2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Food for Thought

    Wed, October 31, 2007 by admin with 8 comments

    It seemed like a typical Tuesday press conference. Coach Troy Calhoun talking about the upcoming game – this week it’s against service academy rival Army – and the state of his team.

    Then, on the heels of an answer to a question about whether Army would have an advantage Saturday because it had a bye last weekend, Calhoun slid in this juicy tidbit:

    “I think there’s some advantages to being independent, now. I mean really,” he said. “You look at it for a service academy, one, you have complete command of your schedule. Your byes. Now all of a sudden you can go out, and it’s something we probably need to look at big-picture wise for our school, being able to go out and secure bowl berths before a season even starts. That’s something Army did last year with the Poinsettia Bowl. Now they didn’t get to the mark, but it’s something we have done here at the academy. We played in some Liberty Bowls when we were still involved in a conference. And yet those things were done up front.”

    Wow. Did he say what we thought he said?

    After some questions about captains and food poisoning, the conversation was steered back toward independence.

    “I’ll say this big picture – here’s something that I do think you have to be able to do. I think service academies are a little bit unique. And when it comes to vision for our football program, when it comes to scheduling, when it comes to securing bowl berths prior to a season, when it comes to being able to pinpoint byes at certain places throughout the year – if you want them, now you may not want them some years, depending on the makeup of your squad. When it comes to being able to put games in place for the long haul. We had some pretty good years where we weren’t affiliated with a conference. Now do I love being in a league? Absolutely. Unequivocally. We’re fortunate because you look at the Mountain West Conference, you get to play against some very talented football teams that are extremely well-coached. And that means something to you. … But I think it’s something that we’ve got to take a look at.”

    Now, according to the Mountain West Conference office, leaving the league is “an institutional decision.” Air Force isn’t locked into the league for a five- or 10-year contract. The academy would just have to give enough notice to allow the conference to adjust (in other words, it couldn’t get out by next fall. By the next year, yes).

    But shortly after Calhoun’s press conference, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh made it clear the academy has no intention of leaving the Mountain West. He praised the conference, its commissioner, Craig Thompson, and said Air Force has had “a great, great association” with the league.

    My take? I think Calhoun probably doesn’t want to leave the league (at least not yet), but he does see some obvious benefits to becoming an independent – not the least of which, as he mentioned, are having more control over the schedule and being able to arrange tie-ins to bowls.

    Air Force’s annual games with Navy (always in late September) and Army (always in early November) often make for quirky schedules – last year having two byes in the first three weeks and this year having no byes. And, as Mueh pointed out, Calhoun might be getting concerned that this year’s team – even with a strong finish to the season – could miss out on a bowl game because Air Force has the reputation of not “traveling” well to away games.

    But does independence make sense? Army and Navy are independent in football, as is Notre Dame. I guess there are some pros and cons. Air Force, technically, could schedule anyone it wanted. And, ostensibly, the Falcons could try to continue longtime rivalries with teams like BYU and Colorado State. Plus, some of the other academy teams that have struggled in recent years while playing in the Mountain West – baseball comes to mind – definitely could benefit.

    Still, scheduling for football and basketball would be far harder than it is now. Mueh even said going independent is “a roll of the dice.”

    I think what Calhoun would love to see is Air Force stay in the conference yet get some sort of additional bowl tie-in similar to what Navy has this year with the Poinsettia Bowl (six wins and the Midshipmen are in) and to what the three service academies had with the Liberty Bowl nearly 20 years ago (an outright Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy winner that is bowl eligible gets an automatic bid). That’s something Mueh said he thought was a good idea, as long as the conference was in favor of it. Conference representative Javan Hedlund said the league always is looking for ways to get its teams to bowls, but that Air Force would have to talk to Thompson about such an arrangement.

    “You think of those years we went to the Independence Bowl in ‘83 and ‘84, those were done in advance,” Calhoun said. “The Liberty Bowl, in 1989, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92. Now are there a couple of bases in – I can start naming cities in this country where Air Force personnel are located in the area that I think would be attractive.”

    If nothing else, it’s makes for interesting debate. So I’ll open the floor and ask what others think. Should Air Force declare independence?

  • Uh oh from Albuquerque

    Thu, October 25, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    It apparently wasn’t food poisoning that sent Air Force senior receiver/running back Chad Hall to the hospital Tuesday.

    It was some sort of stomach bug, according to Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart. And some of the other players are experiencing symptoms similar to what Hall felt.

    Starting cornerback Carson Bird and starting right tackle Chris Monson are feeling the worst, Garnhart said. They were brought to University Stadium in Albuquerque early tonight so they could receive intravenous fluids. Both are considered game-time decisions.

    At 6:15, Bird was not among the defensive backs warming up on the field.

  • Dadgum BlogDog

    Wed, October 24, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    At first glance, the BlogDog doesn’t seem to have much in common with former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.

    Fisher’s from the South. BlogDog’s from Canada.

    Fisher’s married. BlogDog’s single.

    Fisher gained national fame by employing the triple-option. BlogDog’s patented snag-the-recently-folded-laundry-and-run move has barely garnered regional acclaim.

    Fisher’s retired. BlogDog is in his first year as a prognosticator.

    Fisher’s a human. BlogDog’s a dog.

    But the more you look at it, the more you realize they have in common.

    Fisher began his first season as Air Force head coach 5-3. BlogDog is 5-3 in his first year predicting Air Force games. Both have the endearing ability to make you laugh without meaning to.

    And both believe that college football games should be played on Saturday afternoons.

    A Thursday night game – and the short week of preparation that preceded it – threw off the BlogDog earlier this season. After correctly picking Air Force’s first two games of the season, he misfired on the third – the Falcons’ Thursday night game against TCU.

    BlogDog brings another two-game winning streak into tonight’s contest, and this time he likes the home team.

    (Quick refresher course for those new to this blog: As a beat writer, I am not allowed to predict the outcome of games. So my dog, Norm, is doing it.

    Here’s how: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of Norm. Whichever one Norm goes to first – best three out of five times – is the team he thinks is going to win. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game)

    This week, the BlogDog went to the New Mexico helmet first, then Air Force’s twice in a row, then New Mexico’s twice in a row.

    Norm’s Pick: New Mexico 28, Air Force 24
    Norm’s Record: 5-3

    BlogDog’s bite is more telling than his bark. He likes the Lobos.
  • Hall to play

    Wed, October 24, 2007 by admin with no comments

    Air Force senior receiver/running back Chad Hall, who missed practice Tuesday due to flu-like symptoms brought on by food poisoning, traveled with the Falcons to Albuquerque today and is expected to start and play in Thursday night’s game against New Mexico, Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart said.

    Hall, who leads the Falcons in rushing yards (750), receiving yards (341) and receptions (32), was taken to the academy hospital Tuesday where he was given fluids and allowed to rest before being released in the early evening. At practice that day, coach Troy Calhoun said he wasn’t sure if Hall would play or even make the trip to New Mexico.

    Hall has led the Falcons to three straight victories with a combined 592 rushing yards – the second-highest rushing total in three consecutive games in academy history. He has scored nine of Air Force’s 15 touchdowns the last four games.

  • Gone Bowlin’

    Mon, October 22, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    Air Force tailback Jim Ollis pointed out Monday after practice that the Falcons are only bowl “eligible.” They haven’t earned a bid yet.

    True. But one more victory puts Air Force in pretty good position to get to a bowl. And two more? The Falcons would be a lock.

    So the question is, where? The Mountain West Conference has tie-ins with four bowls. Here’s a look at each.

    As pointed out earlier today, the Poinsettia Bowl is out if Navy gets to six wins. The Midshipmen have an automatic tie-in if they become bowl eligible, and the Poinsettia Bowl will not host a rematch. And you can pretty much bet the Midshipmen are getting six with the soft remaining schedule they have.

    The Las Vegas Bowl has the first choice of bowl-eligible Mountain West Conference teams. It is encouraged by the conference to take the league champion but is under no obligation to do so. If Air Force wins its final two conference games – Thursday at New Mexico and Nov. 17 against San Diego State – and BYU loses two of its final five, Air Force would win the conference. If Air Force wins its last two games and BYU loses one of its final five games, the Cougars and Falcons would share the title.

    In either scenario, I think the Las Vegas Bowl takes the Cougars. The simple reason: BYU sells tickets. Air Force has a reputation for not “traveling” well to bowl games.

    So that leaves either the New Mexico Bowl or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth.

    The New Mexico Bowl will be played in Albuquerque, and Kirtland Air Force Base is located in southeast Albuquerque. Plus the drive from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque is doable.

    The Armed Forces Bowl makes sense for an obvious reason – its name – and because Air Force will not have played yet in Fort Worth this season. Bowls like to award bids to teams that will be playing in their respective cities for the first time that year. Air Force plays in Albuquerque Thursday night.

    There is a wild card in the mix – a bowl inviting an at-large team because a conference cannot supply enough bowl-eligible squads. In other words, if a conference has tie-ins with six bowls but only five of its teams have six or more wins, then the sixth bowl would have to choose an at-large team. This scenario is possible but unlikely.

    So I wouldn’t quite book your plane tickets yet, but if Air Force wins one or two more games, it looks like they’ll go bowling in either Albuquerque or Fort Worth.

    Practice note: Air Force was outside on Monday after practicing inside on Sunday. The Falcons were on their turf field because their grass fields still were covered with snow. They had a split practice – offense first, then defense. Still, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was pleased with his team’s work.

    “Good solid practice,” he said. “Crisp. Good tempo. Physically, I liked the way our guys have bounced back. In 48 hours we’ve had two quality practices.”

  • No re-match

    Mon, October 22, 2007 by admin with 1 comment

    It would have been fun. But it’s not gonna happen.

    Forget about an Air Force-Navy re-match in the Poinsettia Bowl.

    Bruce Binkowski, the bowl’s executive director, said it’s impossible because the teams already have met.

    “We will not have a re-match of a regular season game,” Binkowski said Monday morning, putting an end to speculation that the rival service academies could meet in the game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Dec. 20. “I know some coaches like it, some coaches don’t. We decided early on, even in the Holiday Bowl (the sister bowl of the Poinsettia Bowl) that if you play during the regular season we will avoid that re-match.”

    Navy beat Air Force, 31-20, on Sept. 29.

    Poinsettia Bowl representative Weldon Donaldson attended Air Force’s 20-12 victory over Wyoming on Saturday and said a re-match was possible if both teams agreed to it. That ignited speculation, and on Sunday, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun campaigned for a re-match, saying it could be “one of the absolute gems of the postseason.”

    Binkowski said the bowl often does “consider” the wishes of a team when selecting an opponent. But if Navy becomes bowl eligible by winning six or more games, it receives an automatic bid to the bowl. And Air Force would not even be considered as an opponent.

    “If Navy is bowl eligible, we will go in another direction,” Binkowsi said. “If Navy is not bowl eligible, we would certainly look at Air Force.”

    It seems likely the Midshipmen, who are 4-3, will get to six victories. They have games remaining against Delaware of the Bowl Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), Notre Dame (1-7), North Texas (1-6), Northern Illinois (1-7) and Army (3-5).

    If Navy is eligible, the Poinsettia Bowl will select its opponent from the Mountain West Conference. The bowl gets the second choice of Mountain West Conference teams (after the Las Vegas Bowl, which typically will take the Mountain West champion).

    But it would not pick Air Force.

    “Air Force is going to land somewhere,” Binkowski said. “They’ve had a great year.”

  • Guess who’s back?

    Fri, October 19, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    Drove to Subway today with the BlogDog riding shotgun. When rapper Kanye West’s “Stronger” came on the radio, BlogDog got fired up.

    N-n-now that that don’t kill me

    Can only make me stronger…

    BlogDog was nodding his head to the beat.

    Rap is the BlogDog’s music of choice – he’s mostly a Biggie Smalls kind of dog – but I think these lyrics had special meaning for him.

    Heading into last weekend’s game, BlogDog had missed three of four picks, including two straight, after nailing his first two. There was talk that BlogDog was washed up. To quote Biggie:

    Your reign on the top was short like Leprechauns …

    But that tumultuous time obviously only made the BlogDog stronger.

    Last week, Air Force was a 3-point underdog and playing on the road in Fort Collins – a place it hadn’t won since 1997. But that didn’t stop the BlogDog from picking Air Force to win by 22. The Falcons won by 24.

    Guess who’s back?

    Back again?

    BlogDog’s back

    Tell a friend

    (Note: For those of you reading this blog for the first time, Here’s a quick background on the BlogDog. As a beat writer, I am not allowed to predict the outcome of games. So my dog, Norm, is doing it.

    Here’s how: I put a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent the Falcons are facing that week in front of Norm. Whichever one Norm goes to first – best three out of five times – is the team he thinks is going to win. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other team once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about seven to 10 points. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, he’s predicting a close game.)

    This week, BlogDog went directly to the Air Force helmet on his first two picks. Then he went to Wyoming helmet on the next two. On the deciding one, he went to Air Force, then wouldn’t let go of the helmet (see picture below).

    So here’s how I’m interpreting it. BlogDog’s thinking Air Force will roar out to an early lead, Wyoming will rally and tie the game or take the lead, then Air Force will win late in dramatic fashion.

    Norm’s pick: Air Force 27, Wyoming 24

    Norm’s record: 4-3

    BlogDog’s been smooth since days of Underoos
  • Wild, wild (Mountain) West

    Thu, October 18, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    Cleaning out the old notebook after Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference basketball media day.

    I am not permitted to take part in the media poll per our paper’s rules, but I think my fellow scribes and the TV folks did a pretty good job with it. As BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out, BYU probably got a lot of first-place votes because it is the defending champ and there really is no clear favorite. Rose termed the league “as wide open as I can remember it being.”

    I also agree with San Diego State coach Steve Fisher that six teams could win the league – BYU, UNLV, New Mexico, Utah, San Diego State and Wyoming. Yes, I’m leaving Air Force off that list for now, although I think the Falcons have a chance to be a pretty solid team.

    Some quick-hit thoughts on the teams …

    BYU: Certainly the favorite going in, but the Cougars are vulnerable. They lost the league’s Player of the Year (Keena Young), along with Austin Ainge – a clutch performer who brought a lot of confidence and moxie to the floor – and sharpshooter Mike Rose. Big losses.

    UNLV: The Rebels will be inexperienced and rely a lot on guard Wink Adams. Watch out for 6-foot-8 forward Lamar Roberson, a transfer from the University of Houston who sat out last season.

    Utah: One of the league’s most experienced teams with four returning starters. Could make noise, but much will depend upon the play of 7-1 center Luke Nevill. At times he’s dominant, other times not nearly assertive enough. Save for BYU’s’ Trent Plaisted, there aren’t a whole lot of guys in the league that can match up with him physically. So is this the year he takes charge?

    New Mexico: Perhaps the most intriguing team in the conference in part because of the big-name first-year coach (Steve Alford) and in part because the Lobos have arguably the most talented player in the league (J.R. Giddens). Alford said Wednesday that Giddens has been great, and Giddens is saying all the right things. Will that be true halfway through the season?

    San Diego State: They lost their top two players – including Brandon Heath, the league’s all-time leading scorer – and they’ll be small. But the Aztecs always have talent, and Fisher said Wednesday this team is deepest he’s had in his nine seasons at the school. The loss of talented but troubled Jerome Habel? That might well end up being addition by subtraction for this team.

    Wyoming: I would not be surprised if this team wins the conference. I like the new coach, I love the two guards (Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones), and the talented Joseph Taylor has had a good offseason, from what I have heard. Plenty of talent, lots of swagger.

    TCU: Four starters back from a team that won three of its last five games last year, including the upset of Air Force that likely burst the Falcons’ NCAA Tournament bubble. And yet … I guess everyone will believe it when they see it.

    Colorado State: Rebuilding year. Big time. Ten guys gone from last year.

    Air Force: There is a lot of potential, and a relatively soft non-conference schedule could help build confidence. But the inexperience will be tough to overcome, especially in places like The Pit and Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium. Air Force fans were spoiled last year with a bunch of seniors that were very talented but also very experienced and poised. Jake Burtschi, Matt McCraw, Nick Welch, Dan Nwaelele – those guys oozed confidence. Tim Anderson, the team’s lone returning starter, is among the league’s marquee players (he probably belonged on the preseason All-MWC team, if only for his defense). So much depends on how former role players (specifically Anwar Johnson and Andrew Henke) handle increased burdens.

    I’ll throw this out there for comments: Who do you guys think should be the preseason favorite? And where do you think Air Force should have been ranked?

  • Two for Hall

    Mon, October 15, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    Air Force senior Chad Hall has been named the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week.

    No, this is not a recording.

    Hall turned in a career-best rushing performance for the second consecutive week in last Saturday’s 45-21 victory over Colorado State.

    And Monday, Hall was given conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second straight week.

    In Fort Collins against the Rams, Hall ran for an academy single-game record 256 yards on a career-high 31 carries (8.26 yards per carry). Hall broke former Falcon quarterback Dee Dowis’ record of 249 that Dowis set against San Diego State in 1989.

    Hall, who has notched three straight 100-plus-yard rushing games against Colorado State, had 169 yards a week earlier against UNLV. He is the first Falcon non-quarterback with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since fullback Jason Jones did it in 1991.

  • Five Minutes to Kickoff

    Sat, October 13, 2007 by admin with no comments

    Five minutes until game time, and the rain is coming down steadily. The Colorado State band is on the field, but there aren’t yet many fans in the stands – just a few pockets here and there. It’s about 49 degrees.

    The discussion in the press box a few moments ago is who the weather will hurt more. Not sure there’s a clear answer. I think both teams want to run the ball and would be happy to keep it on the ground, if possible.

    Two final thoughts:

    -Air Force needs to hit Kyle Bell early and in the backfield. If he gets a head of steam, watch out.

    -Shaun Carney needs to have a big game – taking care of the ball and making some plays with his feet.