Another August has arrived, bringing its usual transition in Colorado's sports focus. Once again, we cringe as the baseball Rockies lose their grip and hope, falling out of contention. Once again, the Denver Broncos return to center stage, with fans riveted even to their exhibition games.
And once again, the state's major-college football programs begin preparing for the new season, just a little more than three weeks away.
But if you're wondering why there isn't much buzz surrounding Air Force, Colorado and Colorado State heading into the fall of 2013, it's for good reason. They're not exactly bubbling with optimism.
In fact, this could turn into the worst cumulative year for the Falcons, Buffaloes and Rams since 2006, when they combined for a 10-26 record (AFA and CSU at 4-8, CU at 2-10). Of course, last autumn was only a notch better, adding up to 11-26 (AFA at 6-7, CSU 4-8, CU 1-11). In fact, only once in the past eight years have those three put together a winning total, 20-18 in 2008.
How bad could it be in 2013? Let's start with Colorado, with new head coach Mike MacIntyre inheriting the Pac-12's worst outfit, lacking experience, speed and playmakers. We're talking 2-10 at best, perhaps 1-11 if the Buffs lose their opener to CSU (which could happen).
Then there's Colorado State, which has eight returning starters on both offense and defense but still seems a year away in head coach Jim McElwain's second season. Some think the Rams have a shot at a bowl, but from this view they're looking at no better than 4-9. (They're playing 13 games because of a trip to Hawaii.)
That leaves Air Force, with its impressive streak of six consecutive bowl games under head coach Troy Calhoun, but the stinging memory of a 6-7 finish last year and being thumped 33-14 by Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl. Beyond that, the Falcons have only three returning starters on offense and five on defense, and they were totally ignored in the Mountain West Conference's preseason all-league picks.
Kale Pearson looks to be the quarterback and he's fast, but he's never started a game or thrown a college touchdown pass. His competition, Jaleel Awini, can throw well and might have to play in catch-up situations. Only one back (Jon Lee) and one receiver (Ty MacArthur) have proven themselves, so depth is a concern at those skilled positions, and on the offensive line.
Then there's the defense, with new starters at all four linebacker spots. Junior safety Christian Spears will be solid, as are defensive ends Alex Hansen and Joe Champaign. But it's hard to envision the unit as a whole being any better than last year, when Air Force lost four of its last five games and was outscored 150-59 in those four defeats.
The early forecasters are pegging Air Force around 3-9, and they'll be right if the Falcons stumble early. My usual approach to projecting each season is to consider the games they should win, the games they won't, and the ones that could go either way. I see only three "should" games: Colgate, Army and Nevada-Las Vegas, all at home. The "won't" list includes Boise State, Navy, San Diego State and Notre Dame.
That leaves five uncertain games, which will determine the Falcons' course: Sept. 7, Utah State; Sept. 21, Wyoming; Sept. 28, at Nevada; Nov. 8, at New Mexico; Nov. 30, at Colorado State. Lose them all, which could happen, and it's 3-9.
Everything could depend on whether Air Force can knock off Utah State, which has a veteran team led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton and a strong defense coming off an 11-2 record last year (when the Aggies nearly won at Wisconsin), but also a new coach in Matt Wells and no experience against the Air Force option.
If the Falcons lose that one, which is probable, my guess is a 4-8 finish. And that could mean 10-27 for Air Force, CSU and CU, making 2013 a year to forget.
Or, perhaps, a year just to follow the Broncos.
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