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2007 Air Force Falcons
Posted Dec 31, 2007

2007 Air Force Falcons Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 Air Force Falcons

Recap: Pegged as an also-ran in the Mountain West before the season began, Air Force soared past expectations in 2007, winning six of its final seven games to finish in second place and earn a date with Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl.  First-year head coach Troy Calhoun was the architect of the revival at the academy, shrewdly increasing the role of playmaker Chad Hall, and getting sound contributions from a veteran defense.  Even after blowing a big lead to the Bears on New Year’s Eve, the Falcons can look back on last year as a truly remarkable season that began with very modest goals.            

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Chad Hall

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Drew Fowler

Biggest Surprise: Beating Utah and TCU, a couple of Mountain West heavyweights, within a five-day span in September.  Early in the year, no one knew just how good these Falcons would become, so beating the Utes and Frogs forced the rest of the league to reevaluate its idea of a pecking order.     

Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl.  Midway through the second quarter, the Falcons were up by three touchdowns and in total control until QB Shaun Carney was lost with a knee injury and the Bear offense tore through Air Force en route to a 42-36 comeback victory.          

Looking Ahead: All of the momentum and goodwill that the Falcons amassed in 2007 will be useful in 2008.  Much of the senior leadership from last year’s nine-win team, including Carney and five other all-conference performers, needs to replaced if Air Force is to return to the postseason.

- 2007 Air Force Preview
2006 Air Force Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 9-

Sept. 1 S Carolina St W 34-3
Sept. 8 at Utah W 20-12
Sept. 13 TCU W 20-17 OT
Sept. 22 at BYU L 31-6
Sept. 29 at Navy L 31-20
Oct. 6 UNLV W 31-14
Oct. 13 at Colorado St W 45-21
Oct. 20
Wyoming W 20-12
Oct. 25 at New Mexico L 34-31
Nov. 3 Army W 30-10
Nov. 10 at Notre Dame W 41-24
Nov. 17
San Diego St W 55-23
Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 31 California L 42-36

Nov. 17
Air Force 55 ... San Diego State 23
Air Force tore off 569 rushing yards led by 163 yards and scoring runs from 54 and 31 yards out from Jim Ollis. Ty Paffett ran for scores from 54, 73 and four yards out on the way to a 42-17 lead, and then Shaun Carney and Chad Hall, who ran for two scores, made it a laugher with long scoring runs. San Diego State bombed away for 384 passing yards, with Kevin O'Connell running for a one-yard score and hitting Brett Swain for a nine-yard touchdown pass, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Player of the game: The Air Force offensive line for paving the way for 569 yards of rushing offense and eight touchdowns
Stat Leaders: San Diego State - Passing: Kevin O’Connell, 27-43, 384 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Brandon Sullivan, 11-30. Receiving: Chaz Schilens, 8-214
Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 8-14, 101 yds, 1 INT
Jim Ollis, 15-163, 2 TD. Receiving: Travis Dekker, 3-62
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Is there a hotter running game in America right now? All the parts were working against San Diego State with a devastating mix of speed and power from all the weapons. Three Falcons went over 100 yards allowing Shaun Carney to continue to relax and take the throws that are there rather than forcing anything big. With the win, Troy Calhoun got his program to the number two spot in the Mountain West. That's not bad for a first season.

Nov. 10
Air Force 41 ... Notre Dame 24
Air Force outgained Notre Dame 285 yards to 58 on the ground in a tougher win than the final score might indicate. After getting down early on a Ryan Harrison field goal and a 19-yard John Robold fumble recovery for a score, the Irish tied it up with a 28-yard Brandon Walker field goal and a two-yard John Carlson catch. And then the Falcons took over with a 21-point run on two Shaun Carney touchdown passes and an eight-yard Spencer Armstrong run. Jimmy Clausen threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a 21-yard play to David Grimes, but the Falcons were able to put it away with a one-yard Carney touchdown run with less than two minutes to play. Trevor Laws came up with 17 tackles for the Irish.

Player of the game: Air Force RB Chad Hall ran 32 times for 142 yards, and caught two passes for 31 yards
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 10-16, 120 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Chad Hall, 32-142. Receiving: Mark Root, 2-36
Notre Dame - Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 22-40, 246 yds, 3 TD
James Aldridge, 14-62. Receiving: David Grimes, 6-67, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Now Air Force is really rolling. The solid win over Notre Dame, even as bad as Notre Dame is, again validates what an amazing season Troy Calhoun is having in turning the program around. The run defense was fantastic, the offense balanced, maybe not in yards, but in effectiveness, and Chad Hall was Chad Hall again as the workhorse of the attack. A win over San Diego State next week would make the year truly special, and put the team in a position to win ten games.

Nov. 3
Air Force 30 ... Army 10
Chad Hall ran for 275 yards with a one-yard touchdown run, Shaun Carney ran for a five-yard score, and Ryan Harrison nailed field goals from 56 and 40 yards as part of a 20-point run to close out the Black Knights. Army managed just 181 yards of total offense with 26 on the ground, getting its points on a 22-yard Owen Tolson field goal and a two-yard Ernie Bernal touchdown catch off an interception of Carney down to set up the ball on the three. Air Fore held on to the ball for 35:16.
Player of the game: Air Force RB Chad Hall ran 34 times for 275 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 19 yards.
Stat Leaders: Army - Passing: Carson Williams, 14-33, 164 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Patrick Mealy, 13-31. Receiving: Corey Anderson, 3-40
Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 9-12, 105 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Chad Hall, 34-275 yds, 1 TD. Receiving: Chad Hall, 3-19

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Air Force quickly got back on track after the rough loss to New Mexico with a dominant defensive performance against Army and yet another brilliant day from Chad Hall, who's making a case for Mountain West Player of the Year (even though this wasn't a league game). The defense didn't let the Army running game breathe and only gave up a touchdown after being set up by a bad turnover. This is a fantastically coached team that's rolling again with a chance to make even more noise at Notre Dame this week. A ten-win season is actually possible.

Oct. 26
New Mexico 34 ... Air Force 31
Rodney Ferguson ran 41 times with two short touchdown runs, and John Sullivan connected on four field goals as New Mexico took advantage of five Air Force fumbles to pull off the win. The Falcons got four touchdown runs, including two from Chad Hall, but they turned the ball over on three of their final four drives. The Lobos held on to the ball for 34:40 and turned it over two times.
Player of the game: New Mexico RB Rodney Ferguson ran 41 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns and caught a pass for 15 yards
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 11-18, 110 yds
Rushing: Chad Hall, 21-97, 2 TD. Receiving: Chad Hall, 6-66
New Mexico - Passing: Donovan Porterie, 16-28, 169 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rodney Ferguson, 41-146, 2 TD. Receiving: Marcus Smith, 7-84

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
This one's going to hurt. New Mexico played Air Force relatively evenly, but the Falcons couldn't hang on to the ball, especially late. The running game was fine, the defense was holding several Lobo drives to field goals, and the passing game was efficient. Five lost fumbles are five lost fumbles, and it's hard to recover from those. With only one Mountain West date left against San Diego State, the Falcons likely cemented their spot as the league's number three team, at worst, unless they blow it in the regular season finale.

Oct. 20
Air Force 20 ... Wyoming 12
Down 9-7 and with Wyoming driving for an apparent touchdown, Air Force got a stop from Bobby Giannini, who threw Wynel Seldon down, got the ball, and ran 85 yards for a touchdown when everyone else stopped. After review, the play stood, and the Falcons went on to up the lead with a 25-yard Mark Root touchdown catch for a 20-9 lead before Wyoming could get back on the board with Billy Vinnedge's second field goal of the game. It wasn't enough. Chad Hall ran for 167 yards and caught a five-yard touchdown pass for the Falcons.
Player of the game: Air Force S Bobby Giannini made 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, forced two fumble, and took one 85 yards for a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 6-10, 52 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Chad Hall, 28-167. Receiving: Travis Dekker, 2-19
Wyoming - Passing: Karsten Sween, 14-23, 171 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Devin Moore, 25-105. Receiving: Michael Ford, 7-115

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The team keeps finding ways to make things happen. Wyoming moved the ball well, but the Falcon defense forced five turnovers, while the offense cranked out 256 rushing yards with Chad Hall continuing to go ballistic. He's unstoppable running the ball, and it's taken all the pressure off Shaun Carney. There might not be a more confident team right now, and at this point, Troy Calhoun deserves Coach of the Year respect.

Oct. 13
Air Force 45 ... Colorado State 21
Air Force rolled for 385 rushing yards thanks to a 256-yard day from Chad Hall. the Falcons grabbed a 28-7 lead going into halftime on Hall runs from two, six and two yards out, and a 26-yard Drew Fowler interception return for a score. The Rams got a four-yard Gartrell Johnson touchdown run in the first half, and a seven-yard Damon Morton scoring grab in the third quarter, but they weren't nearly enough. Hall capped things off with a 13-yard run late in the fourth to put it away.
Player of the game: Air Force RB Chad Hall ran 31 times for 256 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Air Force
- Passing: Shaun Carney, 3-5, 52 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Chad Hall, 31-256, 4 TD. Receiving: Mark Root, 1-35, 1 TD
Colorado State - Passing: Caleb Hanie, 11-18, 111 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT
Gartrell Johnson, 25-143, 1 TD. Receiving: Damon Morton, 8-99, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Air Force is rolling and it's all due to the ground game. Chad Hall was unstoppable against the Rams, and everything worked out perfectly. The Falcons held on to the ball for 34:15, converted 11 of 15 third down chances, and ran wild. The offense was in total control throughout, and now has to keep the formula working in tough games against Wyoming and New Mexico ahead. The number two spot in the Mountain West is there for the taking, and if the offense keeps playing like this, it'll happen. The goals get higher if BYU loses.

Oct. 6
Air Force 31 ... UNLV 14
Air Force rumbled for 309 rushing yards, with Chad Hall scoring two times, highlighted by a 52-yard run. Shaun Carney added a 71-yard scoring dash late in the third quarter to go up 21-7, but UNLV answered with its best drive of the day, going 80 yards in 11 plays, finishing up with a four-yard Frank Summers touchdown to get within seven. But Air Force was helped by a seven-yard punt, leading to an easy field goal, and got a long drive, helped by the running of Hall, who finished with a one-yard score, to put it away.
Player of the game: Air Force RB Chad Hall ran 18 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 44 yards.
Stat Leaders: UNLV - Passing: Travis Dixon, 23-37, 274 yds
Rushing: Frank Summers, 25-100, 1 TD. Receiving: Ryan Wolfe, 10-164
Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 9-14, 123 yds
Chad Hall, 18-169, 2 TD. Receiving:
Chad Hall, 4-44
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Once again, for all the talk of mixing up the offense, and the Falcons did do a good job of getting yards through the air against UNLV, the team is at its best when it's running the ball effectively. Chad Hall is quickly becoming a force who'll take all the heat off of Shaun Carney, while the defense did a good job against the Rebels of not breaking despite giving up a ton of yards. With a winnable game against Colorado State coming up, and Army and San Diego State still left on the schedule, anything less than a bowl game, at this point, will be a disappointment.

Sept. 29
Navy 31 ... Air Force 20
Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada tore off fourth quarter touchdown runs from two and 78 yards out in the fourth quarter as Navy pulled away from Air Force late. Air Force outgained Navy 474 yards to 381, but missed on several scoring chances. QB Shaun Carney had a big day throwing the ball, while Chad Hall got the Falcon touchdowns on runs of 16 and five yards. Air Force's Ryan Harrison miss a 41-yard field goal and got a late 32 yarder blocked, while Jim Ollis lost a fumble on a late drive and earlier, was stopped on fourth and one from the Navy four.
Player of the game: Navy QB Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada was 4-of-7 for 79 yards, and ran 15 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 18-23, 237 yds
Rushing: Jim Ollis, 15-73. Receiving: Chad Hall, 8-108
Navy - Passing: Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, 4-7, 79 yds
Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, 15-101, 2 TDs. Receiving: OJ Washington, 4-79

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Air Force is going to be kicking itself for a long, long time after the loss to Navy. It had several shots to put up big points on the board, and didn't take advantage of the opportunities. All it needed to do was come up with a big stop in the fourth quarter, but it couldn't do it and kept seeing its drives stall. On the plus side, Shaun Carney threw as well as he ever has.

Sept. 22
BYU 31 ... Air Force 6
BYU got up 7-0 on the opening drive with Manase Tonga running for a one-yard score, and rolled from there with two Max Hall touchdown passes on the way to a 24-0 lead. Air Force finally got on the board late in the third quarter on an eight-yard Shaun Carney run, but the Cougars answered with a 80-yard drive culminating in a one-yard Tonga run. Air Force was held to 231 yards and 12 first downs.
Player of the game: BYU RB Manase Tonga ran 14 times for 41 yards and two touchdowns, adding six catches for 69 yards.
Stat Leaders: Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 10-21, 98 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Chad Smith, 2-47. Receiving: Chad Hall, 6-80
BYU - Passing: Max Hall, 23-33, 293 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Harvey Unga, 22-111. Receiving: Manase Tonga, 6-69

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... For the first time all year, the Air Force offense struggled to get something going. This isn't an offense built on making big comebacks, and with the ineffectiveness of the passing game against BYU, the running game needed to crank out long drives to take time off the clock, and couldn't. Three of 13 third down conversions, 22:50 time of possession and 133 rushing yards aren't going to cut it against the better teams on the schedule. To change that up against Navy next week, someone has to get the hot hand running the ball.

Sept. 13
Air Force 20 ... TCU 17 OT
Air Force pulled off the stunning upset when Ryan Harrison connected on a 33-yard field goal in overtime following a TCU misfire. TCU held a 17-3 lead midway though the fourth quarter on two short Andy Dalton touchdown passes, but Air Force was able to get close with a nine-yard Shaun Carney touchdown pass to Keith Madsen. With under six minutes to play and facing a fourth and one, the Falcons ran the option to perfection with Jim Ollis taking a pitch 71 yards for a touchdown. TCU had a final chance in regulation after getting down to the Air Force 22, but the drive was snuffed out when Dalton's underthrown pass was picked off in the end zone by Carson Bird. Horned Frog PK Chris Manfredini started off the scoring with a 39-yard field goal, but he got a 20-yard try blocked and hit the upright on TCU's overtime possession.
Player of the game: TCU RB Jim Ollis ran 16 times for 138 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: TCU
- Passing: Andy Dalton, 29-45, 320 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Watts, 12-48. Receiving: Ryan Christian, 6-74
Air Force
- Passing: Shaun Carney, 17-28, 193 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jim Ollis, 16-138, 1 TD. Receiving: Mark Root, 6-53
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Head coach Troy Calhoun has done a wonderful job so far, and it's not necessarily on offense. The Falcons have mixed things up, as expected, but it was the option that won the game against TCU. No, Calhoun's impact has been on defense, and while TCU moved the ball well, especially through the air, the Falcons rarely broke. Now at 2-0 in Mountain West play, the spotlight will be on against BYU next week. Win that, and the conference title race should be all but over.

Sept. 8
Air Force 20 ... Utah 12
Air Force came up with a late stand, stuffing a direct snap on a third and goal from the one and stuffing Ute RB Darryl Poston on fourth down in the final minute to hang on for the win. The Falcon offense got a three-yard Jim Ollis touchdown run early in the fourth and a 31-yard Ryan Harrison field goal, his second score of the day, to get ahead by eight late. Utah's attack sputtered all game long, but it came up with a 34-yard Derrek Richards touchdown catch late to get it close. Louie Sakoda added field goals from 43 and 40 yards for the Utes.
Player of the game: Air Force QB Shaun Carney was 8-of-14 for 56 yards, and carried 16 times for 113 yards.
Stat Leaders: Air Force
- Passing: Shaun Carney, 8-14, 56 yds
Rushing: Shaun Carney, 16-113. Receiving: Chad Hall, 3-14
- Passing: Tommy Grady, 20-39, 240 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Darryl Poston, 12-37. Receiving: Derrek Richards, 8-109, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... When in doubt, go to the running game. The Falcon offense all but ditched the idea of coming up with big pass plays against Utah and ran, ran and ran on the way to 334 yards and a big win. The defense did a great job against the depleted Utes, especially against the run, and made a little bit of a statement in the Mountain West race. With TCU coming up, and also hurting, the formula might work again. Run the ball, play good run defense, and stay close throughout. At least that'll be the hope.

Sept. 1
Air Force 34 ... South Carolina State 3
Air Force rolled without much of a problem with 455 yards of total offense with Shaun Carney throwing a touchdown pass and Ryan Harrison nailing field goals from 48 and 22 yards out. Kip McCarthy close out a 13-play, 79-yard opening drive with a one-yard touchdown run, and Chad Hall rumbled in from four yards out late in the first half. South Carolina State's only points cam on a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
Player of the game ... Air Force QB Shaun Carney went 11-of-18 for 176 yards, one touchdown and one pick, while running for 50 yards on 11 carries.
Stat Leaders: South Carolina State- Passing: Cleveland McCoy, 10-22, 84 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: William Ford, 12-73  Receiving: Terrance Smith, 5-45
Air Force - Passing: Shaun Carney, 11-18, 176 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kip McCarthy, 22-129, 1 TD  Receiving: Travis Dekker, 3-64, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... That's why you schedule South Carolina State to start the season. Air Force needed an easy game to try out all the new offensive formations, and head coach Troy Calhoun showed a little of everything. While there was still a little bit of option, this was a balanced attack that relied on efficient passing and a pounding ground game. It'll be interesting to see against Utah, TCU and BYU over the next three weeks if the offense is as varied, or if it goes back to the old option when things get tough. As of now, it'll be hard to prepare for the offense, because defenses aren't going to know what they're dealing with.

Sept. 1 – South Carolina State

Sept. 8 – at Utah
Offense: Look out. Utah not only gets just about everyone back with its top six wide receivers, leading rusher Darryl Poston, and four starting offensive linemen, but it also welcomes back its superstar, quarterback Brian Johnson, after taking last year off to recover from a torn ACL. All the problems with inconsistency throughout last season should be gone thanks to all the experience. Expect more explosion, a slew of Mountain West all-stars, and for Johnson to become a national college football name. There's more than enough depth at the skill positions to withstand injuries, but there's no development among the backups on the line.  
Defense: There's a ton of athleticism and loads of potential, but there are also several major concerns on the line and secondary. The linebacking corps will be fine with four starting-caliber players returning led by Joe Jianonni in the middle. Martail Burnett is an all-star waiting to blow up at end, free safety Steve Tate is good for 100 tackles, and Brice McCain has the kind of speed that NFL scouts tend to drool over. Everything else is up in the air with former receiver Sean Smith trying to handle the second corner spot, no experience to count on at strong safety, and unproven new starters at tackle and the second defensive end. In the end, the D will be fine in Mountain West play because of all the talent, but it might not be good enough to win the league title if the offense struggles for a game or two.

Sept. 13 - TCU
Offense: This won't be the offense of last year that finished second in the Mountain West in yards and scoring, but it won't be bad as long as there isn't a major injury problem among the starters. The line should be the strength with three returning starters and experience to count on at the other spots. Aaron Brown is about to shine now that he doesn't have to split carries. He'll be the do-it-all back who'll be the offense until the passing game, which struggled mightily in spring, comes around. The receiving corps has potential, but it needs Donald Massey to become a number one target, and it needs the quarterback situation to be settled with Marcus Jackson, who'll likely win the job, battling with Andy Dalton.
The Horned Frogs finished second in the nation in total defense, third in scoring defense, and led the Mountain West in several top categories. It'll be a total shock if they weren't even better. The only possible problems will come if injuries strike. Nine starters return, led by all-star ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, who make life easy for everyone else on the defense with the pressure they provide. The 4-2-5 has four good linebackers, an amazing group of safeties, rising stars at corner, and a good, active line. The only potential issue is a lack of raw bulk at tackle, but that's looking for a problem.

Sept. 22 – at BYU
Offense: While the offense won't crank out the big numbers last year's attack did (finishing fourth in the nation in total offense and fifth in scoring), it'll be fantastic starting with a great line that has more talent and depth (though unproven) than the program has seen in a long time. The receivers have to step up with the top targets of last year gone, and new starting quarterback Max Hall has to be efficient from day one. The 1-2 rushing punch of Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna will carry things when it needs to with an interesting blend of speed and power.
Defense This won't be the best defense in the Mountain West, but it'll be good enough to win with. The 3-3-5 was replaced by the 3-4 last year with tremendous results. Now the production should be there again with a big front three, led by end Jan Jorgensen, and a good linebacking corps that needs Kelly Poppinga to be the main man in the middle in place of Cameron Jensen. The safeties, Dustin Gabriel and Quinn Gooch, are as good as any in the conference, but the corners are nothing special.

Sept. 29 – at Navy
Offense: Navy led the nation in rushing in 2005, led the nation in rushing in 2006, and will lead the nation in rushing in 2007. What's the difference? The ground game will be terrific as always, but now it'll be truly special with the best combination of backfield talent and experience head coach Paul Johnson has ever had. There won't be any passing game, but it won't matter with a ground attack that can crank out a big run from anywhere on the field. The big concern will be the line with no experience among the backups whatsoever and a shaky starting five if left tackle Josh Meek's injured knee isn't healthy.
Uh oh. Wholesale changes need to be made with only three starters and seven lettermen returning. The best defense will be a good offense needing the ground game to crank out long drives to keep this inexperienced, woefully undersized, untested group off the field. Pass rushers need to emerge with the hope for Chris Kuhar-Pitters and Casey Hebert to turn into playmakers around rising star tackle Nate Frazier. Clint Sovie and Irv Spencer will turn into reliable inside linebackers, but outside linebacker will be a question. The secondary will be a work in progress around solid corner Rashawn King.

Oct. 6 - UNLV
Offense: The Rebel Shotgun Spread has basically misfired over the first two seasons, but the potential is there for a huge turnaround. QB Rocky Hinds, a disappointment in his first season after coming over from USC, played with a torn ACL almost all season, and now he'll be healthy. He'll have a loaded receiving corps to work with led by Casey Flair and Ryan Wolfe, but all eyes will be on Aaron Straiten on the outside. The star JUCO transfer of last year has million-dollar talent, but now he needs to use it. The emergence of Frank Summers as a powerback should help out the running game, which already has speed -rusher David Peeples, but the offensive line has to do more to pave the way.
Defense: The defense struggled way too much to get a stop early in games, and it forced the offense to press way too often. Now there should be a bit of an improvement with several good returning starters and a fearsome pass rush. The ends should be terrific, and the linebackers can all move, but the emphasis going into the year will be to stop the run. Are the defenders in place to do it? That remains to be seen, but the biggest concern will be with a secondary that didn't make nearly enough plays last year, and now it doesn't have Eric Wright.

Oct. 13 – at Colorado State
Offense: There's no reason for the Ram offense to be far, far better. Nine starters are back, led by the return of power back Kyle Bell from a knee injury to save a ground game that was among the worst in America. Caleb Hanie is a veteran passer with one of the Mountain West's best receiving corps at his disposal. It all comes down to a line that gets the interior back, but has to find consistent tackles who can protect Hanie. Keeping Bell healthy is also vital. There was no rushing production two years ago when he wasn't on, and there was nothing happening last year with him on the sidelines.
A veteran defense returns with everyone back except the two outside linebackers. With all the experience, there has to be more pressure in the backfield and more big plays against the pass after coming up with just 27 sacks and seven interceptions. There aren't any superstars, but there are several very good players who know what they're doing. Undersized tackle Blake Smith might move to end to provide the pass rusher the team desperately needs, and the secondary should benefit.

Oct. 20 - Wyoming
Offense: The offense wasn't consistent and did nothing against the good teams (averaging 8.5 points against Boise State, New Mexico, TCU and BYU), but there's plenty of hope for a big turnaround with a good pair of backs in powerful Wynel Seldon and speedy Devin Moore, a strong receiving corps with Michael Ford, Hoost Marsh, and emerging deep threat Greg Bolling, and a great quarterback situation with three possible starters led by rising star Karsten Sween. The one issue could be the offensive line that returns just two starters and has question marks at guard.
Defense: The Cowboys had a terrific, unnoticed defensive season finishing ninth in the nation in total defense. However, it struggled at the end of year, for the second straight season, and now it has some holes to fill. The linebacking corps, with four great starters and a slew of good reserves for the 3-4, will be among the best in the league, and while there aren't any returning starters up front, they're big. Corners Julius Stinson and Michael Medina should be excellent, but the star safeties of last year have to be replaced.

Oct. 25 – at New Mexico
Offense: The offense is scrapping the Bob Toledo attack and going back to a more basic style that'll pound the ball more with a big line, but won't forget about balancing things out through the air. With one of the Mountain West's best receiving tandems in Travis Brown and Marcus Smith, and a rising superstar in quarterback Donovan Porterie, the passing game should shine, while Rodney Ferguson will be a 1,000-yard back. If injuries are a problem, there will be big troubles with no developed depth among the skills positions and even less to count on up front.
Defense: The 3-3-5 scheme will stay in place, but the Lobo position will be fifth defensive back more than a linebacker. As always, there are plenty of great athletes who can run and fly to the ball. Now there has to be more production against the pass and more big plays in the backfield. The linebacking corps with Cody Kase moving from the outside in, should be stellar, while the cornerback tandem of DeAndre Wright and Glover Quin should be among the best in the league. There's a ton of talent to get excited about, but, unlike last year, will it all come together to form one of the league's better defenses? It's possible.

Nov. 3 - Army
Offense: Last year, Army used a veteran offensive line to work the running game behind while the passing game struggled. Now it has to be the other way around. The backfield, while banged up in spring ball, is solid, the line will be a work in progress. The passing game needs to improve hoping for top-prospect Carson Williams to turn into the leader and playmaker everyone's expecting him to become, or else David Pevoto has to take over the reins and be consistent. No matter who's under center, the interceptions have to slow down. Jeremy Trimble leads a potentially strong receiving corps.
The defense has spent most of its time trying to survive. Now it has to start making big plays in all areas after coming up with just 11 sacks, four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Everyone at every spot can tackle, motor and toughness is never a problem, talent is always the issue. There's good experience and size up front, Caleb Campbell, when he returns from a knee injury, will be one of the nation's most productive safeties leading a decent secondary, and the linebacking corps, in time, will put up plenty of big tackling numbers once new starters Brian Chmura and Frank Scappaticci get comfortable. Overall, the defense has to do a better job of dictating the action instead of letting things happen and trying to make the play.

Nov. 10 – at Notre Dame
Offense: Yeah, Charlie Weis is a great offensive coach, but there's some serious rebuilding needing to be done. There are good prospects, but there are several major concerns and no proven production. Can the line be better despite losing three starters? Will the skill players be remotely close to as good as the Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Darius Walker foursome of last year? Are the quarterbacks ready? The quarterbacks appear to be fine, the running backs will be solid in a combination, and the receivers are fast and decent. The line will be a plus by the end of the year, but it'll be a problem early on.
Defense: Charlie Weis is trying to improve a defense that was fine against the mediocre, but lousy when it came to stopping the better offenses. Gone is defensive coordinator Rick Minter, and in comes Corwin Brown, who installed a 3-4 scheme to try to generate more big plays and get more speed and athleticism on the field. The line will be the issue early on as two steady starters are needed to help out Trevor Laws. Maurice Crum leads a promising linebacking corps that should shine in the new defense. The big problem could again be the secondary. It has experience, but it won't get as much help from the pass rush, like it did last year, and needs the young corner prospects to push the unspectacular veterans for time.

Nov. 17 - San Diego State
Offense: Could everyone please stay healthy so we can see what the offense can do? Eight starters return, along with many others with starting experience, but it'll be the ones who weren't a part of the mix throughout all of last year, QB Kevin O'Connell and RB Lynell Hamilton, who'll need to make the offense sing after it finished averaging a woeful 14.17 points per game. Even if they don't backup quarterback Kevin Craft and a host of running backs are good enough to bring more production. The receivers are big and fast, the combination of running backs are big and fast, and O'Connell is big and fast. The line should be fine with plenty of returning experience, so now there has to be real, live production.
Defense: Uh oh. Four starters return from a defense that struggled with its consistency throughout the year and did nothing to get into the backfield. That was with Antwan Applewhite, who left a year early. The outside linebackers, Russell Allen and Brett Martin, are the strength of the defense, Ray Bass is a solid, veteran safety, while Nick Osborn is a good, versatile lineman who'll start out at tackle after playing last year at end. That's about it for the sure-things. The corner situation is a mess, there's no pass rusher to count on, and the overall depth will be an issue.


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