It's Open Season on Falcons and Bears

It's Open Season on Falcons and Bears

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.

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 13½ point favorite in this weekend's season opener for Air Force and California.

 
 When the Falcons last met Cal,  Cal head football coachAFA 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 season.
 
 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 Robert McMenomy, 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 The head man at AFA football(that's cadet fourth class or freshman to you non-military types) Shaun Carney has 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. Cal DT LorenzoHe'll 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 have each 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 Leotis Palmer, 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 running attack.
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.
 
 John Rudzinski isAFA Inside backer Rudzinzkithe 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) Rudzinski missed in 2003. The biggest of the starting linebackers is Kenny Smith at 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 cDenny, AFA Falcon Backontribution 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 last year.
 
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 faces Texas 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 nondescript
A & M squad looking for direction under coach Dennis Franchione after an abominable 4-8 mark in 2003.
 
 On Friday night, Doba-Wash St Head coach 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 iCU  Head coachn 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 than reality.
 
 Sonny Lubick's Rams CSU Head coachwill 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.  Wyo Head CoachA slight nod here to the Fighting Irish.
 
 Wyoming plays Tenn StadiumAppalachian 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 plays Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. The Rebels Donnie, Cal's SSwill 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 likewise.
 
 Air Force opens its season against California. Cal handed co-national champion, USC, its only loss in 2003. Cal QBQB 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.

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