Academy Preview: Air Force's Main Issue

The Air Force Falcons don't need a sports psychologist, but they do need to accept what - and where - they are as a football team. Acknowledging the negative dimensions of a situation can enable the Falcons to turn the second half of the season into a positive, productive period.


WINNING AMIDST LOSING: AIR FORCE'S TEST OF ATTITUDE

Sometimes, life simply kicks your butt. You can't do very much to change events that lie outside your control. You can't stem a tide of negative events, a massive flood that washes over you. In the midst of adversity, you're left with two basic choices: acceptance or denial. No, acceptance doesn't mean "happiness" or "satisfaction." Similarly, denial doesn't equate to "blissful ignorance" or "unrealistic optimism." The notion of either accepting or denying a negative series of events is rooted in a willingness to cope with reality on reality's terms. Acceptance represents a true, holistic – psychological, physical, intellectual – willingness to deal with the situation at hand. Denial represents an unwillingness to come to terms with a given situation. This lack of will is frequently manifested in one of two basic forms: depression or frustration.

Thursday night against San Diego State, Air Force must choose acceptance over denial, inner calm over depression or frustration. It's easy to say, but hard to do.

There's no getting around the fact that Murphy's Law has scored a huge victory over Air Force football this season. Quarterback injuries and suspensions have coincided with the loss of seniors, especially on defense, to the point that this team has been shorthanded at the very positions where it could not have afforded significant losses. The first half of the 2013 season has been a perfect storm of bad luck and worse timing. Moreover, as soon as Air Force's defense improved – playing its best game of the year this past Saturday against Navy – the offense couldn't maintain the pace it had established in the latter half of September. Everything's going wrong for the Academy, and with the government shutdown continuing to place games in limbo, it is oh so easy for the players on the roster to be just a little less interested in wanting to play each week (with the exception of the Army game in the coming weeks).

Air Force's team – each and every individual who straps on the pads – must resist that understandable inclination to give up, give in, or – at the very least – give way. Their game against San Diego State will be a showcase of the heart more than a measure of Air Force's football acumen. The Falcons might not make a bowl game, but they can already begin to build for 2014 by reaffirming the right culture and the right attitude.

Air Force played with great passion against Navy but didn't have the final result to show for it. The effort put forth by the Falcons, though, was immensely encouraging, and if that level of fight can be sustained for the rest of the season, this team will be able to hold its head high… even if the results aren't there. Maintaining an identity based on determination and competitive spirit will give this program a boost in 2014, even if a bowl game is not on the immediate horizon. That's why this game against San Diego State matters so much.

For Navy and Army, the challenge this week is a bit different. The Midshipmen regained their winning ways against Air Force, so this weekend's trip to Durham, N.C., for a dance with the Blue Devils of Duke is primarily a challenge connected to consistency. Navy played brilliantly in its first two games but then flopped against Western Kentucky. So many of this team's virtues re-emerged in the win over Air Force, but those virtues have to remain in evidence against Duke, a team with an offense that's likely to score a lot more than Air Force. Against Duke, Navy's defense needs to display the same resilience in its own third of the field that it managed to exhibit against Air Force. Navy's passing game – which was not very good against Air Force – has to hit the big play against a very leaky Blue Devil secondary. Consistency – especially in a road game – is Navy's point of emphasis this week.

Army was simply beaten by a better Boston College side last weekend in New England. Now, Army hosts Eastern Michigan, one of the worst teams in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. If any team might be depressed when it takes the field this Saturday, it's EMU and not Army. The Black Knights won't need fancy gadget plays or any sorts of tricks to handle the Eagles. A steady and workmanlike performance with few mistakes should be more than enough to lift coach Rich Ellerson's team into the winner's circle. A victory over Eastern Michigan would give Army a 3-4 record and a realistic chance at making a bowl game this season.

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