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Air Force sneaks up on great year 

They've cheered the likes of quarterbacks such as Dee Dowis, Beau Morgan and Chance Harridge; fullbacks led by John Kershner, Pat Evans, Andy Smith, Jason Jones and Spanky Gilliam; and halfbacks including Mike Brown, Anthony Roberson, Jake Campbell and Greg Johnson.

Countless times, Falcon followers have fully understood when someone from that group broke through with a truly special afternoon. They could tell if Dowis, Harridge or anyone was having a 200-yard day, even 150.

But those AFA fans never had seen anything like what took place last Saturday at Falcon Stadium.

Chad Hall fooled them all the way to the top of the record book.

If you had taken a poll of the happy customers leaving after Air Force's convincing 30-10 victory against Army, asking them how many yards Hall had run for against the Black Knights, everyone would have known the Air Force senior had a good day. The consensus answer surely would've been 150 yards at the most, on an afternoon that felt more like early September than a few days past Halloween.

Hall finished the day with 275 yards, breaking his own single-game AFA record of 256 set last month against Colorado State. Breakaway runs of 58 and 52 yards padded the total, but he still had 165 yards on 32 other carries. Throw in 19 yards receiving and 39 yards returning kicks, and Hall ran up 333 all-purpose yards, another AFA record. Perhaps because he scored just one touchdown, it seemed like half that.

But those kinds of numbers attract attention bowl attention. November is the month when the second-tier bowl games begin focusing on teams that will help them stand out, satisfying the TV folks and attracting a crowd. The bowls look for more than just a winning record, the basic qualifying measure. They look for star players, feel-good stories, teams that can convince neutral fans in those host cities to show up.

Air Force is meeting those standards. And if the Falcons could go to South Bend, Ind., this weekend and knock off Notre Dame on national TV, they might even be courted by multiple bowls with ties to the Mountain West Conference.

Any second-level bowl would want a team such as Air Force, with highlight reels full of big plays by Hall and senior quarterback Shaun Carney, not to mention the other AFA offensive weapons and a swarming defense.

At 7-3, the Falcons have proven they deserve a bowl, and they have a shot at 10 wins overall for the first time in a decade. Troy Calhoun should be in line for some honors as coach of the year, at least in the conference. He and his staff should be able to use this season, and especially the enhanced attention of any bowl game, for some serious recruiting over the winter.

What's a realistic expectation for Air Force? Probably the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on New Year's Eve, starting a bowl tripleheader that day on ESPN. Having Air Force draw from its various bases in Texas should appeal to bowl organizers. It doesn't hurt, either, that earlier this season the Falcons defeated Texas Christian, whose stadium happens to be the site of the Armed Forces Bowl.

If that happens, Air Force likely would face an opponent from the Pac-10, perhaps Oregon State, UCLA or even California. If the Pac-10 doesn't have enough bowl-qualified teams, Fort Worth would choose from elsewhere. For now, it looks to be Oregon State or UCLA.

First, though, the Falcons have to worry about Notre Dame, which is obviously stinging from its three-overtime loss to Navy. It's not the best week to be facing the Fighting Irish, unless enough of their players already are looking ahead to next year. Beating even a 1-8 Notre Dame, though, would raise Air Force's bowl stock.

This AFA team, as more and more opponents have learned, is sneaky good.

That starts with a 5-foot-7, 180-pound tailback who looks like he should be playing at the small-college level until he turns nothing into a 50-yard run.

Hall, and all of the Falcons, deserve to end this season with much more than just the satisfaction of having turned around the AFA program in 2007.

They're on the big stage now, going to Notre Dame and playing on NBC.

And they're heading for a bowl game, somewhere. Fort Worth would be just fine.

SPORTS SHOT

Busted Broncos
Now 3-5, Denver goes to Kansas City with four of the next six on the road. With so many injuries, this could turn into 5-11 or 4-12, the Broncos' worst year since the bad old days of the early 1970s.

Worth checking
Air Force began the week favored by 2 points over Notre Dame, something that hasn't happened in ... ever? Might take all week to know for sure.

Now what?
After having just 14,000 or so season-ticket holders this season, what can the Colorado Rockies expect in 2008? They were selling close to 40,000 season tickets in their early years.

Near the end?
You have to wonder if Sonny Lubick might be retiring at Colorado State. He's 1-8 now, 1-15 since mid-2006. This week at New Mexico looks bleak, followed by Georgia Southern and Wyoming at home.
RALPH'S PICKS
Now we know it's the Year of the Upset, with Navy beating Notre Dame for the first time since Roger Staubach called the Midshipmen's signals. And last week, you read it here. Week 11:

Upset specials
Oklahoma State (taking 5) vs. Kansas

Texas Christian (taking 7) at Brigham Young
California (taking 4) vs. Southern Cal

Against the spread
Louisville (taking 15) at West Virginia
New Mexico (giving 10) vs. Colorado State
Iowa State (taking 5) vs. Colorado
Army (taking 18) vs. Rutgers
Texas (giving 6) vs. Texas Tech

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