Urban Renewal

Since the formation of the MWC five years ago, only BYU, CSU and Utah have won or shared a football title in the conference. At present the Cougars and Rams sport an unimpressive combined, 1-5, mark while the Utes remain the only undefeated team among the league's constituents. Air Force won its conference opener last weekend and will try to retain its grasp on first place when it jets into Rice-Eccles Stadium this weekend.

 
 
CLOSER THAN EXPECTED. Chris Field, AFAFaclons Staff WriterThe past three meetings between Air Force and Utah have been decided by a total of seven points and make this MWC series the most closely contested one for both teams in recent memory. The Falcons won an improbable one point decision in 2001 and followed that with an even less likely last minute victory the next season. The Utes exacted a measure of revenge last year in triple overtime with their, 45-43, victory.
 
The game between the Falcons and Utes in 2001 was played on December 1st, owing  to a postponement necessitated by our nation's tragedy of September 11th, four days before the teams originally were scheduled to meet.
 
After establishing a, 24-10, halftime lead the Falcons' offense was AWOL for most of the second half and the resultant power outage allowed the Utes to stage a rally which nearly culminated in their overcoming AFA's, 31-14, second half lead. Utah used Dameon Hunter's 228 yard, 2 TD  rushing performance coupled with Adam Tate's 140 yard, 1 TD effort to keep the Falcons' offense idled on the sideline for the bulk of the second half. With his team driving the ball deep into AFA territory in the last minute of play, Utah coach Ron McBride inexplicably eschewed a field goal attempt which could have won the game for the visitors. On the final play of the game, freshman linebacker Anthony Schlegel Former AFA LB, now O-Statechased QB Lance Rice out of bounds to secure the, 38-37, victory for AFA. One week before this game, while the Falcons were in Hawaii to play the Rainbows, twelve members of the team violated a curfew and were suspended for the Utah game by coach Fisher DeBerry. AFA took the field against the Utes without the services of: Paul Mayo, Ryan Fleming, Brian LaBasco, Tre Cage, Joel Buelow, Brandon Brown, Sam Meinrod, Trevor Hightower, Jamie Arthur, Andy Rule, John Eccles and Ricky Amezaga. Air Force had been a 13 point underdog before the game was taken "off the board" by every sportsbook in Las Vegas after DeBerry announced the suspension of the Dirty Dozen.
 
AFA's triumph over Utah in Salt Lake in 2002 was every bit as unthinkableAs an AFA linebacker as the Falcons' decision the previous year. After jumping to 6-0 lead on a 7 yard dash by Chance Harridge, the Falcons saw Utah score 26 points before halftime to take a commanding twenty point lead at intermission. Employing a rally fueled by Schlegel's participation in twenty tackles, four fumble recoveries by the AFA defense and a pair of interceptions as well, Air Force kept Utah from scoring in the second half. DC's winning catch Vs Utah Don Clark hauled in a 29 yard TD pass from Harridge to open third quarter scoring and Joey Ashcroft added a 22 yard FG to pull AFA within striking distance at, 26-16, before the end of the quarter. Anthony Butler added a TD on a six yard carry early in the fourth quarter as the Falcons displayed a tenacity and grit that kept them in sight of Utah.
 
Not until Harridge and Clark connected for a second scoring aerial--this one covering twenty yards--with seventeen seconds to play, did Air Force secure a lead it would not relinquish.
 
Many AFA fans saw the 2003 game between the teams thanks to a television broadcast. What none of those fans realizes is how close they came to not seeing the game at all. Driving down from Denver to the academy early that morning, I couldn't help but notice the pea-soup-thick fog shrouding I-25. Visibility was limited to no more than several yards in any direction. Upon reaching the academy grounds it was clear to see there had been no improvement in conditions. Standing in the lower ring of seating in Falcon Stadium, it was impossible to see the press box on the west side of the field. Undaunted, I made my way to the upper ring of seating to see what, if any, portion of the field could be viewed from my usual seats. I then noticed a television camera man setting up his gear for the day. I ventured over to ask him if the game would, in fact, be televised. He informed me that he had been told by his program director that unless the fog started to dissipate within the next ten minutes an alternate game was going to be shown to those viewing areas around the country which had been slated to see the AFA-Utah game. The sun started to disperse the fog about three minutes after my conversation with him.
 
With RB Brandon Warfield out with an injury, the Utes were forced to look for help with their running game. While Utah rushed for a respectable162 yards on the day, the damage wrought by their ground game came from converted TE Ben Moa, who was pressed into service as a fullback. Moa scored three times on short runs, but delivered the telling blow in the game after taking a direct snap and completing a pass to TE Matt Hansen for a two point conversion in the Utes', 45-43, triple overtime conquest.
 
The Falcons needed sixteen, fourth quarter points to overcome a, 23-7, halftime deficit and send the game into overtime.
 
WHENCE UTAH'S IMPROVEMENT? Ron McBride's legacy at Former Ute coachUtah is one tinged by underachievement. He was able to recruit talented players, but did an inadequate job of coaxing from them the concomitant success which should have followed.  As an example of  his failure to provide suitable leadership, witness the abominable clock management demonstrated by McBride in allowing AFA to steal a win in 2001 when a proverbial chip shot field goal attempt by PK Ryan Kaneshiro could have produced an altogether different outcome than the one which was reached. McBride's final year at the helm in Salt Lake City brought an abysmal 5-6 overall record and a 3-4 conference mark.
 
Enter Urban Meyer. Using essentially the same players McBride had at his disposal the previous season, Meyer fashioned a 10-2 record, 6-1 conference-winning slate and posted the MWC's sole victory in the postseason when Utah trounced Southern Miss, 17-0, in the Liberty Bowl. Meyer's teams were confident at critical junctures of important games, manhandled less talented teams in a fashion rarely seen in McBride's tenure and wrested the seeming annual control of the MWC from Sonny Lubick's CSU Rams. In his first year on the job Meyer did what no other Utes' head coach had done in fifty-seven years: produce an undisputed conference champion. Meyer's 2004 team enters MWC play with a chance to garner the school's first back-to-back conference championships since 1952 & 53. Quite understandably, Meyer's expeditious resurrection of the Utes' fortunes gives rise to the question: Ron who?
 
In a conference known for its habitual whining for what would be tantamount to unwarranted inclusion in the BCS postseason gala based on its lackluster five year history, Meyer's Utes have more than held their own in head to head meetings with BCS affiliated teams, something which cannot be said for any other team in the MWC. As a mediocre conglomerate of football playing entities, the MWC has done absolutely nothing this fall to merit entry to BCS bowl games, but don't lump Utah in amongst the rest of the MWC milquetoasts. Utah has posted a spotless 2-0 record against BCS teams and has a home date remaining on October 16th with North Carolina, a team it should dismiss without breaking a sweat.
 
MIRROR IMAGES? Another fien UTe WideoutThe best team Air Force has faced in the opening weeks of the current season is Jeff Tedford's California squad. By the conclusion of the 2004 campaign AFA's most daunting challenger may well have proven to be Utah.
 
On offense the Golden Bears and Utes have an embarrassment of riches. Tailbacks Marshawn Lynch and J.J. Arrington provide Cal with the edge over Utah's Marty Johnson. At the QB spot while much is expected of, and anticipated from, Cal's Aaron Rodgers, Alex SmithUte QB has already shown throughout the course of a regular season and a bowl game the heights to which he is able to lead a team. Edge to Smith.
 
It's in the receiving corps that Utah has a decided edge over Cal. Paris Warren, Steve Savoy, John Madsen and Travis LaTendresse comprise the most talented group of WRs in the MWC and Smith has made effective use of each of them.Ute Wideout
 
Smith has completed nearly 67% of his attempts through three games, hurled 6 TD passes and has yet to be intercepted. He's responsible for 692 of the Utes' 744 passing yards thus far in an offense averaging over 200 yards a game through the air and on the ground. Marty Johnson has led Utah's ground assault this month in rushing for 258 yards, a healthy 5.26 yards per carry and 2 scores. Smith has contributed 117 yards and Quinton Ganther another 102 for Meyer's team, which is averaging 203 yards a game.  AFA defensive coordinator, Richard Bell, has a tough job ahead of him. If he spends too much time having his players concentrate on containing the run, Smith is fully capable of devastating the Falcons' secondary with an aerial attack. If Bell's boys focus on denying Utah the opportunity to throw the ball, Johnson--at 6-0/225--is strong and quick enough to challenge the interior or perimeter of the AFA defense on the ground.
 
Utah has had thirteen possessions inside the opposition's twenty yard line this season. The Utes have scored 12 touchdowns and 1 FG on those drives. The balanced, effective offense Utah has developed under Meyer is reflected in the team's proficiency when it reaches scoring territory.
 
As for defense there is a single statistic that speaks volumes about Utah: in four of the five years of MWC play Utah has allowed the fewest points per game of any team in the league. (New Mexico yielded just 138 last year, Utah 144).
 
To be forewarned is to be forearmed and the Utes' two-pronged attack should serve as ample notice to Air Force that the Falcons will need to produce their best defensive effort of the young season to allow the team to raise its record to 2-0 in the MWC.
 
 
 
THE "CHRIS-TAL" BALL. Falcon SwamiI went 6-2 with my picks in week one of the season and haven't missed since. In week two, I went 7-0 and hit another perfect last week at 6-0 to raise my record to 19-2 for the season or a success rate of 90.4%. I'm telling' ya people, listen to me!!
 
Okay, week four of this season's competition for MWC teams has arrived and here's a look at what's in store.
 
The action kicks off tonight as BYU travels to Boise State. The Broncos paid a visit to Provo last year and simply performed an autopsy on what appeared to be a lifeless Cougars' team. For the Provonians, nothing went right. It snowed, fans arrived late, left early and had nothing about which to cheer for the brief period of time they mistakenly remained in the stadium. BYU begin the current season by defeating a Notre Dame team that may be better than anyone had suspected.
 
At least BYU had the good sense to schedule games against Stanford and USC so the brutal beatings the Cougars absorbed against those PAC 10 teams would adequately prepare them for the Broncos' stampede under which they'll be trampled this evening. Boise State holds the nation's longest winning streak in division1-A at 14 games. The Broncos are fourth in the nation in total offense at a shade over 543 yards a game. They lead the nation in scoring with 55 points a game. When the Broncos face SMU on October 2nd the streak will have reached 15 and their scoring average may have risen. My pick is BSU.
 

For the first time in his twelve year stint in Fort Collins, Sonny Lubick's CSU Rams are mired in an 0-3 hole to begin the fall. That simply isn't going to last. Two of the losses came to undefeated Colorado and Minnesota outfits. This week the Rams get to beat up an interloper from the realm of division 1-AA, Montana State. There's no chance that the Bobcats will sink their claws into unwary prey in Hughes Stadium. Lubick used to coach at MSU and he'll have his players' full attention all week. CSU is eager to remove the pailful of sand which has been kicked into its face in early September and you can expect Lubick will be gentlemanly, but won't call off the dogs too early in this one. CSU, 7-11 in its last eighteen games, gets its first win of the season and won't care that it comes against a team from the Big Sky Conference. My pick is CSU.
 
Having attended the AFA-UNLV game in Vegas last weekend I have first hand knowledge of what a dispirited, floundering bunch of players John Robinson is trying to coach. UNLV drew a "crowd" of 23,800 to its season's home opener. The apathy was stark and deafening. The Rebels' starting QB, Kurt Nantkes, is injured and has given way to inexperienced Shane Steichen.
 
The Rebels' passing attack was unimpressive, even with all- conference WR Earvin Johnson in the lineup. HB Dominique Dorsey didn't show his normal flashes of elusiveness during the game. Defensively, the Rebels have some talent, especially with LB Adam Seward and SS Jamaal Brimmer, but the rest of the starters played in an uninspired fashion.
 
The Utah StateU-State Aggies hosted, and were thrashed by, instate rival, Utah, last weekend. The, 48-6, final score could have been even more lopsided. The Aggies have a win this year--which is more than 0-3 UNLV can say--even if it did come against Idaho, a fellow member of the Sun Belt Conference.
 
The haven of any port is more inviting than the lashing waters of an open sea in a storm. John Robinson and his team have one more chance to win a game this season before the fury of playing their home games in a deserted stadium descends upon them. His ill-considered re-entry into college football at UNLV has irreparably tarnished Robinson's legacy. The win he and his team will achieve this week will have to suffice as consolation in what will be a catastrophically bad season for UNLV. The Rebels are my pick.
 
New Mexico hits the road to play rival New Mexico State. The Lobos' loss at Oregon State last week was a direct result of the dreadful combined passing efforts of Tali Ena (3 of 18 for 29 yds) and Kole McKamey (4 of 12 for 10 yds). Even worse, DonTrell Moore was held to 22 yards rushing. It's a wonder OSU won the game by just a, 17-7, count.
 
Last week N.M. State managed to upend Troy State, which earlier in the season sprang an upset of Missouri. Prior to defeating the Troy Trojans the Aggies found time to lose to the USC Trojans and Arkansas Razorbacks while surrendering 104 points in the process.
 
Rocky Long has a real problem at the QB position this season as KoleKole McKamey hasn't played anywhere in the vicinity of the lofty expectations that swirled around him in fall drills. If McKamey and Ena can't complete enough passes to take some heat off Moore, then the Lobos' prospects for victory erode. Still, Moore has enough talent to shoulder the entire offensive load of getting New Mexico past N.M. State. My pick is New Mexico.
 
Elsewhere, Wyoming entertains Mississippi in the Rebels' first trip to play a MWC team. Ole MissO-Ms Line may not be in Wyoming long enough to learn the lyrics to "Ragtime Cowboy Joe", but should enjoy its stay all the same. Joe Glenn's Cowboys will continue to improve this fall, but will have to wait until Louisiana Monroe comes calling next week before posting their first win over a division 1-A team in 2004. My pick is Mississippi.
 
After throwing a scare into Michigan last week in Ann Arbor, San Diego State's chore this week becomes vastly easier. The Aztecs play at home against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The visitors from the WAC begin a three game road trip and won't be able to contain the passing of QB Matt Dlugolecki or the running of Michael Franklin. SDS is my pick.
 
Air Force travels to Salt Lake City to face Utah. The Falcons are in first place in the MWC having won the only conference game played this fall by downing UNLV, 27-10, last week in the desert.
 
Coach Urban Meyer Ute Coachled Utah to a 10-2 season a year ago after replacing Ron McBride. Following that debut with the team's 3-0 mark this fall, Meyer remains at, or near the top of, every "hot-young-coaches-about-to-hit-the-big-time" list in the nation. QB Steve Smith leads a balanced offense which moves the ball with aplomb.
 
Fisher DeBerry's Air Force Falcons may have begun to hit their stride in light of their performance against UNLV last week. Once again the Falcons have risen to the top of the MWC standings early in the year. Quick starts are expected from AFA teams under DeBerry and they have been forthcoming more often than not. The Falcons' major problem in the past three seasons has been its abject failure to sustain momentum over the second half of the season. AFA has posted 2-5 records over the final seven games it has played in each of the last three years.
 
Therefore, it might be a stroke of scheduling luck for AFA that its game against Utah comes so early in the year. Better still, for AFA and its fans, is the statistical oddity that the visiting team has won 4 of the past 5 games in this series.
 
Freshman QB Shaun Carney has played with unexpected poise and sophistication in running the Falcons' complex ground based option offense.  Carney has also connected on an other-worldly 70.4% of his pass attempts through three games.
 
Utah is a prohibitive favorite to claim a second consecutive MWC title this year and the Utes' schedule is favorable as their only stern road test is likely to come in San Diego on Halloween weekend. Meyer's team has shown its success last year and well deserved high ranking in the polls this year are neither flukes nor deterrents to the continuance of outstanding play. Utah has been a well prepared team under Meyer and one which regards no team lightly. The era of Urban Renewal has indeed begun in Rice-Eccles Stadium as Air Force will learn this Saturday afternoon. My pick is Utah.
 
SNOOZE OF THE WEEK. Find that VCR instruction booklet. Send your teenager to the local Shop 'Til U-Drop for some fresh cassettes. Call the neighborhood House O'Beer and order a quarter keg of your favorite barley beverage. Once you've done that, all will be in readiness for the excitement that is Louisiana Monroe hosting Arkansas State. The Indians will be on the warpath in this one.
 
Hey, don't take that tone of voice with me, pal. And while I'm handing out directives, get your politically correct nose back in joint. Both of these teams are nicknamed the Indians, so there. The Monroes are a miserable 0-2 thus far while the Arkansans are a wretched 0-3.
The first tribe has allowed 80 points in two games while the second batch has allowed 152 in three losing efforts. While ASU did allow Memphis 531 yards of offense last week the Indians did manage to hold an opponent to a season's best 47 points. Dee-fense, dee-fense!! Push em' back, push 'em back, waaay'.ah, forget it.
 
There won't be enough industrial fumigating crews in the Deep South to remove the stench that will be emanating from Louisiana after this one is done. Need a nap? A few minutes' viewing of this debacle will have you in dreamland.
 
 

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