Air Force Close but Still Far Away from MWC's Elite

Jake SchallerContributor INovember 23, 2009

PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 29:  John Rabold #32 and Brad Meissen #36 of Air Force tackle Michael Reed (C) of Brigham Young University during the second quarter October 29, 2005 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.  (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
George Frey/Getty Images

For the second season in a row, Air Force showed signs that it’s close to breaking into the Mountain West Conference’s elite.

The Falcons took defending league champ Utah to overtime before falling, and they stuck closer to fourth-ranked TCU than any of the Horned Frogs' other 10 victims.

And for the second season in a row, the final game of the regular season showed how far the Falcons still have to go.

In 2008, it was a humbling 44-10 drubbing at TCU.

This season, it was Saturday’s 38-21 drubbing at BYU.

Don’t let the final score fool you. The Cougars were up 24-0 in the first half and 31-7 early in the third quarter. This one wasn’t close—and that was surprising.

Yes, BYU has owned Air Force historically (the Cougars have a 24-6 all-time record against Air Force) and especially lately (Saturday’s loss was the Falcons’ sixth in a row to BYU—and all have come by at least two touchdowns).

But Air Force seemed to match up better with the Cougars this season because of its standout defense and secondary (the Falcons led the nation in pass defense heading into the game).

Not only that, players seemed to be ready to beat the Cougars, and it didn’t seem like bluster. I could be wrong, but I usually can tell when players are just saying they can compete with a heavily favored team and when they actually believe they can compete with a heavily favored team. I really think the Falcons believed.

That’s what made it surprising—again, not that Air Force lost, but the manner in which the Falcons were dominated.

“I was very surprised,” junior fullback Jared Tew said. “I thought we were going to come out strong and right off the bat it seemed like they had our number and we pretty much weren’t playing our game.”

“We’re a lot better than we played (Saturday),” junior cornerback Reggie Rembert said. “So, yeah, I’m definitely kind of shocked.”

The one upside of a loss like this is the Falcons still are a relatively young team. Players can learn from mistakes, and they should remember the sting of this blowout. Maybe in the future they can find a way to compete with the Cougars.

“It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be hard,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of catching up to the top teams in the conference. “But it’s doable, and it should be doable. That is to be a program that gets up and (will) go play in a game like this and be able to take a game like this right down to the wire and find a way to win it.”