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Holiday football indigestion 

End Zone

Another Thanksgiving weekend has arrived, which should mean plenty of time to debate and analyze the particulars of how the football season has unfolded.

Except in Colorado, where the positives are few and far between. Vultures are circling around Boulder, disbelief reigns in Fort Collins, the legions of Bronco Nation are in catatonic shock, and disappointed Air Force faces the possibility of a third straight bowl game in Fort Worth, Texas.

Let's start with the closest thing to a positive. Air Force did finish 7-5, despite the painfully familiar script of its 38-21 loss at Brigham Young. If you're a longtime fan of the Falcons, you had to feel like you had seen that game at least a dozen times over the past three decades. BYU quarterback Max Hall deftly picked apart the AFA defense, just as so many others before him: Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer, to name a few. Air Force's offense, meanwhile, never was really in the game.

That loss means the Falcons probably will play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31 for the third consecutive time, most likely against Southern Methodist from neighboring Dallas. SMU has made fast progress under second-year head coach June Jones, known for his prolific offenses and for guiding Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl after a 12-0 regular season in 2007.

Air Force would likely prefer another destination, but the Falcons won't mind another trip to Texas, where they've been treated well before close losses to California and Houston the past two years. The other option would be the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 19, likely against Fresno State. But the folks in Albuquerque would be happy to get an excited Wyoming if the Cowboys can defeat Colorado State on Friday at Fort Collins.

Regardless, expect Air Force to focus on winning its first bowl since the 2000 season (against Fresno State in the now-defunct Silicon Valley Classic). And then on going to a better bowl in 2010.

The mood is totally different at Boulder, with Colorado hosting Big 12 North champion Nebraska on Friday. That game should have been for the division title, but CU's repeated stumbles sabotaged that. Now the issue is whether the Buffs can save head coach Dan Hawkins' job; his status will be evaluated after the Nebraska game. Coming close last Thursday at Oklahoma State was somewhat encouraging, but OSU didn't have quarterback Zac Robinson and CU's defense still caved in at crucial times.

My guess is, if Colorado loses to Nebraska by anything more than a touchdown, Hawkins might be gone by Monday. It's not just because of all the losses; it's about CU desperately needing to turn around its recruiting immediately, or else sinking even deeper into futility.

You won't hear any of that talk at Colorado State, despite the Rams' stunning collapse from 3-0 to 3-8. Head coach Steve Fairchild might make some staff changes, but his job is secure since he's an alum and won the New Mexico Bowl last year. CSU will lose seven offensive starters and 15 seniors overall, but the outlook should be better for 2010.

Finally, we could try to explain the Broncos, but that might be impossible. Their implosion has been dramatic on both sides of the ball, and it hasn't been the direct result of injuries or controversy. After Denver's 6-0 start followed by its open date, everything simply unraveled.

Sure, the schedule got tougher. But losing at Washington? That should've never happened. The most disconcerting part is that the coaching staff hasn't appeared to have a clue about how to stop the slide. Denver must wake up offensively to take the load off its defense, but how? More long passes would be easier said than done. Emphasizing the run won't work if defenses are stacked up to stop it.

Perhaps having another break, from Thanksgiving night until the next game Dec. 6 at Kansas City, will give the Broncos a chance to recover. For now, though, that 6-0 start seems like it never even happened.

routon@csindy.com

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