AFA, CU on track at halfway mark 

Forget the preseason bravado, when talk is cheap and everyone is still unbeaten.

Results matter, and halfway through the 2007 football season, Air Force and Colorado are delivering. In a year when both were considered to be potentially but not dramatically on the upswing, the Falcons and Buffaloes are 4-2 and dreaming of bowls.

Nobody is making postseason plans just yet, especially with dangerous road games facing both this week. Colorado must go to Kansas State, which is on a yo-yo after winning at Texas on Sept. 29 but then losing at home last week to rival Kansas. Air Force ventures to Colorado State, with the Rams stinging from yet another last-minute loss, this one to San Diego State, making it 12 consecutive losses for CSU dating to last October.

Oddsmakers are giving Air Force and Colorado no respect. Both are underdogs by a field goal or slightly more, based on previous opponents more than anything. CSU, you'll recall, played now-No. 2 California surprisingly tough in a 34-28 loss on Sept. 8 at Fort Collins.

So what has made the most difference for the Falcons and Buffs in jumping out to 4-2? For starters, they're beating teams they lost to a year ago. Air Force has done that three times, against Utah, TCU and Nevada-Las Vegas. Same for Colorado, against Oklahoma, CSU and Baylor.

Both head coaches have succeeded in staying low-key and not overreacting to highs or lows. Air Force's Troy Calhoun knew better than to create false optimism after his 3-0 start, and that steadiness helped the program recover from understandable losses at Brigham Young and Navy. Colorado's Dan Hawkins didn't lose spirit after his offense looked so bad in losses to Arizona State and Florida State.

Both teams have improved in being able to run against decent defenses. Already, the Falcons have had four runners with 100-yard games. CU's three-game win streak has coincided with the return of senior tailback Hugh Charles, who was injured in the opener against CSU and missed the two defeats.

Quarterbacks have made a difference as well. AFA senior Shaun Carney has been consistent, and his zig-zagging, 71-yard touchdown run broke UNLV in that 31-14 victory last week. Cody Hawkins, Colorado's redshirt freshman, now has the CU offense beginning to resemble the Boise State machine his dad put together.

The best news is that the Falcons and Buffs are beyond having to win their next game or else. They have momentum this week, but even if both lose Saturday, it won't be cataclysmic.

Colorado has the tougher test with a national audience (7:15 p.m., ESPN2), but if Cody Hawkins is on target and Charles keeps KSU's defense honest, the Buffs could outscore the Wildcats.

Air Force knows Colorado State is fragile (3:30 p.m., the mtn.), but Rams quarterback Caleb Haynie is capable of shredding any defense, and the Falcons looked far too porous defensively against UNLV.

It's actually simple. If either CU or Air Force is destined for something like 8-4, these games Saturday have to be wins. Otherwise, they should be borderline for bowl consideration. One more common trait: They'll be back home next week for tougher, more pivotal challenges Air Force against Wyoming, Colorado against Kansas.

But at least we're still talking about the Buffs and Falcons positively ... and it's already mid-October.

Rockies rolling: As the National League Championship Series begins with Colorado at Arizona, the baseball world is paying full attention to the Rockies.

After four days to catch a breath, rest their pitchers and try to avoid getting caught up in fans' euphoria, the Rockies will try to flip the switch back on. All logic and baseball lore would insist Colorado has used up its luck. But if manager Clint Hurdle continues to make the right moves and the pitching (especially the bullpen) can hold together, who knows?

Something tells me it will be Colorado in five or Arizona in seven.

Contest winners: The "Ralph's Back" trivia contest's final winners are Chris Buongiorno, Kathleen Gannon, Danny Eurich, Terry McIntire and Randy Hansen. We have Broncos and CC hockey tickets available; call Lori Green at 577-4545, with ID ready.

Now, the real answers: Where did the Sky Sox play before Colorado Springs? Hawaii. What team drafted John Elway in 1983 and traded him to Denver? Baltimore. What famous college hoops coach began as an active-duty assistant at Air Force? Dean Smith. Name the former Colorado College hockey coach who won the NHL's Stanley Cup: Bob Johnson. What local car dealer was a standout baseball player for CC in the late 1940s? Will Perkins. What was the last Springs high school football team to win a state title in the highest class? Mitchell, in 1981. What year did the Colorado Springs World Arena open? 1998.


Sports Shot

Smart scheduling: Baseball and TBS/TNT set up the division series without two games starting at the same time; worst we've had is a little overlap when early games have gone long.

Weekly check: Hard to believe, but Oakland now leads the AFC Worst alone at 2-2, with San Diego, Denver and Kansas City at 2-3.

Another famous ex-Sox: Cleveland manager Eric Wedge spent part of the 1993 season as a catcher with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Don't miss it: New England at Dallas, best NFL game yet this season, 2:15 p.m. Sunday, CBS.

See the headline? Al Sharpton says New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas should apologize to black women for saying he holds them to different standards than white women when using the term "bitch"; Thomas refuses to apologize.

Ralph's picks

All good things must come to an end, and the upset specials finally struck out last week when LSU came back to sink Florida. We still haven't found anyone alive who picked Stanford to win at Southern Cal. Week 7:

Upset specials
Wake Forest (taking 6) vs. Florida State
Louisville (taking 10) at Cincinnati
Texas A&M (taking 8) at Texas Tech

Against the spread
Arkansas (giving 3) vs. Auburn
Air Force (taking 3.5) at Colorado State
Wyoming (giving 3.5) vs. New Mexico
Missouri (taking 9.5) at Oklahoma
Notre Dame (taking 14) vs. Boston College


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