End Zone 

Already, a major crossroads for Air Force

click to enlarge With senior quarterback Shaun Carney (5) running the - show, Air Forces offense looked sharp in the season - opener. - DAVID ARMER/RJV
  • David Armer/RJV
  • With senior quarterback Shaun Carney (5) running the show, Air Forces offense looked sharp in the season opener.

One week into his first season as a head coach, Troy Calhoun already is sounding and acting like a veteran gearing up for an important test.

Air Force's new boss knew better than to be too excited about the Falcons' season-opening 34-3 victory against South Carolina State even though, as Michigan found out against Appalachian State, playing at home against lesser opponents from the South guarantees nothing.

Immediately after the game, Calhoun was smart enough to praise his team and staff for avoiding the pitfalls of any program in transition (case in point: Colorado's opening debacle last year in Dan Hawkins' debut against Montana State).

Air Force's easy win might have sent some positive signals to the fans, who are happy to see the opened-up offense and the no-holds-barred defense. But less than an hour after the final horn Saturday, Calhoun already was looking ahead.

With much reason.

This week's trip to Utah for the Mountain West Conference opener, kicking off at 4 p.m., Saturday, will tell us far more about what to expect from Air Force this season.

To call it a pivotal moment, even in just Calhoun's second game, would be a massive understatement. This game is huge not because losing would be devastating, because that's not the case, but because winning would give the Falcons a chance to achieve so much more this fall.

Playing at Utah, which has beaten Air Force four consecutive years, will tell Calhoun and the world far more about the Falcons and how they might stack up in the Mountain West Conference. It will answer all kinds of questions, starting with how the AFA players, coaches and new systems will hold up against a bowl-caliber opponent. It will give us a chance to see how Calhoun and his staff deal with resorting to Plan B (and, likely, Plan C), based on what surprises the Utes unleash.

Utah does have some injury problems, having lost its quarterback and No. 1 tailback in a frustrating 24-7 defeat last week at Oregon State. But as Calhoun was quick to point out, Utah won at Air Force last year without either of those players.

To borrow a phrase from Calhoun's predecessor, Fisher DeBerry, this probably will be one of those games that Air Force puts "in the hands of the quarterback." If senior Shaun Carney comes through and continues to show a good comfort level with the new offense, the Falcons can win. If he struggles against Utah's swarming defense, it might be a long afternoon.

The guess here is, unless Air Force self-destructs, this will be a close, tense game, probably low-scoring.

But with TCU coming to Falcon Stadium for a national TV game next Thursday night, Sept. 13, followed by challenging trips to Brigham Young and Navy, it's important for the Falcons to build confidence (and victories) now.

Can Air Force win at Utah? Possibly, and definitely with a little luck, but don't count on it. This one could wind up being what some fans might view as a moral victory, filled with positive signs except on the scoreboard.

Rest assured, though, that term moral victory is not in Calhoun's vocabulary, even after just one game as a head coach. And it shouldn't be.

Bits and pieces: To everyone insisting Appalachian State's victory at Michigan was the biggest upset ever, stop hyperventilating. Appalachian State won the past two Division I-AA national titles. That shocker in Ann Arbor is not even close to Texas-El Paso's 23-16 win against No. 7-ranked Brigham Young on Oct. 26, 1985. BYU had won 25 league games in a row, was coming off the 1984 national title and would go on to finish 11-3, handing Air Force (12-1) its only loss. Meanwhile, that upset was UTEP's only win in a 1-10 season, wrapping up an 11-year run in which the Miners won just 15 games and lost 111. It's the No. 1 upset on my list.

So, you don't like football or baseball, and you need options for the next week. You're in luck with the tennis U.S. Open, which runs through Sunday on CBS. The women's semifinals are Friday (10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Saturday, the men's semifinals run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by the women's final at 6. The men's final starts at 2 p.m. Sunday. ... Also, you can watch the WNBA Finals, Phoenix vs. Detroit, with Game 2 at 1:30 p.m., Saturday on ESPN, and Game 3 at 7 p.m., Tuesday on ESPN2.

As for the Broncos, they're one of four road favorites in Week 1, giving three points to Buffalo. So many people are simply assuming Denver will win, but don't forget the Broncos stunk in losing road openers the past two years, at Miami in 2005 and St. Louis last year. Something tells me the Bills will extend that streak Sunday, because Jay Cutler isn't quite ready to carry Denver and the defense now has only five linebackers.

Sports Shot

Close to home See Colorado College's football opener, 1 p.m. Saturday at Washburn Field, against Pomona-Pitzer.

See the headlines? Air Force men's basketball went 4-1 in exhibitions over the weekend in British Columbia.

Worth watching More than 13 hours of college games Saturday, topped by: Miami at Oklahoma, 10 a.m., ABC; Oregon at Michigan, 1:30 p.m., ABC; Air Force at Utah, 4, the Mtn.; Virginia Tech at LSU, 7:15, ESPN; Colorado at Arizona State, 8:15, FSRM.

Warm up the Zamboni Colorado Avalanche opens training camp Sept. 13 in Denver, with intrasquad game at 11 a.m., Sept. 16 at Air Force's Cadet Ice Arena.

Ready for prime time After their 10 a.m. kickoff turned into an overtime classic, perhaps Colorado vs. Colorado State can move later in the day next year. Ralph's picks We gave you two "upsets" last week, Georgia Tech over Notre Dame and Wyoming over Virginia. That won't always happen, but it's worth the try:

Possible surprises

Air Force as 8-point underdog at Utah

Brigham Young visiting favored UCLA

Texas Christian as road underdog at Texas

Against the spread

Navy (taking 15) at Rutgers

Oregon (taking 9) at Michigan

Boston College (giving 13.5) against N.C. State

Colorado (taking 14) at Arizona State

LSU (giving 12) at home against Virginia Tech


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