Air Force Preview: Streaking Dangerously

Life is, by nature, temporary and fragile. Nothing is meant to last forever, and sport offers no shield or sanctuary from such cold and intractable realities. One of the plain facts of life in the athletic arena is that big, bold and beautiful streaks of excellence come to an end at some point.

Such a point of awareness creates a feeling of uncomfortable uncertainty as the Navy Midshipmen trek to Colorado Springs to take on the Air Force Falcons.

Eventually, life catches up with athletes and teams. Eventually, USC fails to win the Pac-10 the way it did last fall. Eventually, Michigan tumbles into a period of prolonged difficulty. Eventually, Bobby Bowden loses games and lacks answers. Eventually, Tiger Woods slumps. Eventually, Roger Federer doesn't reach the semifinals of a major tennis tournament. Eventually, an NFL team loses at least once in its attempt to complete a 19-0 season. It is the rhythm of life itself, played out on a field or a court of some sort. The laws of average hunt down competitors; the great ones elude this hunter for preposterously long periods of time, but they do get caught before they hang up the cleats.

For college sports programs, this is little different. Sure, some programs will enjoy several years of uninterrupted success (Florida from 1993-1996 in the SEC; Alabama from 1971-'75 and then from 1977 through '79; Oklahoma during its 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957; and USC in the just-ended decade, just to name a few), but the ride eventually ends. History tells us this, but it's really just life's cycles waxing and waning, rising and falling, surging and ebbing.

This Saturday, those timeless cycles just might catch up with Ken Niumatalolo's crew.

It's been a long time since Navy dropped a game to Air Force, the program that used to own the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy with the same two-fisted totality the Mids have exhibited in recent years. Navy hasn't dropped a duel to the Falcons since 2002. Starting in 2003 and continuing through 2009, Navy has nipped Air Force at the wire with uncanny regularity, winning seven straight showdowns by an average of 5.14 points.

From 1994 through 2002, Air Force lost only once to Navy, as Fisher DeBerry was the Colorado incarnation of Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo before those men brought their own option-based awesomeness to Annapolis. From 1982 through 1992, DeBerry dominated the Mids with even more completeness, as the Air Force Academy sank the Navy in 11 straight outings. Over the past 30 years, this series still leans heavily in the AFA's favor, but this Saturday, with Navy holding the seven-game streak, it's the Falcons who are salivating at the prospect of wresting the CIC Trophy from the state of Maryland.

What's even more alarming for the Men of Ken is that Air Force just might have the team that's capable of doing the deed this year.

Air Force looks like the third-best team in a solid Mountain West Conference. Air Force sent BYU off to the land of independence by blitzing the Cougars, 35-14. Intent on proving that was no fluke, the kids from Colorado Springs then went into Norman, Oklahoma, and very nearly upended the seventh-ranked Sooners. Air Force rushed for a whopping 351 yards against a Bob Stoops defense coached by coordinator Brent Venables, one of the more seasoned chessboard strategists in major college football. Tim Jefferson is quarterbacking the AFA attack with the slickness Ricky Dobbs displayed for Navy in 2009. The Air Force has become more polished and resolute, and has learned how to play the game faster than in the past. Reads are being made more easily and linemen are blocking with the consistency coach Troy Calhoun craves.

What also adds to the sense that Navy is cheating the fates – and is therefore due for some payback at the hands of the Falcons this Saturday – is that the last time the Mids went to Colorado Springs, they needed some wild plays to dig out a 33-27 triumph. The Mids blocked not one, but two Air Force punts and returned them directly for touchdowns. Air Force's offense outscored Navy's offense, 27-19, but Navy's special teams uncorked a 14-0 scoreline that turned the tide in the Men of Ken's favor. Can lightning strike twice for the Mids against the team that wears a bolt on its helmet? The laws of averages – those great hounds of history – say otherwise.

All this points to something very simple but real: If Navy wants to keep its paws on the CIC Trophy and extend the winning streak over Air Force to eight, it's going to take the very best performance of 2010 to do so. Effort and execution must max out for Navy while giving nothing away to the formidable and more fortified Falcons, who are ready to put an end to the Naval dominance they have so miserably witnessed from their second-place perch in the Rocky Mountains.

This is the year of streaking dangerously for Navy against an Air Force team that opened in Vegas as a 10-point favorite. Can the Men of Ken respond with their ultimate A-grade game? That's exactly what they'll need on a Saturday that feels shrouded in revenge. Top Stories