Monday, May 15, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: AIR FORCE
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden tr ansfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Things may be winding down for DeBerry, but in Year 23, the old man's still got something to prove
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 30-29 (19-20 Mountain West) - 2005: 4-7 (3-5 Mountain West)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 11 (5 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The program is on considerably shakier ground than it's been in ages on the heels of its first back-to-back losing seasons in Fisher DeBerry's 22 years as head coach. DeBerry himself, long a patron saint of the profession, was painted last year as a pedagogue and a racist within a matter of weeks as he endured one of his worst career teams. Even if his off-the-cuff assessment was fairly obvious and an extremely common prevailing wisdom within the sport, it didn't help the appearance that the old man is starting to lose his grip on the program.
WHAT'S THE SAME:The AFA is going to be tough, hard-nosed, disciplined, hard-working, persistent, smart machine that may not have the most talent, but plays with heart, executes, does the little things right and adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts - i.e., a bunch of small, slow white guys are going to run the shit out of the ball.
OKAY, NOT FAIR: True - SMQ is being stereotypical, trite and repetitious; AFA still does what it does pretty well, without anyone remotely resembling a star on hand - you don't average 417 yards and 30 points on offense without a little firepower. What's helped the last two seasons is the presence of Shaun Carney, whose arm actually lifted the Falcons into the top 100 passing offenses nationally last season even as his legs picked up more yards than any other pair on the team. Carney's completion percentage and interceptions stayed constant last year (7, up from 6) while his scores declined (11 to 7), but he still offers more versatility - and, now, with 23 games under his belt, experience - than Air Force has had at the position in a decade.
IF ONLY......more of his blockers or pass-catchers returned. Jason Brown and Dan Kirkwood combined for 79 catches last year, for more than 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns, and that is a ton of receiving at a school whose leading receivers were only catching eight passes year as late as 1990 and 1991. Both graduated, leaving running back Chad Hall as the only double-digit catch man (16) left. The offensive line lost four senior starters. The bad news there is that the none of the new guys is around the 300-pound and they're all, well, new, but the good news is that three of them are seniors themselves and the fourth is a junior. And slightly undersized linemen has never stopped AFA from running by - if not over - just about everybody, anyway.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Carney is the guy come fall, but he didn't play in the Spring game, where backup and ex-special teamer Jim Ollis used the opportunity to run for 78 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue to a rousing, 18-17 come-from-behind win over the hated Silver. Well, maybe not so hated, but still an impressive enough showing by Ollis that DeBerry hasn't ruled out using two quarterbacks at times...
REASON FOR HOPE: Versatile Carney in Year Three as the starter, history of filling gaps quickly with veterans and rebounding quickly following losing seasons.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: New linemen may not pan out, new receivers may keep the offense completely one-dimensional. Talent level isn't up to the MWC's par.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... A good pair of socks - not impressive, never fancy, kind of boring, but always there, doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing in whatever way they deem necessary.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Seven wins, freeze out of a lousy bowl. Collectively, the last two years have been the worst of DeBerry's career, but his past success still deserves the benefit of the doubt. But if AFA finishes below the Mason-Dixon for an unprecedented third straight year, past success goes out the window of this sinking ship...er, nosediving bomber?
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State
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