It took three straight bowl appearances and a strong start to this season, but Air Force is finally receiving some national recognition.
Ranked for the first time since 2002, the No. 25 Falcons look for a fifth straight victory over visiting Colorado State as the Mountain West Conference rivals meet Saturday.
After going 13-21 from 2004-06, Air Force (4-1, 2-0) has posted a 29-15 record and earned three bowl berths since former Falcons quarterback Troy Calhoun took over as coach in 2007.
“You think of all these juniors and seniors,” said Calhoun, the 2007 MWC coach of the year. “There are a bunch of them that came to school here when we didn’t have a recent bowl to show, we didn’t have a winning season. But those kids had the faith.”
Off to their best start since going 5-0 in 2003, the Falcons lead the nation with 373.6 rushing yards per game. That potent ground attack nearly carried them past then-No. 7 Oklahoma on Sept. 18, as Air Force ran for 351 yards in a 27-24 loss.
The Falcons made their long-awaited return to the Top 25 despite totaling a season-low 292 yards on the ground last Saturday, when they ended Navy’s 15-game service academy winning streak with a 14-6 home win.
“It looks like a good Air Force team,” Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild told the school’s official website. “They have a lot of production and experience back on offense.”
Junior quarterback Tim Jefferson rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns while senior Jared Tew ran for 111 yards in Air Force’s first win over Navy since 2002.
Jefferson, Tew and junior Asher Clark are a few of the players who have helped Calhoun turn around the program.
Third in the conference with 96.4 yards per game on the ground, Tew has run for 247 yards in his last two contests. He has rushed for 137 in two matchups with Colorado State.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Fairchild said. “He’s always going forward and he’s hard to stop.”
Clark has rushed for 211 yards in two games against the Rams, while Jefferson has gone 13 of 20 for 282 yards and four TDs in the two meetings. He was 6 of 8 for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the last matchup in Colorado Springs, a 38-17 Air Force win Nov. 8, 2008.
Tied with No. 10 Utah atop the Mountain West, the Falcons seem to have a good chance to stay there. Air Force has averaged 325.0 rushing yards while outscoring Colorado State 109-55 during a three-game home winning streak.
The Rams (1-4, 0-1) are last in the conference with 11.0 points per contest and are allowing an average of 33.4. They were held to a season-low 161 yards in a 27-0 loss to No. 5 TCU on Saturday.
“We’re still young, and we’re still taking our steps forward,” Fairchild said. “I still think that we have a good group of kids and we’re going to have a good football team. It’s our job as coaches to make that happen as quickly as we can.”
That could take a while, especially if leading rusher Raymond Carter is unable to play. The junior transfer from UCLA, who rushed for 104 yards and a TD in a 36-34 win over Idaho on Sept. 25, could miss this contest with a knee injury.
Colorado State, playing consecutive ranked teams for the first time since 2004, has lost its last 10 games against Top 25 opponents.
The Rams did win their last meeting with a ranked Air Force squad, 27-20 at Falcon Stadium in 1995.