With An Eye Toward 2004
YOU NAME IT, WE GOT IT. The Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten are all here. So are the Big 12, the Southeastern Conference and the Mountain West. The Sun Belt, too. What about the Mid American Conference and the Pacific 10? Yes, they're here as well, just as are Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference. There's even an Independent in this group. What group is this? What body is comprised by some of the members of these august, football playing leagues?
What is it that Navy, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Utah, Colorado State, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin all have in common?
How is every team in the above grouping similar to Northwestern, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Texas, Bowling Green, California, Oregon State, UCLA, Oregon, Fresno State, Tulsa, Hawaii and Louisville?
It's quite simple. These thirty-one teams share two traits. First, each will participate in a bowl game this holiday season. Second, each surrendered more points per game during the regular season than did the Air Force Falcons. Thirty-one of the fifty-six teams (55.3%) which will be playing in a postseason bowl game in December or January allowed more points per game than did the AFA Falcons during the recently completed regular season.
There's a platitude pertaining to sports which holds that, "offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships." You couldn't buttress that logic by scrutinizing the teams which were extended bowl bids this year in light of their performances on defense during the regular season.
If solid defense wins championships, then it ought to be good enough to boost a team into a bowl game. Air Force concluded the 2003 season ranked twenty-fifth (tied with TCU) in division 1-A football in terms of points allowed per game having permitted opposing teams 20.2 points a contest.
As AFA partisans scratch their heads in wonderment trying to fathom why their beloved Falcons were shut out of the postseason festivities in the current holiday stint, some of them will point an accusatory finger at the defense. That rationale, if you'll pardon the expression, is indefensible. If you're looking for a scapegoat try the offense. In eleven games against division 1-A competition Air Force topped the thirty point mark only once in regulation time. The Falcons scored 35 points against Wyoming. (AFA scored 20 of its 43 points in overtime versus Utah.)
Only a few days before the Falcons played San Diego State--which proved to be the team's final game of the season--coach Fisher DeBerry kept saying he thought the team had not yet played its best game of the year. In fact, the team already had played its best game of the year, but the truth of the matter is that, when it came to offense, the Falcons' best in 2003 proved to be a demonstration of disappointing underachievement.
A NEW DAY DAWNS. It used to be that offense sold tickets and defense won championships, but in the world of college football bowl season bids, it is definitely offense that scores points with the committees which extend invitations.
There are 117 teams playing division 1-A college football and among them Air Force finished a most respectable twenty-fifth in points allowed. When the focus changes to scoring points the Falcons are just another face in the crowd of the 2003 season. Air Force finished in a tie for fifty-ninth place, with Purdue, averaging 26.83 points an outing. In fact, of the fifty-six teams playing in a postseason bowl game this year only nine scored fewer points per game than coach Fisher DeBerry's squad.
Auburn(65th), Georgia (67th), Nebraska(70th), Southern Mississippi(75TH), Ohio State (76th), Fresno State (80th), UCLA (94th), Northwestern (94th), and Georgia Tech (103rd) are the teams which were more anemic on offense than Air Force, but still managing to earn bowl bids.
Northwestern's presence in a bowl game may be a source of sleepless nights for AFA fans this winter. Northwestern is one of four teams which did not post a winning record and still made it to a bowl game. (Northwestern, UCLA, Kansas, and Georgia Tech each posted records of 6-6 and will be going bowling over the holidays.
Not to pour salt in an open wound, but it must be noted that Northwestern posted an inferior record to that of AFA (6-6/7-5), surrendered more points per game than AFA (24.8/20.2), scored fewer points per game than the Falcons (26.83/19.80), hosted Air Force in a game--lost to the Falcons--and still is going to a bowl game.
One final slap in the face the Falcons can contemplate while watching bowl games this month and next is that they are just one of seven teams in division 1-A football to have posted a winning record while failing to receive a bowl bid. The others are: Northern Illinois (10-2)--by far the most talented team not in a bowl game during the 2003-2004 postseason, Connecticut (9-3), Marshall (8-4), South Florida (7-4) and Akron (7-4).
The figures are telling and bear repeating. Thirty-one of fifty-six bowl teams allowed more points than Air Force during the 2003 season. Only nine of fifty-six teams in the postseason have scored fewer points than the Falcons during the regular season. The task at hand for DeBerry and offensive coordinator Chuck Petersen is clear. They must energize the team's offense in spring drills, and again in the fall, in advance of next season or be resigned to the distinct possibility of staying home for the holidays again in 2004.
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