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Bowl defeats expose Buffs, Falcons 

Who would have known? Who would have thought Colorado and Air Force would tumble in their back-to-back bowl games, following almost exactly opposite scripts?

Who would have expected CU to look so flat and, yes, unprepared?

Who would have expected the AFA defense to give up so many big plays?

Within 20 hours early this week, the 2007 football season came to a most unusual end for Colorado's most prominent college programs.

Sunday night in Shreveport, La., Colorado inexplicably failed to show up for its Independence Bowl game against Alabama. This wasn't just a hiccup, because the Buffaloes remained comatose until trailing 27-0 late in the half, which took away any pleasure from their late comeback in a 30-24 loss.

Monday in Fort Worth, Texas, it was Air Force's turn to suffer. Despite looking sensational for the first 20 minutes in building a 21-0 lead, the Falcons couldn't stop a swift California offense and its uncanny backup quarterback, Kevin Riley. Instead of the academy's first bowl victory since 2000, Air Force stumbled away from the Armed Forces Bowl with a 42-36 defeat that was painful in more ways than the final score.

So perhaps the next question should be, what do those outcomes portend for 2008?

The short answer, in each case: Don't get your hopes up too high.

Colorado

The easy way out here would be to give the Buffs a pass for their bowl stinker, especially with the prospect of quarterback Cody Hawkins being around three more years along with some promising receivers. But something about CU's inconsistency doesn't seem right.

Beating Oklahoma and Texas Tech showed what the Buffs could do. But looking so inept at other times, particularly in the 55-10 home loss to Missouri but also in falling so far behind to an Alabama team that was nothing special, suggests that head coach Dan Hawkins doesn't have a complete grip on his program.

Until the Buffs are able to develop more stability on both sides of the ball, and until they can recruit the kind of speed that will stand up to opponents from other power conferences, let's not fall into the trap of expecting too much from Colorado.

Dan Hawkins turned Boise State into a winner, and that team did win a BCS bowl the year after he left. But being dominant in the Western Athletic Conference doesn't guarantee anything in the Big 12 or against the nation's truly elite programs.

Yes, the Buffs did improve this season, but they still finished 6-7. And, today, they don't look capable of anything better than 7-5 or (at best) 8-4 in 2008, though recruiting could affect that forecast in some ways. More likely, though, there will be no quantum leaps for Colorado.

Air Force

Head coach Troy Calhoun and his staff did an excellent job preparing for the bowl game, and the Falcons did everything they could offensively to win.

But there was a reason Cal rated as high as No. 2 in September, and that talent exposed the AFA defense's flaws and vulnerabilities in ways that most other opponents (except for BYU, New Mexico and Navy) couldn't do.

The guess here is that Calhoun, upon analyzing the bowl, also will regret a handful of play calls on second and third downs with only short yardage needed for first downs or touchdowns some close to the goal line. Those calls seemed too unimaginative, didn't work and negatively influenced some key offensive series. And other plays (including misdirection) that had driven defenses nuts all season weren't part of the game plan. That's probably because of Cal's speed, but it was surprising that they didn't come into play as the game wore on.

Losing senior quarterback Shaun Carney in the third quarter, of course, was devastating. It's possible the Falcons still could have found a way to win with Carney in charge, because he had played so well until his knee injury. But without him, we also got a glimpse into what Air Force will have to go through in 2008 with others learning how to run the show.

Besides Carney, this entire senior group carried the Falcons. It underlined a constant for the academy: From my 30 years of observing the AFA program, strong senior classes have been the most predictable common thread on all of the best Falcon teams. More than actual talent, more than quarterbacking, more than anything.

It's too early to know whether Air Force can match the 9-3 regular season of 2007. But if you asked Calhoun today if he'd take 9-3 again, he almost certainly would say yes. More realistically, the Falcons will endure a few additional lumps next season, before re-emerging in 2009 and beyond.

That's still the brightest outlook Air Force has had in this decade.

And, to be honest, it's more than Colorado can expect in the year ahead.

routon@csindy.com


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RALPH'S PICKS
Last of the bowls, first of the NFL playoffs:
Bowl games

Virginia Tech (giving 3) over Kansas
Rutgers (giving 10) over Ball State
Tulsa (giving 4) over Bowling Green
LSU (giving 4) over Ohio State
Wild-card weekend
Seattle (giving 4) over Washington
Pittsburgh (taking 1) over Jacksonville
NY Giants (taking 3) over Tampa Bay
San Diego (giving 9) over Tennessee

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