the hard way.

"Just because we lost this game, that’s not predicting the season," Anderson said. "Starting off on this kind of foot just says we need to work on our defense more and learn how to play as a team more.”

Indeed. And all of a sudden, a less-than-attractive out-of-conference schedule looks like the best thing that could happen to the Falcons.

Food for Thought

It seemed like a typical Tuesday press conference. Coach Troy Calhoun talking about the upcoming game – this week it’s against service academy rival Army – and the state of his team.

Then, on the heels of an answer to a question about whether Army would have an advantage Saturday because it had a bye last weekend, Calhoun slid in this juicy tidbit:

“I think there’s some advantages to being independent, now. I mean really,” he said. “You look at it for a service academy, one, you have complete command of your schedule. Your byes. Now all of a sudden you can go out, and it’s something we probably need to look at big-picture wise for our school, being able to go out and secure bowl berths before a season even starts. That’s something Army did last year with the Poinsettia Bowl. Now they didn’t get to the mark, but it’s something we have done here at the academy. We played in some Liberty Bowls when we were still involved in a conference. And yet those things were done up front.”

Wow. Did he say what we thought he said?

After some questions about captains and food poisoning, the conversation was steered back toward independence.

“I’ll say this big picture – here’s something that I do think you have to be able to do. I think service academies are a little bit unique. And when it comes to vision for our football program, when it comes to scheduling, when it comes to securing bowl berths prior to a season, when it comes to being able to pinpoint byes at certain places throughout the year – if you want them, now you may not want them some years, depending on the makeup of your squad. When it comes to being able to put games in place for the long haul. We had some pretty good years where we weren’t affiliated with a conference. Now do I love being in a league? Absolutely. Unequivocally. We’re fortunate because you look at the Mountain West Conference, you get to play against some very talented football teams that are extremely well-coached. And that means something to you. … But I think it’s something that we’ve got to take a look at.”

Now, according to the Mountain West Conference office, leaving the league is “an institutional decision.” Air Force isn’t locked into the league for a five- or 10-year contract. The academy would just have to give enough notice to allow the conference to adjust (in other words, it couldn’t get out by next fall. By the next year, yes).

But shortly after Calhoun’s press conference, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh made it clear the academy has no intention of leaving the Mountain West. He praised the conference, its commissioner, Craig Thompson, and said Air Force has had “a great, great association” with the league.

My take? I think Calhoun probably doesn’t want to leave the league (at least not yet), but he does see some obvious benefits to becoming an independent – not the least of which, as he mentioned, are having more control over the schedule and being able to arrange tie-ins to bowls.

Air Force’s annual games with Navy (always in late September) and Army (always in early November) often make for quirky schedules – last year having two byes in the first three weeks and this year having no byes. And, as Mueh pointed out, Calhoun might be getting concerned that this year’s team – even with a strong finish to the season – could miss out on a bowl game because Air Force has the reputation of not “traveling” well to away games.

But does independence make sense? Army and Navy are independent in football, as is Notre Dame. I guess there are some pros and cons. Air Force, technically, could schedule anyone it wanted. And, ostensibly, the Falcons could try to continue longtime rivalries with teams like BYU and Colorado State. Plus, some of the other academy teams that have struggled in recent years while playing in the Mountain West – baseball comes to mind – definitely could benefit.

Still, scheduling for football and basketball would be far harder than it is now. Mueh even said going independent is “a roll of the dice.”

I think what Calhoun would love to see is Air Force stay in the conference yet get some sort of additional bowl tie-in similar to what Navy has this year with the Poinsettia Bowl (six wins and the Midshipmen are in) and to what the three service academies had with the Liberty Bowl nearly 20 years ago (an outright Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner that is bowl eligible gets an automatic bid). That’s something Mueh said he thought was a good idea, as long as the conference was in favor of it. Conference representative Javan Hedlund said the league always is looking for ways to get its teams to bowls, but that Air Force would have to talk to Thompson about such an arrangement.

“You think of those years we went to the Independence Bowl in ‘83 and ‘84, those were done in advance,” Calhoun said. “The Liberty Bowl, in 1989, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92. Now are there a couple of bases in – I can start naming cities in this country where Air Force personnel are located in the area that I think would be attractive.”

If nothing else, it’s makes for interesting debate. So I’ll open the floor and ask what others think. Should Air Force declare independence?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Uh oh from Albuquerque

It apparently wasn’t food poisoning that sent Air Force senior receiver/running back Chad Hall to the hospital Tuesday.

It was some sort of stomach bug, according to Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart. And some of the other players are experiencing symptoms similar to what Hall felt.

Starting cornerback Carson Bird and starting right tackle Chris Monson are feeling the worst, Garnhart said. They were brought to University Stadium in Albuquerque early tonight so they could receive intravenous fluids. Both are considered game-time decisions.

At 6:15, Bird was not among the defensive backs warming up on the field.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dadgum BlogDog

At first glance, the BlogDog doesn’t seem to have much in common with former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.

Fisher’s from the South. BlogDog’s from Canada.

Fisher’s married. BlogDog’s single.

Fisher gained national fame by employing the triple-option. BlogDog’s patented snag-the-recently-folded-laundry-and-run move has barely garnered regional acclaim.

Fisher’s retired. BlogDog is in his first year as a prognosticator.

Fisher’s a human. BlogDog’s a dog.

But the more you look at it, the more you realize they have in common.

Fisher began his first season as Air Force head coach 5-3. BlogDog is 5-3 in his first year predicting Air Force games. Both have the endearing ability to make you laugh without meaning to.

And both believe that college football games should be played on Saturday afternoons.

A Thursday night game – and the short week of preparation that preceded it – threw off the BlogDog earlier this season. After correctly picking Air Force’s first two games of the season, he misfired on the third – the Falcons’ Thursday night game against TCU.

BlogDog brings another two-game winning streak into tonight’s contest, and this time he likes the home team.

(Quick refresher course for those new to this blog: As a beat writer, I am not allowed to predict the outcome of games. So my dog, Norm, is doing it.

Here’s how: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of Norm. Whichever one Norm goes to first – best three out of five times – is the team he thinks is going to win. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game)

This week, the BlogDog went to the New Mexico helmet first, then Air Force’s twice in a row, then New Mexico’s twice in a row.

Norm’s Pick: New Mexico 28, Air Force 24
Norm’s Record: 5-3

BlogDog’s bite is more telling than his bark. He likes the Lobos.

Hall to play

Air Force senior receiver/running back Chad Hall, who missed practice Tuesday due to flu-like symptoms brought on by food poisoning, traveled with the Falcons to Albuquerque today and is expected to start and play in Thursday night's game against New Mexico, Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart said.

Hall, who leads the Falcons in rushing yards (750), receiving yards (341) and receptions (32), was taken to the academy hospital Tuesday where he was given fluids and allowed to rest before being released in the early evening. At practice that day, coach Troy Calhoun said he wasn’t sure if Hall would play or even make the trip to New Mexico.

Hall has led the Falcons to three straight victories with a combined 592 rushing yards – the second-highest rushing total in three consecutive games in academy history. He has scored nine of Air Force’s 15 touchdowns the last four games.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gone Bowlin'

Air Force tailback Jim Ollis pointed out Monday after practice that the Falcons are only bowl “eligible.” They haven’t earned a bid yet.

True. But one more victory puts Air Force in pretty good position to get to a bowl. And two more? The Falcons would be a lock.

So the question is, where? The Mountain West Conference has tie-ins with four bowls. Here’s a look at each.

As pointed out earlier today, the Poinsettia Bowl is out if Navy gets to six wins. The Midshipmen have an automatic tie-in if they become bowl eligible, and the Poinsettia Bowl will not host a rematch. And you can pretty much bet the Midshipmen are getting six with the soft remaining schedule they have.

The Las Vegas Bowl has the first choice of bowl-eligible Mountain West Conference teams. It is encouraged by the conference to take the league champion but is under no obligation to do so. If Air Force wins its final two conference games – Thursday at New Mexico and Nov. 17 against San Diego State – and BYU loses two of its final five, Air Force would win the conference. If Air Force wins its last two games and BYU loses one of its final five games, the Cougars and Falcons would share the title.

In either scenario, I think the Las Vegas Bowl takes the Cougars. The simple reason: BYU sells tickets. Air Force has a reputation for not “traveling” well to bowl games.

So that leaves either the New Mexico Bowl or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.

The New Mexico Bowl will be played in Albuquerque, and Kirtland Air Force Base is located in southeast Albuquerque. Plus the drive from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque is doable.

The Armed Forces Bowl makes sense for an obvious reason – its name – and because Air Force will not have played yet in Fort Worth this season. Bowls like to award bids to teams that will be playing in their respective cities for the first time that year. Air Force plays in Albuquerque Thursday night.

There is a wild card in the mix – a bowl inviting an at-large team because a conference cannot supply enough bowl-eligible squads. In other words, if a conference has tie-ins with six bowls but only five of its teams have six or more wins, then the sixth bowl would have to choose an at-large team. This scenario is possible but unlikely.

So I wouldn’t quite book your plane tickets yet, but if Air Force wins one or two more games, it looks like they’ll go bowling in either Albuquerque or Fort Worth.

Practice note: Air Force was outside on Monday after practicing inside on Sunday. The Falcons were on their turf field because their grass fields still were covered with snow. They had a split practice – offense first, then defense. Still, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was pleased with his team’s work.

“Good solid practice,” he said. “Crisp. Good tempo. Physically, I liked the way our guys have bounced back. In 48 hours we’ve had two quality practices.”

No re-match

It would have been fun. But it's not gonna happen.

Forget about an Air Force-Navy re-match in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Bruce Binkowski, the bowl’s executive director, said it's impossible because the teams already have met.

“We will not have a re-match of a regular season game,” Binkowski said Monday morning, putting an end to speculation that the rival service academies could meet in the game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Dec. 20. “I know some coaches like it, some coaches don’t. We decided early on, even in the Holiday Bowl (the sister bowl of the Poinsettia Bowl) that if you play during the regular season we will avoid that re-match.”

Navy beat Air Force, 31-20, on Sept. 29.

Poinsettia Bowl representative Weldon Donaldson attended Air Force’s 20-12 victory over Wyoming on Saturday and said a re-match was possible if both teams agreed to it. That ignited speculation, and on Sunday, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun campaigned for a re-match, saying it could be “one of the absolute gems of the postseason.”

Binkowski said the bowl often does “consider” the wishes of a team when selecting an opponent. But if Navy becomes bowl eligible by winning six or more games, it receives an automatic bid to the bowl. And Air Force would not even be considered as an opponent.

“If Navy is bowl eligible, we will go in another direction,” Binkowsi said. “If Navy is not bowl eligible, we would certainly look at Air Force.”

It seems likely the Midshipmen, who are 4-3, will get to six victories. They have games remaining against Delaware of the Bowl Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), Notre Dame (1-7), North Texas (1-6), Northern Illinois (1-7) and Army (3-5).

If Navy is eligible, the Poinsettia Bowl will select its opponent from the Mountain West Conference. The bowl gets the second choice of Mountain West Conference teams (after the Las Vegas Bowl, which typically will take the Mountain West champion).

But it would not pick Air Force.

“Air Force is going to land somewhere,” Binkowski said. “They’ve had a great year.”

Friday, October 19, 2007

Guess who's back?

Drove to Subway today with the BlogDog riding shotgun. When rapper Kanye West’s “Stronger” came on the radio, BlogDog got fired up.

N-n-now that that don’t kill me

Can only make me stronger…

BlogDog was nodding his head to the beat.

Rap is the BlogDog’s music of choice – he’s mostly a Biggie Smalls kind of dog – but I think these lyrics had special meaning for him.

Heading into last weekend’s game, BlogDog had missed three of four picks, including two straight, after nailing his first two. There was talk that BlogDog was washed up. To quote Biggie:

Your reign on the top was short like Leprechauns ...

But that tumultuous time obviously only made the BlogDog stronger.

Last week, Air Force was a 3-point underdog and playing on the road in Fort Collins – a place it hadn’t won since 1997. But that didn’t stop the BlogDog from picking Air Force to win by 22. The Falcons won by 24.

Guess who’s back?

Back again?

BlogDog’s back

Tell a friend

(Note: For those of you reading this blog for the first time, Here’s a quick background on the BlogDog. As a beat writer, I am not allowed to predict the outcome of games. So my dog, Norm, is doing it.

Here’s how: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of Norm. Whichever one Norm goes to first – best three out of five times – is the team he thinks is going to win. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game.)

This week, BlogDog went directly to the Air Force helmet on his first two picks. Then he went to Wyoming helmet on the next two. On the deciding one, he went to Air Force, then wouldn’t let go of the helmet (see picture below).

So here’s how I’m interpreting it. BlogDog’s thinking Air Force will roar out to an early lead, Wyoming will rally and tie the game or take the lead, then Air Force will win late in dramatic fashion.

Norm’s pick: Air Force 27, Wyoming 24

Norm’s record: 4-3

BlogDog's been smooth since days of Underoos

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wild, wild (Mountain) West

Cleaning out the old notebook after Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference basketball media day.

I am not permitted to take part in the media poll per our paper’s rules, but I think my fellow scribes and the TV folks did a pretty good job with it. As BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out, BYU probably got a lot of first-place votes because it is the defending champ and there really is no clear favorite. Rose termed the league “as wide open as I can remember it being.”

I also agree with San Diego State coach Steve Fisher that six teams could win the league – BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, Utah, San Diego State and Wyoming. Yes, I’m leaving Air Force off that list for now, although I think the Falcons have a chance to be a pretty solid team.

Some quick-hit thoughts on the teams …

BYU: Certainly the favorite going in, but the Cougars are vulnerable. They lost the league’s Player of the Year (Keena Young), along with Austin Ainge – a clutch performer who brought a lot of confidence and moxie to the floor – and sharpshooter Mike Rose. Big losses.

UNLV: The Rebels will be inexperienced and rely a lot on guard Wink Adams. Watch out for 6-foot-8 forward Lamar Roberson, a transfer from the University of Houston who sat out last season.

Utah: One of the league’s most experienced teams with four returning starters. Could make noise, but much will depend upon the play of 7-1 center Luke Nevill. At times he’s dominant, other times not nearly assertive enough. Save for BYU’s’ Trent Plaisted, there aren’t a whole lot of guys in the league that can match up with him physically. So is this the year he takes charge?

New Mexico: Perhaps the most intriguing team in the conference in part because of the big-name first-year coach (Steve Alford) and in part because the Lobos have arguably the most talented player in the league (J.R. Giddens). Alford said Wednesday that Giddens has been great, and Giddens is saying all the right things. Will that be true halfway through the season?

San Diego State: They lost their top two players – including Brandon Heath, the league’s all-time leading scorer – and they’ll be small. But the Aztecs always have talent, and Fisher said Wednesday this team is deepest he’s had in his nine seasons at the school. The loss of talented but troubled Jerome Habel? That might well end up being addition by subtraction for this team.

Wyoming: I would not be surprised if this team wins the conference. I like the new coach, I love the two guards (Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones), and the talented Joseph Taylor has had a good offseason, from what I have heard. Plenty of talent, lots of swagger.

TCU: Four starters back from a team that won three of its last five games last year, including the upset of Air Force that likely burst the Falcons’ NCAA Tournament bubble. And yet … I guess everyone will believe it when they see it.

Colorado State: Rebuilding year. Big time. Ten guys gone from last year.

Air Force: There is a lot of potential, and a relatively soft non-conference schedule could help build confidence. But the inexperience will be tough to overcome, especially in places like The Pit and Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium. Air Force fans were spoiled last year with a bunch of seniors that were very talented but also very experienced and poised. Jake Burtschi, Matt McCraw, Nick Welch, Dan Nwaelele – those guys oozed confidence. Tim Anderson, the team’s lone returning starter, is among the league’s marquee players (he probably belonged on the preseason All-MWC team, if only for his defense). So much depends on how former role players (specifically Anwar Johnson and Andrew Henke) handle increased burdens.

I’ll throw this out there for comments: Who do you guys think should be the preseason favorite? And where do you think Air Force should have been ranked?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Two for Hall

Air Force senior Chad Hall has been named the Mountain West Conference's Offensive Player of the Week.

No, this is not a recording.

Hall turned in a career-best rushing performance for the second consecutive week in last Saturday’s 45-21 victory over Colorado State.

And Monday, Hall was given conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second straight week.

In Fort Collins against the Rams, Hall ran for an academy single-game record 256 yards on a career-high 31 carries (8.26 yards per carry). Hall broke former Falcon quarterback Dee Dowis’ record of 249 that Dowis set against San Diego State in 1989.

Hall, who has notched three straight 100-plus-yard rushing games against Colorado State, had 169 yards a week earlier against UNLV. He is the first Falcon non-quarterback with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since fullback Jason Jones did it in 1991.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Five Minutes to Kickoff

Five minutes until game time, and the rain is coming down steadily. The Colorado State band is on the field, but there aren’t yet many fans in the stands – just a few pockets here and there. It’s about 49 degrees.

The discussion in the press box a few moments ago is who the weather will hurt more. Not sure there’s a clear answer. I think both teams want to run the ball and would be happy to keep it on the ground, if possible.

Two final thoughts:

-Air Force needs to hit Kyle Bell early and in the backfield. If he gets a head of steam, watch out.

-Shaun Carney needs to have a big game – taking care of the ball and making some plays with his feet.

Update from Hughes Stadium

Officials at Colorado State have announced the start of today’s Air Force-CSU game has been postponed from 3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Heavy rains, lightning and a problem with the stadium lights kept players off the field and prompted the delay. Athletic directors from both schools met at 3 p.m. and decided on the 4:15 start.

I think 4:15 might be a tad optimistic. It’s 3:30 as I’m writing this, and about 20 Air Force players just ran onto the field. Some aren’t even in full pads yet. Not sure if they can warm up in 45 minutes. We’ll see.

Ugly, ugly day here in Fort Collins – gray skies, rain, cool air. But the rain seems to have stopped. And the field here at Hughes Stadium is synthetic turf – just like at the academy – so it won’t be a total mess.

There are about 10 fans in the stands, total, and there are a whole bunch of cars making their way out of the parking lot.

It will be interesting to see what effect – if any – this delay and the weather has on the game. This is a pretty big one for the Falcons. Win this, and they’re looking really, really good for a bowl game.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reeling BlogDog

I can’t have a discussion about tomorrow’s Air Force-Colorado State game without somebody bringing up the losing streak.

“What is the problem?”

“How could a master of the game go on such a slide?”

“Do you think it will cost him his job?”

“Have you seen any columns calling for his resignation?”

And when I answer by saying I thought Colorado State would be a dark horse contender for the league title this year and that I have no idea how Sonny Lubick could lose 12 straight, I always get the same reaction:

“No, no, no. Not Colorado State’s losing streak. The BlogDog’s.”

Indeed. While the Rams not having won a game for more than an entire calendar year is a bit shocking, it’s nothing compared to the BlogDog’s recent slide. After becoming an almost overnight sensation by correctly predicting the outcome of Air Force’s first two games, the BlogDog has been wrong on three of his past four predictions, including his last two. It’s an almost unfathomable fall from grace.

(Note: If you’re a college football fan, and you haven’t yet heard of the BlogDog – which is like a rock aficionado not having heard of The Beatles – let me bring you up to speed. As a beat writer, I am not allowed to predict the outcome of games. So my dog, Norm, is doing it.

Here’s how: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of Norm. Whichever one Norm goes to first – best three out of five times – is the team he thinks is going to win. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, I’m a little worried that the losing streak has BlogDog rattled. For the third straight week he’s picking a road underdog. Not only that, Norm went to the Air Force helmet three times in a row. Somebody’s streak is ending Saturday. Either Colorado State’s or the BlogDog’s.

Norm’s Pick: Air Force 28, Colorado State 6

Norm’s Record: 3-3

BlogDog looks to end his streak.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DeBerry at CSU?

Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick told reporters at his Monday news conference that former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry told him a few weeks ago that he might attend Saturday’s game.

Doesn’t look like it.

Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart said he spoke with DeBerry on Wednesday. Garnhart said DeBerry told him he’d be in Colorado today for a speaking engagement but was leaving for Oklahoma on Friday to visit his grandchildren and would not attend Saturday’s game at Colorado State

DeBerry hopes to be at the academy for the Falcons’ game against Army on Nov. 3, Garnhart said. That would make sense, as former Air Force coach and recruiting coordinator Jim Bowman, one of DeBerry's close friends, will be honored that weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hall Named Player of the Week

Air Force senior Chad Hall was named the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for his performance in the Falcons’ 31-14 victory over UNLV on Saturday night.

Hall caught a team-high four passes for 44 yards and rushed for a career-high 169 yards on 18 carries (9.4 yards per carry) – the most rushing yards by a non-quarterback at the academy in a game since 1991.

The question surrounding Hall the entire season has been whether he is touching the ball enough since moving from halfback to Z receiver. But Troy Calhoun has made a concerted effort the past two games to get Hall the ball more. He had 22 “touches” on Saturday night, the most he’s had in a game this year.

Hall is the first Falcon to earn a MWC Player of the Week honor since senior inside linebacker Drew Fowler was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in Air Force’s 20-12 victory over Utah on Sept. 8.

Friday, October 5, 2007

BlogDog Rolls the Dice

You know those paintings of dogs playing poker?

If BlogDog was in those, he’d be pushing all-in pre-flop with nothing more than an icy stare and a pair of 3s as his hole cards.

Translation for the non-Texas Hold 'Em inclined: He’s not afraid to take chances.

Case in point is this week’s pick. Air Force is a 5.5-point favorite at home. But BlogDog’s taking UNLV. It’s the second straight week he’s turned his back on the oddsmakers. But what can you say? He’s got a thing for underdogs.

(Note: For those of you who are just discovering this blog, my dog, Norm, is predicting the winner of each Air Force game this season. Here’s how he does it: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of him. Whichever one Norm goes to first - best three out of five times - is the one he thinks is going to win.)

If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game.)

Here’s how it unfolded this week. Norm went to the Air Force helmet first, then the UNLV helmet, then the Air Force helmet, then the UNLV helmet . . . then the UNLV helmet.

Norm’s Pick: UNLV 28, Air Force 27
Norm’s Record: 3-2

BlogDog: Viva Las Vegas

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Enemy Lines: Postscript

Before I get to UNLV, I thought I’d post two more installments of Enemy Lines with my friend Christian Swezey from The Washington Post to wrap up the Navy game. I’ll be posting his response later. To see our pregame exchanges, scroll down to parts 1-4 below.

Jake Schaller Wrote: Sweze – So that’s five in a row for the Midshipmen. And, as you pointed out in your article in Sunday’s Post, this might have been Air Force’s best shot to beat Navy for the next few years. All but 44 of Air Force’s 474 total yards on Saturday were picked up by seniors (Travis Dekker actually is now being listed as a junior, as he was given a medical turnback and has one more year of eligibility remaining). Navy, meantime, had a bunch of underclassmen making big-time contributions on both sides of the ball.

Last Saturday’s game was difficult for a lot of Air Force fans to swallow because the Falcons out-gained Navy and held the ball longer than the Midshipmen. Air Force moved the ball up and down the field but faltered in the red zone. And that leads to a lot off “what-iffing.”

-What if Shaun Carney hadn’t made a bad pitch that resulted in a loss of 11 yards deep in Navy territory on Air Force’s second drive of the game?

-What if Ryan Harrison had made that 41-yard field goal?

-What if the Falcons had stopped just one of Navy’s two fourth-down conversions on the drive during which the Midshipmen took the lead for good?

-What if Air Force hadn’t self-destructed with those three penalties that took it out of scoring range in the fourth quarter?

There are plenty more. And they all provide evidence for the “Air Force lost, Navy didn’t win” argument that many around the academy have made the last five years. But the way I see it, those arguments work for a year, maybe two. But five? It’s habit now. There’s a reason why Navy is making the big/important plays and Air Force is not.

So, why do you think it’s Navy making the plays? Confidence from winning a bunch in a row?

And, also, wanted to get your take on Air Force. Do you think the Falcons can rebound and challenge for a conference title or at least a bowl bid? I think a lot of people are starting to wonder if the first three games of the season were a bit of a mirage. Air Force beat Utah on a day when the Utes did not have their top quarterback, running back or receiver. And the Falcons beat a TCU team that was without Aaron Brown. Maybe that fast start was more emotion, surprise (with AF's new offensive and defensive philosophies) and a lot of breaks going Air Force's way. Guess we'll find out more this week.