Throughout the rest of the month leading up to the 2008 season, I'll be looking at key storylines for each Mountain West Conference program. Last week I looked at UNLV and today I look at Air Force, who enter their second season under head coach Troy Calhoun.
They burst onto the scene in impressive fashion, rocking their way to the top and often being compared to past greats. Then, as quickly as it started, they fizzle out, never to heard of again. They are the dreaded One-hit Wonders, bands and singers that at one time enjoyed great success, piggybacking off one good song, only to watch it all disappear overnight. As common as it is in the music world, it's also common in sports, coaches and players who succeed early in their career and then lose their footing for whatever reason, never to return to that level of success again. This possibility, as unlikely as it sounds, faces Troy Calhoun and his Falcons.
When Fisher DeBerry finally stepped aside at the end of the 2006 season, the Falcons were at a crossroads. For the past three years their program had fizzled, crashing down in a heap of mediocrity. The once proud Air Force program was reeling after 3 disastrous and un-Falcon like seasons. So when it came time to choose a new head coach, they went outside the current coaching staff.
Enter Troy Calhoun.
Having spent a season at Houston as the Texans' offensive coordinator, Calhoun returned to the Falcons, his alma mater, with a bevy of experience. He not only had experience coaching in the NFL, he spent nearly ten years coaching at the college level, including two seasons as one of DeBerry's assistants back in the early 90s.
Calhoun, though, had a difficult task ahead of him, or so it seemed. Air Force was coming off another dismal season, where they went 4-8 and were consistently losing ground in the Mountain West race. Yet led by senior quarterback Shaun Carney, the Falcons leaped to the top of the Mountain West and finished the season with their most wins in 7 years. For his success, Calhoun was awarded the Mountain West Coach of the Year Award and undoubtedly turned heads across the nation. But now comes the challenge: sustaining success.
It's one thing to have instant success, that happens quite a bit in college football, but maintaining that success is an entirely different kind of beast. For Calhoun, it's now moved beyond rebuilding Air Force -- he conceded that option with a 9-4 season last year -- and instead, whether or not he can keep them competitive, all the while managing the growing expectations in Colorado Springs.
The biggest challenge for the Falcons and Calhoun this season will be finding a suitable replacement for Carney. This appears to have fallen on the shoulders of junior Eric Herbort.
During spring drills, Calhoun had nothing but praise for Herbort, telling the Colorado Springs Gazette, "Herb has just changed. I just see a completely different player. I see a guy that's got a better grasp of the offense, I see more poise, I see a guy that's more assertive."
Whether Herbort is ready to take over for Carney is unknown, however, he will have his work cut out for him. The Falcons lost their top six runners and their two top pass catchers as well. Though a strong offensive line -- even with the loss of Blaine Guenther, Calhoun's stable system and the return of Ty Paffett might ease the transition.
Ultimately, the Falcons will have some growing pains this season and will be hard pressed to recreate last year's impressive run. Because of the roster turnovers, it probably isn't a good season to judge Calhoun's ability and whether or not he can continue building on what he started in 2007. However, the Falcons do have a favorable schedule, which could relieve the rebuilding process.
Here is a look at what Air Force will be facing this season:
Aug. 30 Southern Utah Looking at their schedule, there really is no reason why the Falcons can't win 7-games. Trips to Wyoming, Houston, San Diego State and TCU could cause bumps in the road, but home games against Utah, New Mexico and BYU -- the three of four projected top teams in the conference -- could position them for a dark horse conference championship run. But it will require solid play, even better coaching and a stronger than expected season by the young Air Force offense.
Sept. 6 @ Wyoming
Sept. 13 @ Houston
Sept. 20 Utah
Oct. 4 Navy
Oct. 11 @ San Diego State
Oct. 18 @ UNLV
Oct. 23 New Mexico
Nov. 1 @ Army
Nov. 8 Colorado State
Nov. 15 B.Y.U.
Nov. 22 @ T.C.U.
Aug. 30 Southern Utah
Looking at their schedule, there really is no reason why the Falcons can't win 7-games. Trips to Wyoming, Houston, San Diego State and TCU could cause bumps in the road, but home games against Utah, New Mexico and BYU -- the three of four projected top teams in the conference -- could position them for a dark horse conference championship run. But it will require solid play, even better coaching and a stronger than expected season by the young Air Force offense.
Even if they don't compete for the championship, the Falcons will be solid again this year and should easily prove whether last year was a fluke or not. If they win 7-games, it will clearly signal Calhoun is no One-hit Wonder.
Vanilla Ice Calhoun says he ain't no One-hit Wonder