In the Midst of Uncertainty

You'll have to decide for yourself as to which side of the conundrum you hold: better the devil you know or the devil you don't know? Would you rather have the proverbial bird in the hand or try for two in the bush? Do you keep the fistful of cash handed to you by Monty Hall or do you trade it for what's behind the curtain and risked being zonked? Ahhh, the disquieting dubiety of it all.

THE DEBATE CONTINUES. At present the Air Force football team, its coaches and fans find themselves shackled to the uncertainty of what awaits them even if Fisher DeBerry's bunch should beat Army, New Mexico and San Diego State. This year as in each of his twenty years as AFA's head coach, DeBerry has exhorted his team with a tri-pronged mantra at the season's outset. Capturing the Commander-in-Chief's trophy, winning a conference title and earning a bowl bid and victory are the carrots held tantalizingly close to the Falcons' football team. In the nineteen campaigns DeBerry and his charges have completed, one or more of these goals has been achieved with a regularity approaching methodical precision.

       Only in 1986, 1988 and 1996 did the Falcons fail to achieve one of DeBerry's proclaimed aims for a season. The first squad posted a 6-5 record, the second registered a 5-7 mark, while the last team finished with a 6-5 slate. DeBerry's 1993 squad--his only other team to have posted a losing record apart from the 1988 squad--retained possession of the CIC trophy. AFA had won the hardware on an outright basis the previous season and maintained its hold on the trophy when all three academies finished the 1993 CIC competition with 1-1 records.

       Having lost the ability to win the CIC trophy on an outright basis in 2003, the Falcons must beat Army this weekend and then hope that vanquished Black Knights rebound in time to beat Navy in December. This scenario, albeit an unwieldy one given Army's present struggles, would yield another championship in service academy competition for the Falcons.

       The possibilities and permutations of which team may emerge as the eventual MWC champion this fall warm the hearts of theoreticians throughout the Mountain time zone. Yes, if Utah wins its final two MWC games the Utes become the league champs. If Urban Meyer's team stumbles against Wyoming or BYU, then folks at MWC headquarters begin the process of examining hanging and dimpled chads. In the aftermath of a triple overtime loss to Utah, Air Force remains in the chase for its first league championship since the inception of the MWC, but is by no means assured of a title even with victories against the Lobos and Aztecs.
       The 2003 season enters the final three games of the regular schedule with AFA not having any degree of certitude what, if anything, the postseason holds in store for it. The vagaries and vicissitudes of the language of bowl contracts allows for the possibility that Air Force could finish 9-3 and fail to receive a bowl bid. At the other end of the spectrum of postseason absurdities, is the unlikely prospect that AFA could finish the season at 6-6 and have a bowl invitation extended to it.

       While the possibility of AFA reaching any or all of DeBerry's aspirations for the team remains intact--however tenuously that may be--there is a greater measure of uncertainty than conviction as to what the month of November and the postseason hold in store for the 2003 edition of the Air Force football team.Big Brett Waller (AP)

       ROADSIDE SIGNS. For a second year in a row the Falcons have enjoyed an extended period of good health, particularly among its starters on both offense and defense. The continuing hale and hardy nature of the team is simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

       Along the offensive line, TE TE Adam Strecker (AP)Adam Strecker, tackle Blane Neufeld, guard Brett Huyser, center Stephen Maddox and tackle Brett Waller have all started every game this season. Jesse Underbakke has started all but the UNLV game when Corey Crossetti took his place. (Underbakke sprained an ankle at the end of the first quarter in the Utah game and was replaced for the remainder of the action by Crossetti, who may start again this week versus Army.) Chance Harridge has started all games at the QB spot. Joe Schieffer started the first eight games at one HB spot before Jason Boman started this past weekend against Utah. Darnell Stephens has started six games at the other HB spot with Anthony Butler having started twice and Matt Ward once. 

       Adam Cole has started four games at the FB spot, with Dan Shaffer having three starts and Steve Massie a pair. At the WR spot Alec Messerall and J. P. Waller have each started four games with Wide Receiver Anthony Park (AP)Anthony Park having a single start.

       As longtime AFA fans know plays are generally shuttled into the huddle by AFA WRs, so the player designated as the starter in any game is part of a position at which a revolving door is clearly in place. The starting FB spot is the other slot in the AFA offense at which there has been a measure of variety this fall. The starting HB spots have been manned--in general--by Stephens and Schieffer.

       All six starters along the offensive line--and Crossetti, the only other player to start in the OL this year--are seniors and will graduate. Apart from the Wofford and North Texas games this season there have been no contests in which AFA substitute offensive linemen have received appreciable playing time. The amazing two year run of good health along the AFA OL has yielded continuity, a national rushing championship and a team with a chance to repeat that title. It has also produced an environment where almost no playing time has been given to players who will comprise the starting line in the 2004 season.

       The same situation is true of the QB spot in the Falcons' backfield. Adam Fitch, Andy Gray and Travis Thurmond have carried the ball a total of seventeen times, with Fitch having accounted for 15 attempts--fourteen of them after Harridge was ejected QB Chance Harridge (AP) from the Northwestern game. Fitch had a laudable performance in rallying the team to a win against the Wildcats, but he has been next to invisible since that time.

       Fitch is the only QB other than Harridge to have thrown a pass this season with four of his six attempts having come in that same Northwestern game. The point here is clear and unavoidable: Air Force is likely to enter the 2004 season with a QB leading its offense who essentially has no experience in running the team.

       RBs Stephens, Butler and Ward will return to the AFA backfield and, in game competition, run behind a collection of blockers which is novel to them. There will be depth at the FB spot as Cole and Shaffer both have eligibility remaining. AFA fans should be quick to recall Fisher DeBerry's words preceding the current season when he assessed the team being so deep at the FB position that it had three starters rather than one.

       This embarrassment of riches at the fullback spot has produced a grand total DB Jeff Overstreet (AP) of 1 TD against division 1-A competition in 2003, that being a seven yard jaunt by Cole in the Wyoming game. Against division 1-A opponents the trio of FBs has run for no more than 92 yards in a game (North Texas) this season. In four of the past five games the FB spot has produced 58 yards or less. It's difficult to argue that such production represents anything other than a dearth, rather than a surfeit, of talent.

       The starting DE Charlie Bueker and LB Hightower harassing another QB (AP) lineup for the Falcons on defense has been nothing short of uncanny. Monty Coleman, Nick Taylor, Charlie Bueker, Marchello Graddy, Trevor Hightower, Dennis Poland, Adrian Wright, Jeff Overstreet, Nate Allen and Larry Duncan have each started every game this season. John Rudzinski has started eight of nine games missing only the North Texas encounter when he was replaced by Cameron Hodge.

       AFA fans LB Marchello Graddy probably the most consistent defender this year. (P) are well aware of defensive coordinator Richard Bell's unwillingness and/or reluctance to substitute on defense. There has been no call or suggestion made to alter the starting defensive lineup, but rather to rotate players from the depth chart at opportune times into game action. If there is talent on the depth chart why hasn't it been more freely inserted into the lineup? If there is a lack of talent on the current roster what does that portend for next season's defense? Bell simply cannot have it both ways. Either he plays the talent he swears exists throughout the current collection of defensive players or he approaches next year knowing full well that there is no in-game, heat-of-the-battle experience on which his protégées can call.

       Only CSU DB Adrian Wright (AP) has managed to score at least 30 points against AFA in regulation time this season. Utah scored 45 points this past weekend, but 22 of those came in overtime when a team takes possession of the ball on the defense's twenty-five yard line. This year's defensive unit deserves both applause for its collective performance as well as a pat on the back over the incredulity it may feel regarding the scarcity of arrivals of substitutions from the bench.
       This year's group of Iron Men will return only Rudzinski, Allen and Poland next year--and given the fact that as a sophomore Poland could opt not to return to the academy after the completion of the 2003-2004 academic year--his return could be considered an open ended question.DB Larry Duncan (AP)

       A best case scenario has AFA returning four starters on offense, and that assumes Stephens and Butler will man both starting HB spots in 2004 rather than the one they share this season. The defense will return no more than three starters next year if Poland stays put. Fifteen spots will be filled by players who will be full time starters for the first occasion in their careers. None of them will have had the benefit of meaningful playing time in game competition in the 2003 season.

       Add to this long range view the fact that both kicking specialists--punter Andrew Martin and PK PK Ashcroft (AP) Joey Ashcroft--will be graduating and the measure of uncertainty surrounding next year's football team flourishes rather than subsides.

       THE END IS IN SIGHT. The members of the class of 2004 will play their final home football game this weekend against heated rival, Army. The seniors on this year's team have compiled an exemplary on the field whether at home, on the road or in or out of conference play.
       The record shows that entering this weekend's game versus Army the class of 2004 has an overall record of 29-17(.630). The class has gone 17-9(.653) in Falcon Stadium and 11-8(.578) on the road, including a 1-1(.500) record in bowl games, having beaten Fresno State, while losing to Virginia Tech.

       This year's senior class has forged a 3-1(.750) record versus Navy and a 3-0(1.000) record versus Army and a composite mark of 6-1(.857) in CIC competition with an opportunity to improve that record to 7-1(.875) by defeating the Black Knights.

       The seniors have thus far compiled a 15-11(.576) record in MWC games with contests remaining to be played against New Mexico and San Diego State. The class of 2004 has authored a 9-5(.642) mark in home conference games while standing at 6-6(.500) on the road--again with a pair of such games remaining on the current schedule.

       Pending the outcomes of its final two MWC games, the class of 2004 has competed successfully against all but one conference team. Fisher's latest crew has gone 3-1 versus BYU; 1-3 vs. CSU; 1-2 vs.UNM; 3-1 vs. Utah; 2-2 vs. UNLV; 2-1 vs. SDS and 3-1 vs. Wyoming. By defeating New Mexico in two weeks this year's senior class will complete their college football career having posted a .500 or better record against Army, Navy, and six of the seven MWC teams against which it competes annually. Only the CSU Rams will have gotten the better of this year's graduating class.

       The class of 2004 has already compiled a 14-6 (.700) record in non-conference games. Contests against Army and perhaps a bowl opponent remain on the schedule. A pair of victories would boost that winning percentage to a lofty 72.7%.

       The bequest legated by the class of 2004 to all Falcons' teams which follow it is a legacy of success on the field, tenacity of approach in striving for victory and a resilience and indefatigable perseverance which allow adversity to be met, surmounted and defeated. Well done gentlemen, one and all.

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