Near the end of the first half of Air Force's loss to Wyoming, I glanced at the scoreboard, saw the Cowboys had already dropped 42 points on the Falcons and wondered what many Air Force fans were wondering:
Can this season get any worse?
The answer, as it turns out, is yes.
Yes with an exclamation mark.
Quarterback Jaleel Awini, the program's greatest hope for the future, was removed Wednesday from the team. He is no longer a cadet in good standing and cannot represent the academy as an athlete.
Now it's coach Troy Calhoun's task to revive a team already devastated by injury and burdened with a defense that has allowed 150 points in the past three games. It's been an extraordinarily horrendous week for the Falcons.
Calhoun should have taken time Wednesday to talk about Awini's status and what the Falcons plan to do this weekend at Nevada without their quarterback. But Calhoun is following his normal media schedule, which does not include talking to the press after Tuesday on a week when the Falcons play Saturday.
But even without an explanation from Calhoun, it's easy to see the status of his football program. Air Force's team is in chaos, at its lowest point of the Calhoun era, which began in 2007. Wyoming toyed with the Falcons on Saturday night, fully exposing all the team's flaws. The tumble continued Wednesday with the Awini suspension.
The Awini story is not over. He could, according to sources at the academy, be restored to the football team, although there is no timetable. Remember, cornerback Reggie Rembert also lost his good standing as a cadet in 2009 and was suspended for six months. He returned to the team after a two-game suspension, shrugged off his past troubles and earned third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press in 2010.
Awini has Rembert-like talent. He's tall, fast, elusive and blessed with a powerful arm. He has a chance to become one of the best passers in Air Force history. First time I saw Awini throw the ball at Air Force, I wondered if he had wandered into the practice by mistake. He chose a run-first, run-second program, but he could thrive in a pro-style, pass-happy offense.
But any possible return by Awini is, at best, several weeks in the distance. Right now, a team left reeling by injury and a porous defense faces a fearsome new challenge. Calhoun already had lost starting quarterback Kale Pearson to a severe knee injury and running back/receiver Ty MacArthur to a concussion.
Reno might be the right place for revival. The Wolfpack surrendered 120 points in losses to UCLA and Florida State this season, and Nevada defenders were utterly befuddled last season by Air Force's complex option rushing attack. The Falcons stampeded the Wolfpack for 48 points and 600 yards of total offense and might have scored 62 if not for two lost fumbles.
On Wednesday, a crucial member of the Falcons departed the team, at least for a while. Awini leaves behind a tattered team that was humiliated at home in a late-night loss to Wyoming.
The trip to Nevada offers a chance for revival. Calhoun must direct this revival without a talented, suspended quarterback.