In 1888, Ernest Lawrence Thayer cautioned fans of a particular baseball team that, "The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day."
The AFA Falcons have had each of the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons crash land with five losses over their final seven games.
~Take a look at our prognostications and see how they line up with yours.~
Spring football practice this year saw the team suffer a devastating
injury to quarterback candidate Adam Fitch
and a rash of mishaps which forced
the suspension of drills. An alleged steroid abuse episode rocked the team
leading to court-martial proceedings for two players. Pre-season polls have
dismissed the team as little more than an afterthought in the 2004 MWC
campaign. It could be Thayer was on to something with his conjecture.
FLUX. Every member of last season's starting
offensive line has graduated and when the Falcons take the field on opening
day this fall, they will do so with a line peopled by players who have a total
of zero starts in division 1-A football among them.
may be the starting QB for Fisher DeBerry's option based ground
attack, but is returning to competitive football after serving a religious
mission of two years' length. If Gray doesn't win the job it could go to
freshman Shaun Carney
or sophomore Luke Ewing. The only certainty surrounding
the ongoing audition to identify the player who will lead AFA's offense is
that the opening day QB for the Falcons in 2004 will be making the first start
of his career at the varsity level.
The athletic director's position, manned so ably by Colonel Randy Spetman--now
holding the same position at Utah State
--has finally been filled by Dr. Hans
Enveloping all these factors is the academy's newly instituted Agenda for
Change and an uncertainty as to precisely what extent it will impact any and
all AFA intercollegiate athletic teams. As the onset of the 2004 slate of
games approaches, Falcons' players, coaches, fans and alumni find themselves
casting a collective gaze over a largely uncharted vista. In spite of all the
unknowns shrouding the 2004 Falcons' team here's an intrepid look at the games
in the first half of the season.
California @ Air Force 9/4
. The Falcons had better be
loaded for bear
because California certainly is. Preseason speculation raises
the question of Cal's ability to crack the nation's top ten. If a publication
doesn't have coach Jeff Tedford's team in its top ten it does have them in its
Cal handed Southern Cal--a co-defending national champion entering 2004, along
with LSU--its only defeat in 2003 when it downed the Trojans, 34-31, in triple
overtime. It was no fluke, as Cal held the ball for nearly thirty-nine minutes
of play in regulation time.
The Golden Bears ended the season by winning five of their final six contests,
highlighted by an Insight.com bowl victory over Virginia Tech
(which beat the
Falcons a year earlier in the San Francisco Bowl).
Cal's offense is an embarrassment of riches featuring a devastating passing
attack and the PAC10's leading rushing attack from last season.
QB Aaron Rodgers
(junior, 6-2/210), a preseason All-America candidate, will lead a high powered
PAC 10 offense into Falcon Stadium for a mid-morning season opener against the
Falcons. Air Force can expect Rodgers to throw the ball early and often based
on his 215 completions in 349 attempts in the 2003 season. The Cal QB hit on
an impressive 61.6% of his passes, threw only 5 interceptions while launching
19 TD passes.
The Falcons' secondary will receive a stern test in trying to cover a trio of
gifted Cal WRs. Geoff McArthur
, (senior, 6-1/200),
, (senior, 6-1/200) and Chase Lyman
(senior, 6-4/210) will
show why AFA's secondary needs to come of age quickly. Makonnen led the team
in receiving in 2002 before missing the 2003 season with a foot injury.
McArthur led the Golden Bears in receiving a year ago, all of which provides
Rodgers with targets aplenty.
If Air Force concentrates too much of its efforts on trying to defuse the
potent Cal aerial attack, coach Jeff Tedford, can call upon TBs J.J. Arrington
and Marcus O'Keith
to carry the ball. Arrington (5-11/210, senior) ran for 607
yards on 107 carries last year while posting a hefty average of 5.67 yards per
rush and finding the end zone five times. O'Keith (6-1/180, sophomore) added
240 yards and a single TD on forty attempts and a 5.75 yards per carry. Even
with his efforts of last season O'Keith may be supplanted in the backfield by
either freshman Marshawn Lynch
(5-11/200) or Terrell Williams
10 selection defensive back, Donnie McCleskey
(junior, 5-10/180), will lead a
group of defenders bent on avenging the, 23-21, upset Air Force sprang on Cal
Air Force fans should bear in mind that among Cal's six losses in 2003 was a
pair of games to MWC foes: CSU and Utah
. The Rams and Utes also dispatched Air
The 2004 season begins on a down note for Air Force as Cal becomes just the
second non-conference team to hand Fisher DeBerry an opening day loss. Only
in (1987), CSU in (1990 and 1993) and Oklahoma
in (2001) have defeated
DeBerry coached teams in a season opener in the past twenty years. Air Force
opens at 0-1.
Eastern Washington @ Air Force 9/11
. The Air Force
season- ticket-buying-public may add the Eagles from Cheney, Washington to the
endless list of division 1-AA scheduling fodder which has made its way into
Falcon Stadium during the DeBerry era. Recent punching bags include: Wofford
Tech (42-0), the now defunct program of Cal State Northridge
(55-6) and Villanova (37-13) in the past five years. The Falcons were able to
squeak by this quartet of powerhouses by a scant, 183 to19, collective score.
Points are likely to come in bunches in this contest, as Eastern Washington
allowed 21 or more points in eight games while compiling a 6-5 overall record
in 2003. Fisher DeBerry may not say anything for attribution, but he'll be
eager to face an opponent which surrendered 55 points to Idaho
another 54 to Northern Arizona
. Lest AFA fans think Eastern Washington is
without prowess on offense, it should be noted the Eagles scored 21 or more
points against eight opponents last year winning five of those games.
Reggie Witherspoon (5-8/170, senior)
the rushing attack for the Eagles last season, but EWU averaged a meager 3.6
yards a carry. The bulk of the offense will come from a passing attack led by
Erik Meyer (6-1/195, junior)
completed a sparkling 62.6% of his 281 attempts for 2,301 yards and 15 TDs,
while being picked off just three times.
A Fisher DeBerry head coached team has never lost to a division 1-AA opponent
and it's unlikely that one will do so now. Yet, if there is a season in which
the Falcons may be susceptible to what would be perceived as a monumental
upset, this is that year. The Falcons won't be caught napping and will post
their first win of the season to raise their record to 1-1.
Air Force @ UNLV 9/18
. After an embarrassing, 34-10,
loss in Falcon Stadium to the Rebels in 2001, Air Force has posted consecutive
wins against John Robinson
'ssquad the past two years.
Robinson's tenure the Rebels have established an ungainly record of
underachievement predicated largely upon a lack of discipline which has shown
itself in the form of untimely penalties. Belying claims that it is loaded
with talent on a yearly basis, UNLV hasn't posted a winning record since the
Senior QB Kurt Nantkes
may still hold the inside track to be the team's
signal caller in 2004, but he turned in an uneven performance for the Rebels
last year in completing just 167 of 323 attempts (51.7%) for a mere 12 TDs and
10 interceptions. Diminutive speedster, Dominique Dorsey
(5-6/165, senior), carried the ball 158 times for 626 yards and 1 TD last year
and will be the focal point of the ground attack for UNLV.
(senior, 6-0/225) ran just 52 times during the 2003 season,
but led the Rebels with 7 TDs on the ground.
Whether Nantkes retains his starting spot as UNLV's QB or not, all-MWC
preseason pick at WR, Earvin Johnson
(6-3/200, senior), will present the
Falcons with a challenge their secondary will need to meet all day.
Air Force posted a, 49-32, win the last time the teams met in Sam Boyd
Stadium. In that slugfest each team rushed for in excess of 300 yards and
combined for 937 yards of total offense. Fans shouldn't expect those gaudy
numbers to be duplicated.
Road games always provide a daunting task for teams in the MWC, but this
outing will be an oasis in the desert for AFA as it posts its first road
victory of the season, starts the conference portion of the schedule on the
right note and raises its record on the season to 2-1.
Air Force @ Utah 9/25
. After the 2002 season Urban
hired to resurrect a Utes' program which had faltered badly under Ron
McBride. Meyer's urban renewal project was wildly successful in a 2003 season
that saw the Utes win the MWC title and post the only bowl victory among the
conference's post-season representatives.
RB Brandon Warfield
has graduated, but Utah should once again be prolific on
offense. QB Alex Smith
(junior, 6-4/202) may have the finest tandem of
WRs in the conference in Paris Warren (senior, 6-1/213) and Steve Savoy
(sophomore,5-11/183). That pair caught 12 passes for 137 yards and 1 TD in
last year's triple OT thriller at Falcon Stadium.
had a run of stellar return specialists in recent years. (AFA fans may recall
the 1999 Snow Bowl which turned on a brilliant Stevonne Smith punt return for
a Utah TD.) Bo Nagahi and Morgan Scalley continued that tradition for Meyer's
squad last season and return again this fall.
The 2002 game between the Falcons and Utes in Salt Lake City saw AFA mount a
furious second half rally to post a, 30-26, win in the final minute of play.
This year's Utah team appears in almost every pre-season top twenty-five poll
and has been picked to repeat as champs of the MWC. Yeah, sometimes the polls
aren't worth the paper on which they're printed and other times they are an
accurate prediction of things to come.
This is such a time. AFA drops this contest to Utah and falls to 2-2 for the
season and 1-1 in the MWC.
Navy @ Air Force 9/30
. Prior to, and following, head
coach Paul Johnson
's arrival at Annapolis, the Midshipmen were well versed in
the art of executing ground-based, option-attack football, reliant upon a
healthy fullback game.
Two years ago the Falcons sank the Middies by a, 48-7, score, but not before
Navy FB Kyle Eckel
ran 19 times for 85 yards. Eckel showed that performance
was no fluke when he shredded the Falcons for 176 yards on 33 carries last
year in leading Navy to a, 28-25, victory over the Falcons. Navy captured its
first CIC trophy since 1981 when it defeated Army
in its regular season
AFA defensive coordinator Richard Bell's charges will have a third
opportunity to demonstrate whether or not they can implement a naval blockade
of Eckel (senior, 5-11/235) who returns for his senior season.
The ineffectiveness of AFA's FB game over the past two seasons is as much a
product of fine play by the team's HBs during that period (in particular,
, Anthony Butler
, Darnell Stephens
and Matt Ward
) as the paucity
of talent at the FB position itself. In 2002 the AFA team won its first
national rushing title. The HBs had no trouble picking up yardage that season
while the FBs' efforts were undistinguished. QB Chance Harridge
ran for over
1,000 yards. The HBs flourished when they carried the ball and yet the FBs
struggled to be productive, and all of this while rushing behind a line which
managed to produce holes gaping enough so that the team won a national rushing
Unless and until Air Force can produce a robust FB game to aid and abet
production from the HB and QB spots, and simultaneously construct a defense to
smother Navy's exceptional Eckel, then last year's victory by Navy will mark
the start of a trend rather than stand as an aberration.
A national television audience will see this ESPN Thursday night meeting
which initiates CIC trophy play in 2004. Navy has beaten AFA in Falcon Stadium
just once in Fisher DeBerry's first twenty years as a head coach. This will be
the second victory for the Middies as visitors in the DeBerry era and the
first for Johnson as a visiting head coach. AFA drops to 2-3 overall, remains
at 1-1 in the conference, but sees a second straight season without securing
the CIC trophy become a distinct possibility.
Next time I'll have a look at the second half of the season which begins with
the New Mexico
Lobos--a team which has beaten AFA four times in the past five