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Time to salvage seasons

End Zone



November is the month when most college football seasons are made. Or not.

Every year, teams that have looked so promising from Labor Day to Halloween suddenly flame out. Likewise, others that have struggled and underachieved for two months just as rapidly can find themselves and finish on a roll.

So it makes sense for this space, in the final days of October, to assess the state's college teams and what we might see from them between now and Thanksgiving.

At this point, the trio of Air Force (4-4), Colorado State (3-5) and Colorado (2-5) all share the similar frustration of having fallen short of expectations. All have had their moments, even at times in defeat. But they're feeling unanimously disappointed, and with ample reason.

Can any of them turn it around in November? Perhaps.

Air Force: On the surface, it's hard to be overly negative in analyzing the Falcons, whose losses include 20-17 to unbeaten and highly ranked TCU, plus close road setbacks against Utah (23-16 in overtime), Navy (16-13 in overtime) and Minnesota (20-13 after leading in the second half). Those four teams have a combined record, today, of 23-7. It's also true Air Force has endured some costly injuries, particularly at quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker.

The latest bad news is sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz, after a gutsy effort leading the near-upset at Utah, being lost for at least several weeks after surgery for a broken hand. That brings back soph Tim Jefferson, whose ankle problems have ruined his year so far. If Jefferson can return with fresh legs and a sharp arm, perhaps the coaches will throw more again. But he also must show improvement on option reads, and the Falcons have to find a way to use their tight ends.

Unless the offense comes around fast, the AFA defense will wear down. But we'll know a lot after Saturday, when Air Force visits Colorado State (2 p.m., the mtn.) for a game that's huge to both sides. Beyond that, the Falcons should handle Army and Nevada-Las Vegas before finishing at Brigham Young. Unless Air Force can beat CSU, though, we're talking about no better than a 6-6 finish.

If they wind up 7-5, and TCU makes it to a Bowl Championship Series game, the Falcons could play in San Diego's Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23, perhaps against Stanford or Arizona State. At 6-6, they still could go to the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque and possibly face Idaho or Fresno State.

Colorado State: What a strange year for the Rams, who won their first three, including games against Colorado and Nevada, and have since lost five in a row. They're struggling, and have had enough second-half collapses that it's a psychological issue now. Still, it's not unrealistic for CSU to right the ship against Air Force and then put away UNLV, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Head coach Steve Fairchild probably wishes he had gone with a younger quarterback instead of inexperienced senior Grant Stucker, whose mobility will be tested by the aggressive Falcons. But the Rams' biggest concern is their defense, which has had some injuries as well as secondary breakdowns.

Even with a loss to Air Force, CSU still looks capable of waking up for a 6-6 finish and its second straight postseason trip, perhaps the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

Colorado: This was the perfect setup for a CU renaissance, with the Big 12's North Division in a collective down year. Even after all their troubles, if the Buffaloes had won last week at Kansas State, they would lead the division today. Instead, after laying another egg in Manhattan, CU again is exposed for its lack of cohesion and confidence. Quarterbacks Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins have wasted their chances, and that surprising victory over Kansas seems more like a fluke.

CU's stretch run includes Missouri, Texas A&M, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma State and Nebraska. That's ominous, even with three home games.

Don't be surprised if 2-5 turns into 3-9 or even 2-10. And the only drama might be waiting to see whether coach Dan Hawkins gets another chance.

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