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Fourth quarter for the Falcons


During an August conversation, Troy Calhoun perused the year's Air Force football schedule and knew what one of the questions would be.

With many difficult tests in the first six games, and given the Falcons' historic habit of starting fast and fading down the stretch, how would he, a first-year head coach, pace his team through a successful season?

He had an answer, even if it didn't seem totally sufficient at the time. Calhoun said he and his staff would focus on regular weightlifting workouts during the season to help the Falcons maintain strength and endurance through the 12-game marathon.

Now, more than two months later, Air Force has reached the fourth quarter of its 2007 schedule and it's hard to argue with the results of Calhoun's strategy.

Through three quarters of their season, the Falcons have gone 6-3 (the breakdown is 3-0, 1-2 and 2-1). That brings them to three more Saturdays that clearly will determine how the academy will remember this autumn.

Army at home, Notre Dame on the road, San Diego State at home. All could be wins. All could be losses.

If the Falcons follow their usual form of recent years, they'll go 1-2 at best and finish 7-5. Certainly, they showed their first signs of team fatigue in the second half last week at New Mexico, making a flurry of mistakes in letting a 31-28 lead slip away to a 34-31 loss.

The earlier two losses, at Brigham Young and Navy, were much easier to accept and learn from; blowing that game at New Mexico was painful. Was it another example of the demands on cadet-athletes leading to at least one meltdown each season?

The answer should come as soon as Saturday, when the Falcons play Army, but perhaps the main reason for the Albuquerque debacle was having to play a Thursday road game on short rest after a rugged battle the previous weekend against Wyoming. (Memo to AFA athletic department: How about asking the superintendent to issue an order refusing all future requests for Thursday games because the disruption means cadet-athletes miss more classes?)

This Air Force team deserves a better ending than another November slide. Senior runner-receiver Chad Hall has given the Falcons as much spark as any single player in the past decade. Senior quarterback Shaun Carney has led the adjustment to Calhoun's offense with a productive year, running and passing. The defense, powered by linebackers Drew Fowler and John Rabold along with cornerback Carson Bird, has changed its personality for the better.

Army will come here trying to salvage its season, which makes this game more dangerous. But Air Force, with a late surge instead of another closing tumble, could turn this into its best year since the 12-1 team of 1998, with a nice bowl game to boot.

It all depends on whether Troy Calhoun had the right idea back in August.

Series stuff: Did anyone else, watching the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, have flashbacks to the Denver Broncos' early Super Bowls? Good enough to get there, but then a serious reality check. Sure, the layoff hurt the Rockies. But the Red Sox hurt them far more. Colorado had the tying run at the plate eight times in the final two games and went 0 for 8. Ouch.

In retrospect, Colorado should have pitched Aaron Cook as early as Game 3, if not Game 2. ... Surely, Rockies management realizes now that the team could have used one more starting pitcher, another solid reliever and a power-hitting bat off the bench all of which were available in late July. ... And finally, something Boston and Colorado fans could surely agree on: How about a national e-mail petition demanding that FOX take way-over-the-hill analyst Tim McCarver off the air?

Bits and pieces: The Denver Broncos would have made news with a nice gesture, had the Rockies forced a Game 5 against Boston. Days ahead of time, Broncos management had offered to move the Denver-Green Bay radio broadcast from powerful KOA-AM 850 to a weaker sister station, so that more fans around the state would be able to hear the Rockies-Red Sox on Monday night. ... It was a big football weekend for the University of Colorado on two fronts. Knocking off Texas Tech, 31-26 at Lubbock, was CU's biggest road victory in several years, and gave the Buffaloes more hope this week at home against Missouri. The other news was the state's top high school prospect, Ponderosa linebacker Jon Major, committing to sign with Colorado. He's almost certainly a four-year starter. Now the Buffs need to find a top-notch tailback to replace senior Hugh Charles.


Game of the year II
Forget about New England-Dallas a few weeks ago. That pales next to the Patriots invading Indianapolis at 2:15 p.m. this Sunday on CBS (following Denver at Detroit, which kicks off at 11 a.m.).

Sigh of relief
That's coming from the NFL and Denver Broncos, who avoided the embarrassment of empty seats in the thousands Monday night when the World Series ended in four games.

In memory
Friends of longtime skating coach Pieter Kollen are invited to the World Skating Hall of Fame and Museum, 20 First St., from 4-6:30 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 8, to celebrate his life. His widow, Bonnie, will also attend.

Coach of the year
In college football, it's hard to overlook Dennis Erickson, who has Arizona State at 8-0 going to Oregon. Also, Boston College's Jeff Jagodzinski is 8-0 in his first year, with Heisman hopeful Matt Ryan at quarterback.


You would've done well in the bar's college pool with the picks here last week, such as Georgia over Florida, but that's old news. Week 10:
Upset specials
- Navy (taking 3.5) at Notre Dame
- Alabama (taking 7) vs. LSU
- Colorado (taking 4) vs. Missouri
Against the spread
- North Carolina State (taking 12.5) at Miami
- Texas (giving 3) at Oklahoma State
- Vanderbilt (taking 16) at Florida
- Cincinnati (taking 5) at South Florida
- BYU (giving 21) vs. Colorado State

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