DENVER (AP) — Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has the 17th-ranked Falcons off to an 8-0 start for the first time since he was part of the 1985 squad as a freshman quarterback.
He sees distinct similarities between his team then and his team now.
“Both wore blue,” Calhoun cracked. “Both had lightning bolts on their helmets for most of their games.”
That '85 version of the Falcons started 10-0 and finished 12-1. This installment of the Falcons (8-0, No. 25 CFP ) isn’t looking at rankings or how they possibly could be the team from the Group of Five that earns a New Year’s Six bid.
They’re only concentrating on one thing: Hoisting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a second straight season. Air Force needs to beat Army (2-6) on Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver to win the annual round-robin competition between service academies. The Falcons knocked off Navy 17-6 on Oct. 21 to put themselves in a position to capture their 22nd CIC crown and earn another invitation to the White House to meet the president.
“Holding on to the CIC trophy is a big deal, because you’re just proving it wasn’t a fluke last year,” Air Force senior Jayden Goodwin said. "Meeting the president is also a big thing, because, obviously, we’re in the military and it’s kind of our job and now we’re meeting the commander in chief.”
This has been a magical ride for Air Force, which has won a program-tying 13 straight dating to last season. The Falcons are ranked higher than they’ve been in decades.
Not that any of this has really infiltrated their world. Senior offensive lineman Adam Karas has taken a break from his social media accounts for the season.
“My family and friends tell me that we’re doing pretty good on the rankings and stuff,” Karas said. “I trust them."
Army is trying to spoil Air Force’s unblemished season. The Black Knights have lost five straight heading into a game where they're an 18 1/2-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. But this provides plenty of motivation: A chance to steal the CIC title. Should they win, and beat Navy on Dec. 9, they would take the crown.
“Just close football games. It seems like every one of these academy games are like that,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “I hope we can make it (close) this Saturday. They’re certainly a good football team. ... It’s just impressive what they’ve done so far.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Falcons are taking their nation-leading ground game (300.4 yards per game) on the road as they make the approximately 60-mile trek to Empower Field, which is the home of the Denver Broncos. Karas grew up around Denver and is looking forward to playing in the stadium.
“Going to a lot of events as a kid in Denver, you always drive by it,” Karas said. “It’s really neat to be able to play there.”
The last five meetings between Army and Air Force have been one-score games, including a 13-7 win by the Falcons last season at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“I know the guys will be fired up — their players, our players,” Monken said. “That’s what makes it such a great rivalry.”
Air Force has outscored teams by a 131-36 margin after halftime this season.
“I do think what happens, at least for us at the Air Force Academy, is that there are things in practice you absolutely try to resemble, where guys align, certain route combinations,” Calhoun said. “But when you’re playing against guys that are quite a bit older, bigger, some guys that are extremely explosive in the open field, you need those early snaps to get a good sense ... you need to see that. That’s hard to produce in practice.”
Army started four freshmen on offense in a 21-14 home loss to UMass last weekend. That included quarterback Champ Harris, running back Kayne Udoh, center Brady Small and receiver Tobi Olawole. Small has started every game this season, while Harris and Udoh made their second straight starts.
The Falcons remain one of eight undefeated teams, joining Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Liberty, Washington, Georgia and James Madison. Air Force went 9-0-2 in 1958.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football