Updated: November 20, 2010 at 12:00 am
For a brief time this season, Air Force’s football team seemed ready to leap into the national landscape and finish in the top 25 for the first time since 1998.
The Falcons clobbered arch-enemies Brigham Young and Navy and placed a fright in mighty Oklahoma. Fans packed Falcon Stadium for the BYU and Navy games, with the latter crowd creating the traffic jam of the century.
Air Force didn’t collapse after the fast, inspirational start, but they never again flew quite so high after a loss to San Diego State. Falcon Stadium was half-full, at best, for a final, frigid home game against New Mexico.
Here’s a way, the only way, for the Falcons to reclaim the excitement of the early season:
Win a bowl game.
If the Falcons triumph next month in a bowl game, they will finish with nine wins for the third time since 2007.
If this edition of the Falcons fails to win a bowl game, they will go down in Air Force football history as the fourth-best team of the four-season Troy Calhoun era.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no reason for the 2010 Falcons to feel shame.
Quarterback Tim Jefferson, who serves as the team’s spokesman, shrugged when asked to evaluate the season.
“I’m pretty satisfied,” he said. “You can’t be unsatisfied with eight wins, anywhere you play.”
Good point, but Jefferson and his teammates can’t help but be troubled by all the what-ifs of the season.
What if officials had ruled Asher Clark crossed the goal line – which he did, by the way – on a game-tying 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter against San Diego State?
What if the Falcons had not handed the ball to Utah five times? And what if the offense had not vanished in the final stages of fourth quarter against the Utes?
What if Air Force’s defense had held Oklahoma and given the Falcons offense one last chance for victory in Norman?
Defensive lineman Rick Ricketts has a few.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Even if you say you don’t, they’re in the back of your mind. We could have done so much better.”
Much of the team’s drop in performance can be traced to injuries. Fullback Jared Tew, arguably the team’s best player, and receiver Kevin Fogler, the team’s most dangerous deep threat, watched from the sideline for much of the season.
Both could be ready for a bowl game. The Falcons appear most likely to play in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27, giving Tew and Fogler five weeks to mend.
Their return would lift the Falcons. Their return would return the team to virtual full strength.
Their return should make Air Force’s future bowl opponent squirm with fear.
Jefferson spoke the right words to describe the 2010 Air Force football season. Yes, they climbed into the top 25 and failed to stay there.
But they also played 12 straight weeks without a rest. They reclaimed the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the first time since 2002. They defeated their three biggest rivals – Army, Navy and BYU.
Those are solid reasons to be “pretty satisfied.”
A bowl win is the only way to change “pretty satisfied” to just “satisfied.”