FORT WORTH. Texas - Troy Calhoun is in a slump.
I know he’s directed his Air Force Falcons to their sixth straight bowl game. And I know an argument can be made this edition of the Falcons overachieved its way to six victories.
I also know the 13 wins he’s collected in the past two seasons have come over woeful teams with a combined record of 46 wins and 104 losses. It’s been a long time since the Falcons conquered an opponent that was more than mediocre.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl does not offer the Falcons a chance to depart the season with a dazzling victory. Rice is 6-6, the very picture of average.
The game does offer the team a chance to escape a trying, at times baffling season with a satisfying finale. Bowl games are often won by the team that cares more.
That’s why I’m picking the Falcons to win, 35-31.
Jason Kons, Cody Getz, Alex Means, Connor Dietz and Jordan Eason are too filled with pride – and a ruthless competitive spirit – to end their Air Force careers with a defeat.
For Calhoun, a win would allow him to shut the door on a troubling two-season chapter in his Air Force coaching career. Last season’s team was jammed with talent, the most gifted since the 1998 squad that won 12 games. A friendly schedule seemed ready to hand the Falcons at least nine wins.
They instead stumbled to seven. The Falcons ended an underachieving season with a thrilling, bumbling, losing effort to Toledo in the Military Bowl.
This 2012 team is different. It was never burdened by big expectations. It was never burdened by any expectations. In August, five players, all possible starters, were removed from the team for disciplinary reasons. This edition of the Falcons was a triple threat. It lacked size, speed and experience.
Calhoun wondered if the bowl streak was doomed.
“I thought back in August, I thought it would be heck of an endeavor to get this squad to a bowl game,” Calhoun said.
This is a quirky team, full of surprises, good and bad.
Getz had spent his career as a resident of the bench and seemed too small and fumble-prone to ever thrive as a starter.
For five glorious games, he was a football revelation. He nearly led the Falcons to victory at Michigan’s Big House. He ran over tacklers who outweighed him by 50 pounds. He led the nation in rushing. Despite suffering a severe ankle injury in Game 6 at Wyoming, he still managed to gain 1,213 yards.
The Falcons' powerful rushing attack destroyed Nevada and CSU. For eight games, the offense was virtually unstoppable, even while the defense struggled to stop anyone.
The season ended with a thud. Air Force lost three of its final four and suffered through smacks upside the head against Army and Fresno State. This team never settled into a consistent vibe.
But these Falcons can still find satisfaction. Sure, there are far too many bowl games, but each one offers a team the chance to end the season with a celebration.
Calhoun could use a party.
He breathed fresh life into the football program when he arrived in 2007, and he’s never allowed the Falcons to tumble back to the level of the troubled final years of the Fisher DeBerry era.
But the coach, and his team, could use a wake-up jolt.
Calhoun is mentioned for virtually every major job opening in the country. His reputation is sterling. He’s not looking for a new job, and his loyalty is refreshing in an era of coaches chasing prestige and cash.
He needs a victory to ease his slump and the confusion of a strange season.