AFA FANS TAKE NOTE. This year's edition of the AFA Falcons is off to its fifth 4-0 start since Fisher DeBerry became the team's head coach in 1981. Each time the team has produced such a start it has wound up going to a bowl game. In 1985 the Falcons posted a 12-1 record, including a Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Texas by a 24-16 score.
In 1989 Air Force finished 8-4-1 in a season which ended with a 42-29 defeat by Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl. The 1991 campaign saw the team go 10-3 and end the season with a 38-15 thrashing of Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. The 1997 team also posted a 10-3 mark while losing the Las Vegas Bowl, 41-13, to Oregon.
EXPOSURE AND ACCLAIM. The MWC is perceived by many of the fans of its teams as being in division 1-A football's version of limbo. The conference is part of division 1-A football, but not part of the BCS conglomeration. Its teams are seen on national television, but not with the frequency of powers from the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, et al. MWC teams play some high profile non-conference games, but its teams haven't won enough such battles to significantly raise the conference's standing in the minds of pollsters and college fans across the country. The MWC is betwixt and between. It is seems to be permanently cast in the role of little brother without ever being accorded the chance to be taken seriously. The league's plight could begin to change in the next four weeks.
The performance of one team in a single season cannot and will not single-handedly alter the public's opinion of a conference from that of perennial also ran. Nevertheless, the month of October finds Air Force in the position of being able to bring exposure to itself and the MWC as well as garner some long sought national acclaim.
The 4-0 record AFA has compiled in its first four games has brought the Falcons into the lower rungs of some national polls while leaving Air Force on the brink of entering the top twenty-five in other polls.
A generation ago a band of then unknown comedic troubadours trekked across the landscape of late night television as the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Their devotees are legion, their imitators many and their equals, as of yet, unnumbered. This college football season began with Air Force unanimously being tossed on to the scrap heap of teams consigned to playing out the string even before Labor Day had arrived.
College football oracles saw this year's Falcon team as being a collection of misfits, ne'er-do-wells and buffoons. Contenders for a conference title? Hardly. Worthy of national television exposure? Certainly not. Likely to enter the echelon of top twenty-five teams in the polls? Get serious. If those same experts who cast Air Force into the role of cannon fodder for teams on its schedule have been paying attention, they have seen the emergence of a band of players who aptly would be named the Now Ready for Prime Time Players. And with the current month's schedule the appellation is fitting.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!! Fisher DeBerry and his team are mindful that this week's game against Navy not only marks the first CIC game to be played by the service academies this season, but also serves as AFA's dress rehearsal before some college football heavyweights come to Falcon Stadium. Air Force needs to concentrate on the business at hand which is beating Navy, taking aim at another CIC trophy, continuing its move up the polls and preparing for what could develop into a historic month in the annals of AFA football. A loss to Navy would dismiss the dream of national recognition conjured by the team's superb start in August and September.
If Air Force is able to post a win over Navy the Falcons will soar to 5-0 on the season and likely climb a few spots in the polls over low ranking teams which lose this coming weekend. After its game with Navy the next three home games which Air Force plays will all be on national television, at night. Historically, Navy, Notre Dame, CSU--and on occasion--BYU, are teams which draw full houses to Falcon Stadium. The in-house crowds and television audiences to which AFA will play in October may represent the largest number of people ever to watch Air Force football in a given month. That Air Force may enter each of these games as an undefeated, nationally ranked team--with a chance to make an impression on the minds of millions of potential viewers--underlines the opportunity which confronts the Falcons and the academy.
The AFA can and should be proud of its standing as one of the last true refuges of bona fide student-athletes who play competitively at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. By playing against and defeating well established, recognizable football teams such as BYU, Notre Dame and Colorado State, the Air Force Academy can show that this fall it is the MWC representative capable of playing with some of the so-called powers of division 1-A football. The Falcons can show that while the MWC may be an aggregation still in the process of developing competitive balance from top to bottom in any given year its best team is capable of challenging and defeating lifelong residents of the top twenty-five polls.
Air Force will play three games, in twenty days, on its home field, in front of packed stands and in front of national television audiences. The number of people upon whom AFA will have the opportunity to make an impression is unlimited. The impressions etched on viewers' minds will be indelible. On a personal note I want to interject that in twenty-eight years of closely following Air Force Academy football I do not recall so extensive a marketing platform to which the Falcons have had access as the one awaiting them this month.
As a service academy Air Force already basks in the glow of having established a well deserved academic reputation. For young men and women who are gifted student-athletes in the process of considering potential venues at which they may further their studies while participating in collegiate athletics, the impressions they may draw while watching Air Force compete over the next several weeks could impact their decision where to enroll after they graduate from high school.
There is no suggestion here that the exploits of AFA's football team should be a catalyst in altering the school's mission of grooming men and women to serve this nation in a military capacity. Rather, let this article serve to remind everyone that attending a service academy, in this instance Air Force, is a viable means for pursuing a college education, undergoing preparation to serve this country in a military capacity and to do so while having the opportunity to compete in the most rigorous arena of college athletics, namely, division 1-A sports.