*Field Goals* - Saddling Up for the Cowboys

This week's game matching Air Force and Wyoming is an exercise in the ability to maintain concentration while altering your focus. The Falcons will shift their attention from the unlikely task of earning a BCS aligned bowl berth to appropriating thrones of a slightly lesser stature.

   A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE. The Air Force Falcons return to Mountain West Conference play for the first time in two weeks this Saturday when they travel to War Memorial Stadium in Laramie to face the Wyoming Cowboys. In somewhat provincial fashion, Fisher DeBerry continues to turn a blind eye to last week's defeat against Notre Dame, by reminding everyone who will listen, that AFA's goals of winning a Commander-in-Chief's trophy, earning an MWC title and playing and winning a bowl game are all objectives which remain intact. He fails to mention that the chance for widespread national recognition expired last Saturday, less than an hour before midnight, when Notre Dame stole the glass slipper into which the Falcons were trying to place their foot, er, talon.

   Crashing the party of BCS aligned bowl games will have to wait for another time. While AFA fans may still be smarting from the clearly evidenced mastery of Notre Dame over the Falcons, they can take comfort in how far Air Force has come from the disasters of late last season when the team was outscored 199-290 in the final seven games of 2001. Yet another CIC trophy is well within reach of the Falcons. A favorable schedule gives Air Force a legitimate opportunity to win its first MWC title which would give the Falcons a championship to match the one it earned in the Western Athletic Conference in 1998.

   And then there are the Wyoming Cowboys. The present configuration of the MWC is a subset of the teams which formed the expansion experiment gone awry, sixteen-team-WAC and opened for football business in the fall of 1999. Coincidentally, that is also the last season in which Wyoming won a conference game.

   Embattled Cowboys' coach, Vic Koenning, has posted a 4-25(.138) mark in two and a half seasons in Laramie. An unconscionable array of injuries has taken a toll on Wyoming since the start of the 2001 season. Koenning took the head coaching position after Dana Dimel left Wyoming for a similar job at the University of Houston in Conference USA.

   Koenning assumed the reins of a program bereft of talent and which, financially speaking, was stocked more scantly than the cupboard over at Old Mother Hubbard's joint. The current seventeen game MWC losing streak in which the Cowboys are mired may have long since sealed Koenning's fate.

   MOTIVATING THE TROOPS. Fisher DeBerry and Koenning have vastly differing tasks before them this week. While AFA has lost a shot at upsetting the contrived plans of the BCS, there are still an abundant number of tools DeBerry has at his disposal to rally the team. Having dropped only four notches in the polls, the Falcons could reappear in the top twenty by midday on Sunday with a win over the Cowpokes and the right combination of losses by teams just ahead of them in the polls. There is the very real possibility of Air Force being able to earn its initial MWC title this season. There is a crucial meeting with instate rival, Colorado State, waiting to be played five days after the contest versus Wyoming. There are any of four MWC aligned bowls in which AFA might find itself playing if they continue to win. In short, there are any number of reasons for the Falcons to remain focused and purposeful as they prepare to play the remaining games on their regular season schedule.

   Where Fisher DeBerry can choose from a multiplicity of means by which to innervate his team, Vic Koenning has only the Hobson's choice of leading his team through the final five games on its schedule. There may be a diehard Wyoming fan in Torrington, Rock Springs, Rawlins or Sheridan who will point out that by winning its final five MWC games the Cowboys would finish at 6-6 on the season and be bowl qualified this year. Sure, why not, a seventeen game conference losing streak followed by a five game conference winning streak. Happens all the time! You have a better chance of taking home the jackpot in this week's Powerball lunacy than the Pokes do of winning their final five games.

   IT WASN'T THAT LONG AGO. On November 14, 1998, Wyoming hosted Air Force in a game that matched two nationally ranked teams. It is the only time in the history of War Memorial Stadium that such a prestigious football game has been played. Wyoming entered that game with an 8-1 overall record and a perfect 6-0 WAC Mountain Division mark. Air Force also brought an 8-1 overall standing into the game along with a 6-1 record in the same conference division.

   On that day, the teams played to a scoreless tie in the first half. The Falcons prevailed by a 10-3 score, and victory wasn't secured until AFA FB Spanky Gilliam gained a key first down in the final thirty seconds of play, thereby assuring that AFA would not need to punt the ball to a Wyoming squad which had expended its final timeout.

   Air Force beat Rice the following week to clinch the division title and then defeated BYU two weeks later for the WAC championship. Since beating Wyoming in that game matching nationally ranked teams, Air Force has posted a record of 32-15(.681). Wyoming has switched coaches once, may be on the verge of doing so again and hasn't won a conference game since the start of the current millennium. It's clear that these are two teams which have been traveling vastly divergent roads since their meeting less than four seasons ago. The football program at the academy continues to flourish under DeBerry's guidance while the Cowboys are still trying to find the coach who will help them reestablish a long dormant Wyo-Ming dynasty.

   Air Force needs to consign its dreams of national grandeur to another point in time. If the Falcons play the brand of football which enabled them to score 130 points collectively versus Utah, Navy and BYU, then they will push their record to an impressive 4-0 in the MWC, extend Wyoming's misery for another week and take aim on their date with the CSU Rams next week in a game which may crown this year's MWC champion.


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