Air Force week. Where do we start? One of the fiercest and most meaningful rivalries in the college football landscape, this year's edition has no shortage in story lines. One of the most interesting story lines of this year's game is that of Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney, who many Navy fans seem to know better as "that punk kid." But regardless of how you view Carney the person, the jury is still out on Carney the football player.
Carney is, statistically speaking at least, one of the best quarterbacks in Air Force Academy history. He's currently second in career passing in Air Force history, and will likely break Dave Ziebart's mark by the end of the season. With a career completion percentage hovering around 60% and 30 touchdown passes to his name, he has more than proven that he can throw the ball with velocity and accuracy, while at the same time possessing the ability to run the effectively. He has more than 2000 rushing yards in his career, and has scored 26 times on the ground in a little over three years of work.
But for all of those numbers, Carney has never been able to beat the Midshipmen, and he has never been able to lead the Falcons to a Commander-In-Chief's trophy, much less a winning season in the Mountain West conference. Not the legacy you'd necessarily want to leave behind, especially considering how hyped he was coming out of High School. For those of you who don't know the story, Carney was considered one of the premier option quarterbacks in the country during his prep days, but because of his size (5'10) he was passed up by the bigger school's and became the top prospect among service academies. Both Air Force and Navy aggressively recruited him, with the Falcons eventually winning out after Carney declared that he couldn't see Navy beating Air Force in the foreseeable future. The rest, you could say, was a tad bit ironic. After attending the prep school in 2003, Carney came in and started against Navy in 2004 and lost. In 2005 he lead the Falcons into Annapolis, built up a lead with the offense, and presumed to watch his team lose. Then, in 2006, under the banner of "Return to Dominance," he fumbled away the opportunity for the Falcons to take a game from Navy's seniors, thus completing a four year sweep of the Falcons by Navy and, as I have contended before, greatly contributing to the fall of his head coach. Three years, no victories. Not exactly what he had in mind as a senior in high school in 2002.
So whats the point in rehashing history? Is it not, as they say, a "welcome to this year" scenario we will be dealing with this Saturday, as a new look and new coached Air Force teams comes calling in Annapolis? Well, not exactly. I read an article this week that downplayed this game, saying that Air Force was focused more on their place in the Mountain West conference than on their service academy rivals. This is complete nonsense if you ask me, especially considering what Carney and his fellow seniors have been through the past three seasons. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, when Navy was losing to Air Force on a regular basis, the thought of upending the Falcons became a hallmark of the team's goals, and while many would argue that the Army-Navy game was still the focal point of the season, some would attest that beating Air Force was the ultimate dream. I don't need to fling mud or address the animosity of the rivalry here, but needless to say this game has and continues to take on a different feel than the Army-Navy game. This rings true not only from Navy;s perspective Navy, but from Air Force's, as the falcons have been dealing with the alien proposition of losing the the Midshipmen these past four seasons, and has been left in a state of competitive mediocrity in the MWC.
Carney knows this. His teammates know this. And while they may not be able to single-handily resurrect Air Force football to it's heyday, they can, to a certain extent, save the legacy of their careers at the Academy. Do you really think that Shaun Carney wants to be remembered as the guy who couldn't beat Navy, the quarterback who led the teams which allowed the Midshipmen to crawl from the depths of college football to preeminent among service academy football teams? I don't know how Air Force will fare on Saturday against the Mids, but I can tell you one thing, and that's that intensity and focus will not be lacking for the Falcons this week. They, one could argue, have much more at stack than we do.
For Navy, this may end up being the most important game of the season. But for Shaun Carney, it will end up being the most important game of his career. Win or lose, the clock is ticking, and his window of beating the Navy in an Air Force uniform is about to run out.