2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Notes from Air Force spring football practice

    Thu, March 6, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Spring game officially set for District 20 Stadium

    Air Force will play its spring football game at District 20 Stadium at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19.

    Coach Troy Calhoun said plans were finalized on Thursday morning, fulfilling his request to not only play the program’s first spring game in several years, but to do so at a venue that would make it more accessible to fans.

    District 20 Stadium is adjacent to Liberty High School, near the intersection of Research and Powers in northeast Colorado Springs.


    Uncertainty on serious issues

    Calhoun refused comment when asked how pending cutbacks in budget and personnel might impact the football program, and on whether any football players were among the 40 freshmen being investigated for cheating on a chemistry test.

    “There’s been nothing that’s happened in terms of, that involves any of our… we’ll find out who it involves as we go,” Calhoun said of the cheating scandal. “If any.”


    Linebacker Nichol misses practice

    Junior linebacker Joey Nichol wore a red shirt in practice on Thursday, as he was out with what Troy Calhoun described as lingering effects from a groin injury suffered this past season as well as an shoulder problem.

    “I don’t think it’s anything more than a one-week thing,” Calhoun said.


    Calhoun on the quarterbacks

    The Air Force coach, a former quarterback, talked about the three guys seeing time at that position this spring – Nate Romine, Karson Roberts and Colton Huntsman:

    “Those three guys are getting all the reps right now. It’s been good. It’s been very good for them. They are clearly better players than they were in August, or last year. Clearly. Just for them to be able to get this much, day after day, just concentrated and intense work is only going to make them better players. I think they understand the offense better, they have better poise, when it comes to delivering the ball, changing a play, just handling the ball more than anything else, you can tell. They’re able to make more plays with their feet just because they’re more decisive. For all those guys, they’ve had good springs.”

  • Falcons give football coaching staff a shakeup

    Tue, February 18, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Titles and responsibilities received a thorough makeover as Air Force released its new coaching roster in advance of the beginning of spring practice.

    Mike Thiessen will take over as the sole offensive coordinator – a position he split with three others last year – and Steve Russ will be the defensive coordinator.

    The major positions shifts include Matt Weikert from defensive line to outside linebackers, Russ from inside linebackers to defensive backs and John Rudzinski from outside linebackers to secondary.

    Newly hired veteran coaches Tim Cross and Ron Vanderlinden were given their spots on the defense, with Cross coaching the line and Vanderlinden the inside linebackers.

    The Falcons also brought aboard Capt. Drew Fowler as an assistant linebackers coach. Fowler is a 2008 Air Force graduate who was twice voted the team’s defensive MVP and led the Mountain West in tackles as a junior.



    Air Force football coaching staff (last year’s title/role is listed in parenthesis if there was a change)

    Troy Calhoun, head coach



    Mike Thiessen, offensive coordinator/wide receivers (Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/wide receivers; *-denotes newcomer)

    Clay Hendrix, associate head coach/offensive line (associate head coach/offensive coordinator/offensive line)

    Jake Campbell, assistant backfield

    Ben Miller, special teams coordinator/running backs

    Jake Moreland, tight ends

    Blane Morgan, quarterbacks (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks)



    Steve Russ, assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/defensive backs (assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers)

    *Tim Cross, defensive line

    *Capt. Drew Fowler, assistant linebackers

    Lt. Col. Steve Pipes, assistant defensive line (JV head coach/varsity assistant)

    John Rudzinski, recruiting coordinator/secondary (recruiting coordinator/outside linebackers)

    *Ron Vanderlinden, inside linebackers

    Matt Weikert, outside linebackers (defensive line)



    Steve Senn, executive assistant/quality control

    Matt McGettigan, Strength and Conditioning




  • Odds and Ends from Kickoff Luncheon

    Tue, June 29, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    I attended the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation’s Football Kickoff Luncheon today and was able to talk to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson.

    I wrote an Air Force piece touching on the linebacker corps and the quarterback situation as well as a story about conference realignment now that the dust has settled.

    Here are some other notes I couldn’t fit in either of the above stories.

    -Calhoun, like Thompson, was glad there wasn’t the massive shake-up of conferences that some had predicted.

    “If I’m a fan you are (happy), absolutely, that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of maneuvering,” he said. “Because I think there are some alliances, competitively, that I think are really healthy for the sport, and I think they need time to develop – it’s not something that happens instantly. I don’t think it happens even within five or six years. I think they take sometimes decades to occur.”

    -I asked Calhoun if he was glad Boise State wasn’t joining until 2011 because of what the Broncos have back this year (all but one starter from last year’s 14-0 squad).

    “It’s probably something you really haven’t thought about a tremendous amount, frankly,” Calhoun said. “The reality is that’s something you’re going to do down the road.”

    Calhoun did say, however, that he would watch Boise closer this year because it will be joining the league in 2011.

    -I noted in my realignment story that – at least football-wise – the addition of Boise and the loss of Utah was pretty much a push.

    “I don’t know if it’s a push,” Thompson said. “I’m thrilled to death with Boise State. I hate to lose Utah. They were a great charter member, did wonderful things, set a lot of standards – BCS, Sweet 16, first-round draft picks, etc., etc. But I’m very optimistic about the future.”

    -Thompson – during both his formal remarks at the luncheon and in an interview with me and Pat Graham of the AP after the luncheon – thanked Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn for his help and information during the crazy days earlier this month when conferences were adding, losing and trying to lure schools from other leagues.

    “You didn’t know who was being truthful and who was not, and I really want to single out Mike Bohn, because he was kind of able to tell me some information from both sides without breaking confidences,” Thompson said.

    -Calhoun said nine schools is an ideal size for a conference.

    “When you play eight league games, you give yourself a chance to have some flavor in your schedule that changes from year to year,” he said.

    -I neglected to follow up on Army fullback Jared Hassin (who originally came to Air Force), as a couple people asked after reading my First Look: Army post (scroll down). Sorry about that. Promise I’ll get to it.

    But I did ask Calhoun about the incoming freshmen – as reader Joe Gray requested. Calhoun said “every single one” of the Falcons’ recruits showed up for basic training.

    “They don’t have gigantic smiles on their faces right now,” Calhoun said. “But I love the spirit of the group. That’s going to be a good group.”

    Calhoun said he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the freshmen earned playing time this year – specifically on the punt block and kickoff cover units. Calhoun said the secondary will get a good influx of talent from the incoming freshmen.

    -One more effect of Utah leaving and Boise State joining the MWC: Air Force’s baseball team will make the 2012 MWC Tournament, no matter what. Because Boise State doesn’t have a baseball team, there will be just six teams in the league. And the league holds a six-team tournament. Recently, Air Force has been the lone team left out of the tournament.

  • First Look: Army

    Fri, June 25, 2010 by admin with 2 comments

    This is Part 10 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We move this week to the Falcons’ Week 10 opponent – service academy rival Army.

    Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ first nine opponents: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Navy, Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU and Utah.

    Rich Ellerson
    2009 Record: 5-7
    2009 vs. AF: Air Force 35, Army 7
    2009 in a Sentence: The Black Knights just missed becoming bowl eligible under first-year coach Ellerson, but their return to the triple-option offense and performance during the season provided hope that the struggling program might eventually rise.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 8/8
    Roster Report: Army’s defense was fairly stingy in 2009, ranking 16th in the country in total defense (304.7 yards allowed per game) and 35th in scoring defense (21.9 points allowed per game).

    The Black Knights will have to replace a pair of defensive linemen, including tackle Victor Ugenyi, but they should be strong up front with the return of senior defensive end Josh McNary and senior defensive tackle Mike Gann.

    Undersized (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) but speedy, McNary is on watch lists for several awards heading into 2010 after compiling 22.5 tackles for losses, including an Army-record 12.5 sacks, last season. According to the Times Herald-Record, McNary missed spring drills following shoulder surgery.

    As for Gann, Sal Interdonato, the Army beat writer for the Times Herald-Record, wrote on his Black Knights blog that the tackle “is the defense’s heart and soul and will be the key if Army’s defense is going to better its No. 16 national ranking from last year. Right now, he’s the only player on the roster that can create havoc in the backfield as well as engage with two or sometimes three offensive linemen.”

    Army also returns three starting defensive backs and its entire starting linebacker corps from the 2009 squad, including leading tackler Andrew Rodriguez (85 tackles) and senior Stephen Anderson, who had 83 tackles despite missing the last three games of the year with a knee injury he suffered at Air Force. Also look for contributions from senior Kingsley Ehie, who moved to linebacker from fullback.

    Eight starters return from an offense that ranked 16th in the country in rushing in 2009 (203.6 yards per game) but last (120th) in passing (71.8 yards per game).

    One huge plus for the Black Knights is experience under center. Quarterback Trent Steelman became the first West Point freshman to start every game of a season in 2009, leading the team with 202 rushes, 706 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He also completed 54-of-110 passes for 637 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The experience he banked in 2009 showed in the spring.

    “Trent is much more comfortable in a leadership role and much more comfortable running the offense,” Ellerson said in the Black Knights’ post-spring release. “The reactions and decisions that go along with that position are all so much more intuitive for him.”

    Army didn’t get much from its fullbacks in 2009 (two rushing touchdowns and no runs of more than 26 yards), but that could change with sophomore Jared Hassin expected to jump in as the starter. If the name rings a bell, there’s a reason. Hassin initially came to Air Force, but he left in August of 2008 (barely into his freshman year) after practicing some with the varsity that month. He sat out last year.

    “We have been waiting to get Jared into the mix,” Ellerson said.

    Army returns both its starting slot backs from last season – seniors Patrick Mealy (673 yards, three touchdowns, team-high 6.1 yards-per-carry average) and Jameson Carter (238 yards, two touchdowns) – and could get a contribution from sophomore Malcolm Brown. And up front the Black Knights have four linemen back who started in 2009, and all are seniors.

    The biggest question mark for Army offensively is at receiver, where just two players who combined for five catches in 2009 return.

    Like on offense and defense, Army will have experience on special teams – the Black Knights’ 2009 starting punter (senior Jonathan Bulls), starting place kicker (junior Alex Carlton), starting long-snapper (senior Carson Homme) and kickoff specialist (senior Matthew Campbell) all are slated to return.

    Fast Fact: Army’s offense scored just 18 touchdowns in 12 games in 2009.

    What Caught My Eye: Only four of the coaches on the Army staff are West Point grads. Juxtapose that with Air Force’s staff, which includes 10 Air Force grads.

    I continue to think having a bunch of grads on staff is the way to go for a service academy. It’s huge especially for recruiting because the guys selling the place actually went through it. I’m not quite sure why some coaches at Air Force haven’t followed Calhoun’s lead on this.

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force, minus-7. The Falcons have owned the Black Knights of late, winning four straight and 12 of 13 in the teams’ series. Army will be better and will play the Falcons at home, but Air Force still should be the favorite.

    Final Thought: Since going 10-2 in 1996, the Black Knights have suffered through 13 losing seasons. During that time they went 35-115. And in 10 of the seasons they won three or fewer games.

    But this could be the year the Black Knights creep above .500 and become bowl eligible. Only four of the teams on their 2010 schedule had winning records in 2009 (Temple, Rutgers, Air Force and Navy).

    When Ellerson was hired, Army athletic director Kevin Anderson told the Associated Press that if Ellerson couldn’t turn the program around, “I don’t know if there is a coach who can.”

    I think Ellerson can. In his first season he re-installed the triple-option and put a focus on defense (and a solid ground game with a stingy defense seems to be the formula for service academies). Army might be a year away from a major breakthrough, but I see the Black Knights as a program on the rise.

  • First Look: San Diego State

    Tue, May 25, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    This is Part 7 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We move this week to the Falcons’ Week 7 opponent – San Diego State.

    Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ opponents in the first half of the season: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Navy and Colorado State.

    San Diego State
    Brady Hoke (2nd year)
    2009 Record: 4-8 (2-6, 7th in Mountain West Conference)
    2009 vs. AF: Air Force 26, San Diego State 14
    2009 in a Sentence: The Aztecs started 4-4 under Hoke – sparking thoughts of a trip to a bowl game – but lost their last four games.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 9/8
    Roster Report: The Aztecs could boast one of the top passing attacks in the MWC in 2010.

    San Diego State returns quarterback Ryan Lindley along with two receivers who are among the league’s best – DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown.

    As a sophomore last season, Lindley completed 239-of-437 passes (54.7 percent) for 3,054 yards, 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Sampson made 62 catches for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, while Brown grabbed 45 passes for 778 yards and six touchdowns. And Brown’s numbers were compiled all in the first half of the season, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Aztecs’ seventh game.

    “Having Vince back and DeMarco, how he came on at the end of last year, is a big plus for us,” Hoke said. “I think that will help us offensively getting the ball down the field a little more and trying to stretch defenses.”

    Defensively, the Aztecs have all three of last year’s starting defensive linemen back, including 6-foot-3, 285-pound Ernie Lawson, who has been moved from tackle to left end.

    “With what we do, we thought the move of Ernie over to the left end makes us a little more stout,” Hoke said. “I think he also is a guy who has the quickness you want in your ends. And then I think the development of Jerome Long (6-5, 290), playing inside as a tackle, and getting Neil Spencer (6-2, 285) back was even more of a luxury for us to move Ernie. But I think it’s really helped us defensively throughout the spring.”

    San Diego State also will add defensive lineman Perry Jackson (6-2, 245), a transfer from Sierra College, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered last year. “I think we’ll have a full recovery by him,” Hoke said.

    Andrew Preston, a 6-1, 215-pound senior from Centennial (Arapahoe High), was moved from linebacker to San Diego State’s “Aztec” position (a kind of linebacker/defensive back hybrid spot).

    A key for the defense, according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, is playing man-to-man coverage more effectively so defensive coordinator Rocky Long’s defense can employ more blitzes. It seems the Aztecs will have a better secondary this season.

    “We really believe that we’ve got some young guys who redshirted a year ago – that we got close to playing, believe me – but we thought they needed a good fall academically and a fall within the program,” Hoke said. “But I thought in the spring, I think Nat Berhe and Gabe Lemon did a nice job, Marcus Andrews, Colin Lockett (all four are redshirt freshmen).

    “I thought (6-3, 200-pound sophomore) Eric Pinkins and (5-11, 195-pound sophomore) Khalid Stevens all have the demeanor we’re looking for from our safeties and the athleticism. So I think that’s helped us.”

    The Union-Tribune reported that defenses dominated in San Diego State’s annual Red and Black scrimmage, combining for eight sacks and 26 tackles for losses.

    Fast Fact: San Diego State ranked 116th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams last season in rushing (78.3 yards per game). That has to change for the Aztecs to be a factor in the MWC.

    “As soon as we start running the football better, we’re going to start playing better and we’re going to start winning games,” San Diego State offensive coordinator Al Borges told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “A lot of things change in every area when you run the ball better. We were so dependent on throwing the ball last year it killed us, particularly in crucial situations.”

    What Caught My Eye: San Diego State held spring practices almost as early as Air Force. The Aztecs opened drills on Feb. 20 (two days after the Falcons) and finished on March 20. The other seven MWC schools didn’t start spring drills until March and didn’t finish until April.

    Why did the Aztecs go so early? Well, it gave coaches more time to concentrate on spring recruiting, and it gave players a chance to concentrate on academics. It also meant – as Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has said – that if a player got injured, he had more time to get healthy before fall camp. But seemingly most importantly, the early dates for spring practice gave the Aztecs more time in the weight room prior to the summer.

    “It’s allowed us to have a good six weeks of our kids after spring ball in the various things we’re trying to get done, strength-wise,” Hoke said. “I think we’re making some improvements there in the weight room, but we’re still not a strong football team. But that’s one of the things that we really need to keep focusing on is our development physically.”

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force minus-10. The Falcons have had little trouble with San Diego State under Calhoun, beating the Aztecs by scores of 55-23, 35-10 and 26-14. No reason Air Force should not be a significant favorite.

    Final Thought: San Diego State, to me, is the sleeping giant of the MWC. The Aztecs seemingly always have the athletes. But that hasn’t translated to victories in a while.

    Hoke seems like the kind of no-nonsense coach who could find a way to make the Aztecs meet their potential. We’ll see if he can do it.

  • Calhoun Sees Conference Shake-Up Coming

    Wed, May 19, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    It’s the talk of college football – the (perhaps) impending re-alignment of major conferences.

    Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he expects changes and expects decisions on said changes to be made within the next few months. Here’s my story on the looming (potential) landscape change in college football.

  • First Look: Colorado State

    Fri, May 14, 2010 by admin with no comments

    This is Part 6 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week, with Colorado State up this week.

    Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ first five opponents: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Navy.

    Colorado State
    Steve Fairchild (3rd year)
    2009 Record: 3-9
    2009 vs. AF: Air Force 34, Colorado State 16
    2009 in a Sentence: After a 3-0 start that included a season-opening victory at rival Colorado, the Rams fell apart, dropping nine straight, including a 29-27 loss to otherwise winless New Mexico.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 4/10
    Roster Report: In each of his first two seasons at Colorado State, Fairchild has used fifth-year seniors as his starting quarterbacks – and each was in his first year starting.

    In 2010, Colorado State likely will have a youngster under center. The frontrunners for the quarterback spot appear to be Pete Thomas, a true freshman from El Cajon, Calif., who enrolled early at Colorado State and went through the Rams’ spring practices, and Nico Ranieri, a redshirt freshman from Orlando, Fla.

    “We’re going to be young at quarterback, obviously, and we’ve still got a long way to go,” Fairchild said. “But we’ve flashed at times.”

    According to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Ranieri completed 7-of-10 passes for 73 yards for the Gold team in the Rams’ spring practice-ending Green vs. Gold game. Thomas completed 2-of-5 passes for 46 yards for the Green team, including a 34-yard touchdown, and one of his passes was dropped in the end zone.

    Whoever wins the quarterback battle will play behind an inexperienced line, as the Rams lost four starters from last season’s group that was the nation’s most experienced. Among the players likely to contribute are tackles Mark Starr and Paul Madsen, who started five and seven games, respectively, at one tackle slot last season, and Jake Gdowski, who started four at guard.

    Fairchild told the Coloradoan that running back is probably the Rams’ strongest position. Back are seniors-to-be Leonard Mason, who rushed for a team-high 766 yards and two scores in 2009, and John Mosure, who picked up 650 yards and seven touchdowns on 124 carries. The Rams also have Raymond Carter, a transfer from UCLA, and redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke.

    “We’ve got a little more explosiveness there,” Fairchild told the Coloradoan. “More big-play capability than we did last year. … We’ve obviously got a number of guys, so we’ve got to kind of filter through who does what and what their role’s going to be.”

    Sophomore Lou Greenwood, who had 147 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, got some looks at wide receiver in spring practices, as did T.J. Borcky, who was the Rams’ starting quarterback when spring began. Colorado State will be inexperienced at wide receiver. Tyson Liggett, a 5-foot-9 walk-on, is the Rams’ most experienced returner with 20 career catches and five career starts.

    The Rams should be strong on defense. They return 10 starters, including linebacker Mychal Sisson, who led Colorado State in tackles (91), tackles for losses (15.5) and sacks (6) in 2009 en route to second-team All-MWC honors. Also back is standout linebacker Ricky Brewer. An All-MWC selection as a sophomore in 2008, he had to sit out the 2009 season for a team rules violation.

    Colorado State also has several starters back in the secondary – free safety Elijah-Blu Smith (three interceptions in 2009), strong safety Ivory Herd and cornerback Momo Thomas.

    The Rams also have a pair of experienced specialists in returning starting punter Pete Kontodiakos (40.9 average last season) and returning starting kicker Ben DeLine (12-for-16 on field goals last season).

    Fast Fact: Colorado State won 10 of its 14 games against Air Force from 1992 through 2005, but Air Force has won four straight since, including all three contests under head coach Troy Calhoun – by 24, 17 and 18 points, respectively.

    What Caught My Eye: Colorado State lost four games by a touchdown or less in 2009, including two by two points and one by one point.

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force minus-8.5. The Falcons have owned the Rams of late and there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be significant favorites in this game.

    Final Thought: When Colorado State hired Fairchild to replace Sonny Lubick prior to the 2008 season, I thought it was a great move and saw plenty of parallels to what Air Force did in hiring Troy Calhoun (i.e. former quarterback returns to his alma mater to replace a legend whose teams had slipped a bit in his final few years).

    After the Rams went 7-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl in 2008, Fairchild’s first season, I thought Colorado State was well on its way to returning to its glory days when it sat at the top of the MWC. So I was borderline stunned by the Rams’ 2009 collapse.

    But even with that collapse, I feel like Fairchild will get Colorado State going in the right direction – and sooner rather than later.

  • Falcons Hire Rudzinski

    Tue, May 11, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    Air Force has hired another graduate to fill out its football coaching staff.

    Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said today that Capt. John Rudzinksi, a 2005 grad, will join his staff as a defensive assistant. With Rudzinski, who is slated to arrive at the academy in a few weeks, Air Force will have nine graduates among its 14 football coaches.

    Rudzinski, who currently is working as a maintenance officer at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, earned three letters at Air Force as a linebacker and was an honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference selection as a senior in 2004. He won the prestigious Brian Bullard Award – the highest honor an Air Force football player can achieve – and participated in the East-West Shrine Classic after his senior season.

    Rudzinski, who spent the 2005 season at Air Force as a graduate assistant, is one of two new faces on the coaching staff for the 2010 season along with linebackers coach Brad White. Tim DeRuyter and Patrick Covington left the academy in the offseason for jobs at Texas A&M and Coastal Carolina, respectively.

  • First Look: Navy

    Wed, May 5, 2010 by admin with 9 comments

    This is Part 5 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week, with this week’s focus on you know who.

    Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ first four opponents: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

    Ken Niumatalolo (3rd year)
    2009 Record: 10-4
    2009 vs. AF: Navy 16, Air Force 13 (OT)
    2009 in a Sentence: The Midshipmen opened the season by putting a scare into Ohio State in Columbus, finished it with a 35-13 triumph over Missouri in the Texas Bowl and in between won nine regular season games, including victories over Air Force and Army that gave them the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the seventh consecutive season.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 7/5
    Roster Report: Navy – like Air Force – will have the majority of its key skilled position players back on offense.

    The Midshipmen will return their top six rushers from the 2009 team that ranked fourth in the nation in rushing (280.5 yards per game) and four of that squad’s top five receivers.  Most importantly, they return standout quarterback Ricky Dobbs. In 2009 Dobbs rushed for 1,203 yards and passed for 1,031 yards to become just the third quarterback in program history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing and passing in a season. Dobbs, who played with a broken kneecap during Navy’s last six games and missed the majority of two contests, set the NCAA single-season touchdown record for quarterbacks with 27.

    Dobbs will have a fairly experienced line in front of him, as three starters (senior tackles Jeff Battipaglia and Matt Molloy and junior center Eric Douglass) return along with junior guard/center Brady DeMell, who saw significant time in 2009.

    And he’ll have some skilled players surrounding him, including senior fullback Vince Murray, (971 yards on 182 carries, just one fumble) and slot back Marcus Curry (585 yards on 80 carries, five touchdowns).

    Defensively, the Midshipmen lost six starters to graduation, including all four linebackers. Among them were the 2009 team’s top two tacklers – Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer – and stalwart Ram Vela.

    Here’s what Bill Wagner, The Annapolis Capital’s Navy beat writer, wrote about the defense on the day of the annual Blue-Gold game which concludes spring drills.

    “Navy lost six starters and several key backups on defense so it was not surprising that a slew of new names emerged on that side of the ball. Plebes Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick, Josh Jones and Wes Henderson stepped up at end while Shane Bothel and Jared Marks both had strong camps at nose guard. Backup outside linebacker Andrew Sharp was one of the most pleasant surprises of spring practice while inside linebacker Max Blue was vastly improved.

    Sophomore cornerback David Wright took his game to another level while freshman safeties Tra’ves Bush and Dylan Porlas showed they could play. [Defensive coordinator] Green was also very encouraged by the development of Cory James, who switched from slot back to corner prior to spring ball and adapted quickly to the new position.”

    Wagner also wrote that rising juniors Aaron McCauley and Caleb King emerged at outside and inside linebacker, respectively.

    “I think we’re going to be OK at linebacker,” Niumatalolo told Wagner. “That was an area of concern because of what we lost, but I was impressed by the potential of the young guys coming up.”

    Navy also returns kicker Joe Buckley, who kicked three field goals against Air Force, including the game-winner in overtime. He made 10-of-13 field goals on the year and was 44-for-44 on extra points.

    Fast Fact: If Navy becomes bowl-eligible by winning six games, it will receive an automatic bid to the Poinsettia Bowl. This likely means Air Force can cross the bowl, played in San Diego, off its list of potential destinations. In 2007, Navy had a similar agreement with the bowl and Air Force was passed over to avoid a rematch of the teams’ regular season game.

    What Caught My Eye: Navy has a bye the week before playing Air Force. Now, in 2008, Air Force had a bye the week before playing Navy and lost. But it’s noteworthy that Navy gets a week off before the game considering the Falcons will be coming off four straight games, including a grueling three-week stretch: vs. BYU, at Oklahoma, at Wyoming.

    Something else that caught my eye is that the Midshipmen finished 2009 ranked No. 1 in fewest penalties per game (3.4) and fewest penalty yards per game (29.6).

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Pick ‘em. The Falcons will have home field advantage. The Midshipmen have a bye the week before the game and the psychological advantage of knowing that Air Force hasn’t beaten them since before the Falcon basketball program’s brief period of prosperity.

    Final Thought: No matter how close Air Force has come to beating Navy in recent years and how many  what-ifs continue to haunt fans (What if Navy had blocked only one punt in 2008? What if Air Force capitalized in the red zone in 2007? What if the Falcons got more aggressive in overtime last season?), here’s the bottom line: Navy has found ways to win, while Air Force hasn’t. In 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

    Under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have established themselves as a contender in the Mountain West Conference, become a perennial bowl participant and last season ended a victory drought in bowl games.

    This season they have a chance to break into the upper tier of the MWC and get to another bowl. But those goals are dwarfed compared to ending the losing streak against the Midshipmen.

  • First Look: Wyoming

    Thu, April 29, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    This is Part 4 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We’re going in order, one per week, with this week’s focus on the Wyoming Cowboys.

    Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ first three opponents: Northwestern State, BYU and Oklahoma.

    Dave Christensen (2nd year)
    2009 Record: 7-6 (4-4, 5th place in the MWC)
    2009 vs. AF: Lost, 10-0
    2009 in a Sentence: Wyoming took off once eventual Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels took over at quarterback, and the Cowboys – picked to finish last in the MWC in the preseason – finished 7-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl in Christensen’s first season.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 7/7
    Roster Report: Carta-Samuels, who was recruited by Air Force, will give the Cowboys a dynamic player under center for the next three seasons, barring injury.

    The 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback is mobile, can throw with accuracy and makes the Cowboys’ spread attack go. Last season he completed 191-of-326 passes for 1,953 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions and added 366 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Perhaps even more impressive, he showed a penchant for coming through in pressure situations, leading the Cowboys to five come-from-behind victories – over UNLV, 30-27; Florida Atlantic, 30-28; San Diego State, 30-27; Colorado State, 17-16; and Fresno State, 35-28 in double overtime.

    Carta-Samuels will have more weapons surrounding him this season, as Wyoming improved its offensive skill positions in the offseason. Receivers DeJay Lester and Mazi Ogbonna both transferred into Wyoming from Utah’s Snow College where they combined for 67 catches for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. They will join senior receiver David Leonard, an honorable mention All-MWC performer in 2009 when he caught 77 passes, and sophomore running back Alvester Alexander. In 2009 Alexander started just four games but led Wyoming with 640 rushing yards, including a career-best 137 against Fresno State in the bowl.

    Christensen also said the Cowboys increased their team speed “drastically” from 2009 and improved their offensive line, which has three starters back. All that should help Carta-Samuels in 2010.

    “We didn’t utilize all of our offense last year,” Christensen said. “I think personnel dictated that a lot, but I think we can start moving toward what we originally envisioned for the spread when we came here. We have better-suited personnel to do what we want to in our offense.

    “We’ll put more of our offense in this season. Part of that is due to Austyn’s growth in his first year, and we’ve also brought more playmakers into our program with these first two recruiting classes.”

    Defensively, the Cowboys will shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set.

    “I thought our players adapted well to that,” in the spring, Christensen said.

    Back on defense is inside linebacker Brian Hendricks, who made 116 tackles last season, including a single-game record 23 against the Falcons, and earned second-team All-MWC honors.

    The Cowboys’ secondary should be experienced and very strong. Brothers Marcell and Tashaun Gipson return to man the cornerback positions, and both Wyoming’s starting safeties return as well – senior free safety Chris Prosinski (a second-team All-MWC choice) and sophomore strong safety Shamiel Gary.

    Also back will be sophomore kicker Ian Watts, who made 12-of-15 field goals last season, including game-winners against UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State, and honorable mention All-MWC punter Austin McCoy.

    Fast Fact: Air Force has won four straight games over the Cowboys. In the three victories under Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, the Cowboys have scored just 15 points and one touchdown.

    What Caught My Eye: The first two-thirds of Wyoming’s schedule. Brutal.

    After opening up against Southern Utah of the Football Championship Subdivision, here’s the Cowboys’ slate (with no bye week): at Texas, Boise State, Air Force, at Toledo, at TCU, Utah, at BYU.

    So the Cowboys face national powers Texas and Boise State, a good Toledo team (it drilled Colorado last season) and the four teams that finished above them in the MWC, all in a seven-week span. Yikes.

    The Air Force-Wyoming game will be really interesting – and it might come down to which team has more left in the tank. The Falcons face BYU and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks before meeting the Cowboys, while the Cowboys have Texas and Boise State.

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force minus-3.5

    Final Thought: As Air Force sets its sights on breaking into the MWC’s “Big Three” of TCU, BYU and Utah, it needs to watch its back. There are several teams from the bottom half of the league that seem to be on the rise, and chief among them is Wyoming.

    The Cowboys appear to have hit a home run with the hire of Christensen, who managed to implement a high-octane offense while simultaneously bringing the “tough” back to “Cowboy Tough.”

    Air Force has won four straight games over the Cowboys, but all four were physical, tough and tightly contested contests (especially 2007 and 2009). Expect another this season.