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BYU football: Air Force on rapid ascent

Published November 14, 2008 2:17 am

Much-improved Air Force is no November pushover
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

PROVO - Brigham Young's Bronco Mendenhall doesn't blame his coaching counterpart, Air Force's Troy Calhoun, for constantly calling the Falcons "a work in progress" and a "rebuilding football team" this week.

If fact, Mendenhall called the tactic wise.

It's just that Mendenhall doesn't believe Calhoun one iota when the second-year coach downplays Air Force's ability, or says his team doesn't have the horses to stay with the Cougars, who have beaten the Cadets four straight years by an average score of 42-21.

"I think regardless of what they are saying, they have a very clear idea of who they are," Mendenhall said. "They have won a lot of football games. And so, they have done a great job of putting the young men that they have in positions where they can be successful, so I think their assessment of their own team is most likely accurate, coming from them, but the result on the field is showing that they are very capable and skilled, and that is basically what we are preparing for, is how well they execute."

In other words, this is not one of former coach Fisher DeBerry's teams that fades in November. This is an 8-2 team that has won five straight games since losing a close game to No. 8 (AP) Utah and blowing a home game against Navy, thanks mostly to two blocked punts.

Since freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson replaced senior Shea Smith in the starting lineup, the Falcons have averaged 28 points a game. Last week, they rolled a Colorado State team that gave 9-1 BYU fits the previous week.

"I think [they are] a work in progress in terms of this is [just] his second year," Mendenhall said. "But you look at the number of wins and how they are playing, and I am very impressed. I think he has done a phenomenal job in a very short period of time."

Air Force is 17-6 in Calhoun's tenure, and he has been so successful that his name is popping up for the various head coaching jobs at BCS schools around the country, including Washington and Tennessee. He declined to talk about other jobs when asked this week, as Mendenhall did when asked about the Washington opening. However, Calhoun loves to play the underdog card (BYU is a 5 1/2 -point favorite on Saturday), citing the various limitations that service academies and their football programs must overcome. The truth is the Falcons (5-1 in league play) are still alive for a piece of the Mountain West Conference championship, although next week they are at 9-2 TCU, which has a bye.

"The layout is, we are a service academy playing in an excellent conference," Calhoun said in the MWC teleconference earlier this week. ". . . Our players have made just immense improvement over a very short time . . . and yet by no means do we sit around and have discussions like, 'Hey, do we need to play the New York Giants?', or, 'When are we going to the Rose Bowl?' We know what our purpose is at the Air Force Academy."

In that regard, Mendenhall said he and Calhoun share a common bond, noting that on the field last year before BYU beat the Falcons 31-6 in Provo, the coaches shared the sentiment that both were able to go into the homes of recruits and "know in the first 10 minutes" whether that young man was the right fit for their program or not, based on AFA's military regimen and BYU's religious focus.

"We have made steady progress throughout the season, and yet undoubtedly, for who we are going to have to face these last two games, we better develop and do it in a matter of days, just because of the quality of opponent that BYU is," Calhoun said.

drew@sltrib.com

BYU at Air Force

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.,

CBS College Sports