Big Picture? It's Still a Work in Progress

Jake SchallerContributor IOctober 30, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 9: Quarterback Shaun Carney #5 of the Air Force Academy Falcons hands off to running back Ryan Williams #21 against the University of Tennessee Volunteers on September 9, 2006 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It’s easy to make the argument that the 2009 Air Force football season—to date—has been a disappointment.

All you have to do is look at the Falcons’ record (4-4) and note that three of the losses could have been wins if just a few things went differently.  So, yeah, when you’re a handful of plays from 7-1 and a probable Top 25 ranking, there’s plenty of reason to be disappointed about being 4-4.

It’s also easy to argue that the program is slipping.

All you have to do is note that Air Force has lost seven of 11 games dating back to last season.  Yep, that’s pretty damning.

But while those arguments are easy, they also fail to look at the big picture.

When one does that, the argument that comes into focus is that the Falcons are far ahead of schedule through two and two-thirds seasons under Troy Calhoun and his staff.  Because when you look at the big picture, you consider the rebuilding project Calhoun and his assistants had on their hands when they took over prior to the 2007 season.

And make no mistake: It was a rebuilding project.

That reality gets skewed big-time by what Calhoun and his staff did their first season.  The Falcons upset Utah and TCU in the second and third games, respectively, went 9-3 in the regular season, finished second in the Mountain West Conference, and earned a bowl bid for the first time since 2002.

But there were plenty of elements in place for a turnaround season.

First was a large, talented and hungry senior class that was experienced, ready to believe in a new system, and desperate to win.

Second was a schedule that set up favorably.  Air Force caught Utah when it had its top three skill players injured.  It caught TCU when it was without its top running back and when then-freshman quarterback Andy Dalton was young and inexperienced.  And it faced both when the systems and schemes used by Calhoun and his staff still were somewhat foreign to opponents.

But Air Force’s 2007 senior class was an anomaly.  And when it graduated, there was a big drop-off in the academy’s talent pool thanks to the erosion of its recruiting efforts.

If you don’t believe me, just remember the number five.

When Calhoun took over, he was stunned to look at a list of the 55 players who Air Force brought to the academy for official visits early in 2005.  Remember, official visit recruits are your top guys.  And just five from that list still were with the program two-and-a-half years later.  That recruiting class helps make up the Falcons’ current senior class.

Clearly, there were some standout players in last season’s senior class, and there are a bunch in this season’s senior class—the offensive line is made up entirely of seniors, and the defense is anchored by senior nose guard Ben Garland.  But there’s not a whole lot of depth. And it’s easy to see—just watch a practice—that the level of talent in the freshman and sophomore classes far exceeds what the Falcons have in their junior and senior classes.

Calhoun has said his program will be best when 38 of his 44 offensive and defensive starters and backups are juniors and seniors and when it has 22 seniors on the roster.  Heading into tomorrow’s game at Colorado State, just 26 of the 44 offensive and defensive starters and backups are juniors and seniors and there are only 15 seniors on the roster.

So if 4-4 is disappointing and the fact the Falcons have lost seven of 11 games dating back to last season suggests they’re going in the wrong direction, remember the number five and take a step back to look at the big picture.