November 23, 2011
Air Force Academy is almost certainly on its way to a bowl game, which only proves there are far too many bowl games.
The Falcons travel to Fort Collins on Saturday for what coaches and players dramatically describe as a “playoff game.” If Air Force wins, it will travel to an exotic locale, or maybe Shreveport, La., for postseason action.
Please, even if you’re a devout Falcon fan, let’s all agree this team is not bowl worthy. Yes, Air Force will rise to a 7-5 record if they defeat CSU’s bumbling Rams, but the Falcons will have accomplished astonishingly little in this 2011 season.
Air Force can’t boast of a single impressive win. The Falcons have defeated six woeful teams with a combined 20-45 record.
If you take away Subdivision opponents Tennessee State and South Dakota, both 5-6, the Falcons' victories came against teams with a combined 10-33 record. Air Force’s victims include UNLV and New Mexico, who should be placed alongside CSU on the list of worst teams in Division I.
Please, don’t talk to me about the magnificence of Air Force’s second straight Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. I’ve heard from a couple of dozen readers who believe the CIC triumph vindicates the season.
Edging Navy and Army drains some of the disappointment from 2011, but this is a weak season for service-academy football. Navy is 4-7 and Army is 3-8. Both teams would be thrilled to be described as mediocre.
Air Force’s best performance of the season came in a 37-26 loss to Boise State. Many fans appear proud of this performance, which makes no sense. Air Force never led and allowed 7.7 yards per play.
This pride in failure only shows how far the Falcons have tumbled this season. Finding fulfillment in a defeat is a sure sign of trouble.
The other defeats were devastating. Yes, injuries depleted the Falcons, especially on defense, but Air Force was close to healthy when TCU rode into town.
The Horned Frogs rode out of town after a 35-19 victory. The score is deceptive. TCU jumped to a 28-3 lead and could have won by 40 if Gary Patterson had been in the mood. All the Falcons' weaknesses were exposed.
The most jolting smack-upside-the-head of the season came in a 59-33 loss at Notre Dame. Again, the score is misleading. The Irish roared to a 42-16 halftime lead and could have scored 80 if they had been hungry for a slaughter.
What happened to this season of promise?
That’s easy: A tattered, porous defense.
The offense had the weapons required to carry this team to nine wins. Tailback Asher Clark was often sensational. Tim Jefferson was, as usual, steady. Air Force has motored to 318 yards rushing and 33.3 points per game. The team’s attack remains mighty.
The defense struggles to stop anybody. The Falcons' defense lacks speed, strength, tackling technique and has been limited by a conservative, sit-back strategy.
In recent seasons, the Falcons featured at least one properly violent interior defender who frightened opposing offenses.
Rick Ricketts, John Rabold and Ben Garland were fine cadets, I’m sure, but they mauled anyone foolish enough to stray into their path.
This edition of the Falcons features one big hitter, safety Jon Davis, but he usually inflicts his damage far too late. Runners already have cruised 7 or 8 yards before they encounter Davis.
Most of the time, opposing passers savored far too much time in the pocket. Runners enjoyed joy rides through the heart of Air Force’s defense. It’s been far too easy. Next season, the Falcons must return some semblance of scary to their defense.
This defensive generosity led to San Diego State and Wyoming invading Falcon Stadium and escaping with victories that shredded Air Force’s season. The Falcons should have walked proud with a 9-3 record. Instead, they look on their way to one of the more disappointing 7-5 seasons in college football history.
The Falcons are talking about playoffs, and that’s fine. If Air Force wins Saturday, it will travel somewhere in December to play a season finale.
But let’s get this straight:
It will be the final game of a failed season.