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Falcons enjoy view from 9-3


Troy Calhoun had dried out from the first Gatorade shower of his life, and now the Air Force head coach was trying his best to put the Falcons' 9-3 regular season into proper perspective.

He was obviously savoring Air Force's home finale last Saturday, a thoroughly complete 55-23 victory against San Diego State, with a batch of statistics that will force many record-book revisions. Such as:

569 yards rushing, most ever in a Mountain West Conference league game and most by Air Force against a major-college opponent since 1988;

670 yards total offense, most by Air Force in a Mountain West game and third-most in AFA history;

4,019 career all-purpose yards by Chad Hall, most in AFA history, topping Ernie Jennings' 3,848 in 1968-70;

6-2 in the Mountain West, easily the Falcons' best record in league play since the MWC formed in 1999.

6-0 at home, only the third perfect home record in AFA history, matching 1985 and 1998.

The head coach enjoyed some other numbers just as much. Finishing 3-0 in November is huge, but Calhoun also noted the Falcons won six of their last seven. Scoring 30, 41 and 55 points in those final three games, for a 42-point average, proves the offense was improving instead of wearing down later in the season, as Air Force has done repeatedly through the years.

All that, and more, from a team that outside observers picked to be near the bottom of the conference.

Calhoun freely admitted that, after he arrived as Fisher DeBerry's replacement, he never would have envisioned such a rapid turnaround, from 4-8 to 9-3.

"In January, and again in March [going into spring practice], I didn't think we were close," Calhoun said. "There was no way we could have expected to be playing in a bowl."

Or to be knocking off five teams that defeated Air Force in 2006. Or whipping Notre Dame at South Bend. Or running for almost 300 yards a game, despite not obsessing on the triple-option anymore.

One question came to mind: So, coach, which single game told you and your staff that a season such as this might actually be possible?

My guess would have been Utah, a tough 20-12 road victory on Sept. 8 that made the Falcons 2-0 and stunned the Utes, who were among the conference favorites.

Calhoun had a different answer.

"I'd have to say Colorado State," he said, referring to Air Force's 45-21 rout of the Rams on Oct. 13 at Fort Collins.

Granted, CSU was winless going into that game, but the Falcons hadn't won at Hughes Stadium in 10 years. They were 4-2 but had lost two straight on the road (Brigham Young and Navy) and then struggled to win at home against Nevada-Las Vegas.

When the CSU game was delayed at the start by a thunderstorm, it could have been disastrous. Instead, Air Force was unstoppable, with 385 rushing yards, a big edge in time of possession and only one punt all day. Hall ran for 256 yards, an AFA all-time record for a single game (which he later broke with 275 against Army).

"Doing that at CSU, under those circumstances, told us a lot," Calhoun said. "It's been really rewarding to see this guys sprout, grow and develop."

Still, even after his Falcons recorded their ninth win of the season, Calhoun made it clear that "we're still not close to where we need to be, program-wise, for the long haul."

In other words, he'd rather not be going into a new year (as Air Force will in 2008) with virtually no experience at quarterback and with other major holes to fill, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. (Six of those eight starters are graduating.)

Then there's Hall, the catalyst for so much of the offense's success. On that subject, Calhoun agreed that while touting Hall for the Heisman Trophy might not be realistic, the senior runner-receiver "definitely has had an All-American year in every part of the game, including blocking, and that doesn't even include what great leadership he has given us."

The same goes for quarterback Shaun Carney, who completed 62 percent of his passes this season and threw only two interceptions in the final eight games. Having that kind of accuracy, using multiple receivers (including the tight ends, much more than in years past) and also being a running threat helped give Air Force the offensive balance Calhoun wanted.

Now, in a bowl game, Carney has a chance to join Marty Louthan (1983), Bart Weiss (1985), Rob Perez (1991) and Blane Morgan (1997-98) as the only AFA quarterbacks to produce at least 10 wins in a single season.

"And if we can get that 10th one," Calhoun said, "I'll be happy to take another shower."

Sports Shot
Busy Friday Don't leave the couch: Nebraska at Colorado, 10 a.m., ABC; Wyoming at CSU, noon, The Mtn.; Arkansas at LSU, 12:30 p.m. CBS; Texas at Texas A&M, 1:30 p.m., ABC; Boise State at Hawaii, 7 p.m., ESPN2.
Next in line If you wonder who might replace Sonny Lubick at Colorado State, start with ex-CSU player and Pueblo native J.D. Brookhart, now head coach at Akron.
Who's catching? Colorado should think twice about bringing back catcher Yorvit Torrealba. He calls a good game and can hit at Coors Field, but he can't throw out base-stealers anywhere.
Bonds bombast What should baseball do to Barry Bonds, now that the home-run king has been indicted? Nothing, yet. If his self-destruction continues, Bonds will be removed from the record book.

Ralph's picks
Oregon, Oklahoma and Penn State fell last week, all as predicted here.
What's next? Week 13:
Upset specials

- Oklahoma State (taking 14) at Oklahoma

- Alabama (taking 6) at Auburn

- Nebraska (taking 6) at Colorado

Against the spread

- Florida State (taking 13) at Florida

- Brigham Young (giving 4) vs. Utah

- South Carolina (taking 3) vs. Clemson

- Missouri (taking 2) at Kansas

- Arkansas (taking 12) at LSU

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