It's Open Season on Falcons and Bears
REMATCH. The last time AFA met Cal was September 21, 2002 in Berkeley
when the Falcons upset the then nationally ranked Golden Bears by a, 23-21,
score. That game marked the last time Air Force beat a top twenty-five team.
The folks in Las Vegas don't seem much impressed by that solitary
accomplishment as the sportsbooks have established coach Jeff Tedford's
visitors as a comfortable 13Â½ point favorite in this weekend's season opener
for Air Force and California.
When the Falcons last met Cal,
was on its way to capturing the program's first national rushing title. Making
that feat all the more impressive is the fact that the Falcons' offensive line
was a collection of players who had a total of zero career starts entering the
If you're among the handful of incurable optimists who believe that lightning
can, and does, strike twice in the same place, then perhaps you believe this
year's AFA offensive line can duplicate the feat of its predecessors. TE
, LT Robert Kraay
, LG Jon Wilson
, C Lawrence Hufford, RG Curtis Grantham
and RT Ross Weaver
have nary a start among them and will be trying to
open holes against a defense which helped hand Southern Cal its only defeat
last fall. Anticipating either a national rushing title from the collective
sorties of AFA runners this season or a victory against a team as deservedly
highly ranked as is Cal, is indeed wishful thinking.
EARLY MATURATION. In an unprecedented move C4C
cadet fourth class or freshman to you non-military types) Shaun Carney
been named the starting QB for the Falcons. In his previous twenty years as
the team's head coach, Fisher DeBerry
has had a freshman quarterback start a
total of 1 game in the 245 he has coached. Not since Dee Dowis started the
final game of the 1986 season--a 23-3 loss against BYU
--has a rank newcomer
to the academy led the fortunes of the Falcons' offense. The nuances of
running the ground based option attack favored by the Falcons for the past
quarter of a century are such that cadet Carney hasn't possibly had time to be
exposed to them, let alone master them, given just the relative handful of
practices conducted by Air Force in advance of the game.
As a matter of necessity, cadet Carney won't have much time to ponder the
mistakes that likely will come in the heat and confusion of his initial foray
into division 1-A college football.
receive a scorching baptism by fire in facing the Cal defense. DT Lorenzo Alexander
and all-PAC 10, SS Donnie McCleskey
are as good at their position as
any players Air Force will face this fall.
THROUGH THE GAPS. Senior HBs Anthony Butler
and Darnell Stephens
gained in excess of 1,000 yards in their AFA playing careers and stand among
the top thirty ground gainers in the academy's history. In recent years the
Falcons' rushing attack has been more reliant on production from the HB spots
and less so on the FB position. Butler and Stephens have given every
indication that they will continue to perform in the productive manner of
, Scotty McKay and Qualario Brown, each of whom concluded solid
careers for recent AFA teams.
Two years ago TE Adam Strecker
led the squad in receptions, reception yardage
and TD receptions. Last year he and Chance Harridge
failed to recreate the
passing chemistry they exhibited in 2002. McMenomy will start his first game
for AFA this Saturday, fully cognizant that he is unlikely to be the primary
receiver on a pass play more than once or twice during the game, if at all.
WRs Alec Messerall
and J. P. Waller will need to find open spots in the Cal
secondary to which Carney can deliver the ball in for Air Force to generate
some measure of success in the passing game. Being able to do so will force
Cal to spread its defense thereby making it possible for AFA to be more
effective at the point of attack with its cutting, slashing and darting
A TRADITION CONTINUES. Air Force will be playing a base 3-3-5 defense
for the third year in a row. The scheme is one in which well disguised blitz
packages are used to create additional pressure in rushing opposing QBs. Ryan Carter
will lead the Falcons' pursuit of enemy passers from his spot along the
defensive line. The bulk of the tackles in this alignment will be made by
AFA's LBs and the Falcons have a solid starting crew this season.
veteran of the bunch having started all but one game last season. He'll be
joined by Cameron Hodge
, who started the one game (North Texas
missed in 2003. The biggest of the starting linebackers is Kenny Smith
6-3/240. He's been a special teams' demon for the past two seasons and made
his presence felt last fall when he got into game action apart from kick
coverage. The continuity this trio develops will be a key component in the
effectiveness the defense displays in 2004.
Among last year's sophomores who made an appreciable impact on the team, none
registered so forcefully as the c
made by Falcon Back Denny Poland. Air Forcefans should look for him to
continue to deliver the jarring hits which became his trademark as a starter
CONFERENCE CALL. All eight teams in the MWC will be in action this
week/weekend with six of them playing in regionally or nationally televised
contests. Here's a look at the action.
On Thursday night, Utah
A & M. The Utes' Urban Meyer was
justifiably in the running for national coach of the year honors in 2003.
Utah dominated the MWC to such a degree last year that the Utes are the
prohibitive favorite to repeat as conference champs this season. There'll be
seven teams licking their chops waiting for the chance to beat the Utes in
league play. But that's a story for another day. The Utes win this one over a
A & M squad looking for direction under coach Dennis Franchione
abominable 4-8 mark in 2003.
On Friday night,
the New Mexico
Lobos host Washington State
. The Cougars won last year's battle
23-13. UNM's talented RB, DonTrell Moore
, is as good a runner as there is in
division 1-A and he has the stats to make that case. Wazzou will enter the
game as a slim favorite. A close home loss to BYU last year derailed the
Lobos' shot at a conference title. Their fans should have Alumni Stadium at a
fever pitch for this contest. Coach Rocky Long will help his team focus on the
task at hand and direct it to an upset victory.
San Diego State
takes on division 1-AA Idaho
State of the Big Sky. After
playing Eastern Washington
and Samford last year the Aztecs will face their
third division1-AA opponent in the past 13 games. Be honest, do you really
care about this game? Neither do I. It's a neighborhood bully on the prowl
trying to separate some kid from his lunch money. Make it the Aztecs to win
this "so what" contest.
CSU travels to Boulder to face Colorado
their annual grudge match. Everyone knows about the off-season from hell just
concluded by the Buffs. Gary Barnett's team is widely regarded as starting
over from scratch. That thinking falls more into the category of urban myth
Sonny Lubick's Rams
entrust the offense to Justin Holland, who completed two years serving as
Bradlee Van Pelt's caddy. Having seen Holland play high school ball at Bear
Creek I can say that he's a better QB than Van Pelt. He's not a better
athlete, but as a passer there's no comparison. If CSU can run the ball
authoritatively against the Buffs they can stay in the game and perhaps pull
an upset. I don't think it will happen. CU is the choice.
The game with the highest profile matches teams which are in dire need of a
win. BYU's Gary Crowton and Notre Dame
's Ty Willingham are embattled coaches.
The loser in this game may be forced to shave his head and leave town wearing
the dreaded weasel suit. It's difficult to fathom that these two teams have
fallen on such unproductive times. The Cougars are at home, but that is no
longer the harbinger of victory it was under Lavell Edwards.
slight nod here to the Fighting Irish.
State. (See SDS versus Idaho State above). Joe Glenn had the Cowboys on the
rise at the end of last season as victories over CSU and BYU confirm. This
game will be regarded as a battle of lightweights, but any victory right now
is a food which will feed the burgeoning confidence of a Cowboys' program
which isn't far from contending with MWC foes on an equal footing every week.
Wyoming wins comfortably.
On Sunday UNLV
in Neyland Stadium. The Rebels
get a nice pay day for playing the part of tackling dummies. The Vols will
barely break a sweat. Pick a score, any score. Tennessee can, and will, do
Air Force opens its season against California. Cal handed co-national
, its only loss in 2003.
Aaron Rodgers, WR Geoff McArthur, SS Donnie McCleskey and DT Lorenzo Alexander
are among the exceptionally talented players the Golden Bears will bring to
Falcon Stadium to open their season.
AFA will start an entirely new offensive line and a true freshman, Shaun
Carney, at QB. The Falcons sprang an upset on the Bears two years ago in
Berkeley, but Cal coach Jeff Tedford has resurrected a program which hasn't
been a telling force in PAC 10 football for decades.
AFA is a 13 1/2 point underdog at home. The Falcons haven't found themselves
this big an underdog since the Oklahoma
Sooners were 18 1/2 point favorites,
paid a visit to the academy and waxed Air Force ,44-3, on opening day in 2001.
The final score this Saturday won't be nearly that lopsided, but will find
Cal as comfortable victors and only the fourth team (along with OU, CSU and
Wyoming) to hand Fisher DeBerry an opening day defeat in his twenty-one years
as a head coach.
Your friends can't understand why you go around singing that, "Greece is the word." You've convinced yourself that Diogenes, Plato and Demosthenes are the fathers of beach volleyball. You've discovered the meaning of "degree of difficulty" by spending all your free time by trying to saddle a pommel horse. Any physician worth a bronze medal can diagnose that you're in the grips of post-Olympic fever, a malady for which the only known cure is a healthy dose of opening-day, college football.
A pre-game look at the Cal @ Air Force matchup.