AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -The Air Force Falcons were such a young and inexperienced bunch back in August, coach Troy Calhoun was wondering if they'd win a game.
Now, they're vying for a slice of the Mountain West Conference crown.
Calhoun didn't exactly see this coming - not that he's complaining.
``This team has changed and developed more than any squad I've been around,'' Calhoun said.
The Falcons (8-2, 5-1 MWC) need plenty of help to earn a share of the title. They have to beat No. 16 BYU (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday, then count on the Cougars to upset No. 8 Utah the following week, along with taking care of more of their own business and knocking off TCU.
Yet even talking about such a scenario is more than Calhoun could've imagined just a few months ago.
``This has been a neat group and a really, really fun group,'' he said.
Calhoun has taken a team gutted by graduation and transformed them into a conference contender.
Start up the rumor mill as his name floats around on Internet chat boards as a candidate for jobs at bigger schools.
However, he refuses to partake in presumptions.
``Speculation and innuendo - I'm a noncombatant,'' said Calhoun, who's 17-6 in two years at Air Force, including 11-3 in division play. ``I just don't get involved. I think if you just even take an ounce (of) focus in another way, it's not fair to your guys, and you miss out on the enjoyment of being around coaching.''
Calhoun is definitely enjoying being in charge of this crew.
He has a youthful team that includes a freshman at quarterback in Tim Jefferson - 5-0 since taking over the starting job - and another at tailback in Asher Clark, who recently became the first Falcons freshman to have two 100-yard rushing games in his inaugural season.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall can't believe a pair of freshmen has picked up Air Force's complicated system so rapidly.
``Certainly, they are not doing everything they would like to do, but what they are doing they are doing very well in terms of execution,'' Mendenhall said. ``The good news for Air Force is that they will be able to grow and expand, and be able to add on.''
Mendenhall has grown quite accustomed to the efficiency and effectiveness of his quarterback, Max Hall, one of the elite arms in the nation.
Hall can scan a defense's weakness in an instant, and then make the proper adjustment.
ing Mendenhall marvels at each week.
``I think it looks easier each time he does it,'' he said. ``I don't think he's uncertain, I don't think he's hesitant, I think he is confident. I think he is poised and it shows up in the execution. It is comforting as a coach to know that this is what you have at that position.''
Hall is completing 71.1 percent of his passes, with 32 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
``He's superb,'' Calhoun said. ``He's got the kind of moxie you want leading your football team. He's got a pretty special presence about him.''
The Cougar quarterback also has some pretty powerful weapons in receiver Austin Collie, tight end Dennis Pitta and bruising halfback Harvey Unga.
Collie has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in eight straight games. He needs just 165 more yards to pass Eric Drage for the top spot on the school's all-time receiving list.
The Falcons can't afford to place too much attention on Collie, not with Pitta roaming the middle and Unga battering through the line.
But it all starts with Hall.
``This guy is one of the six or seven best in the country, not just the quarterback position but in terms of being a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate,'' Calhoun said. ``Hall is uncanny.''
That's something he attributes to watching film, spending as much time as he can analyzing a defense's habits.
In Hall's studies of the Air Force defense, he sees a team applying plenty of pressure. The Falcons have the top pass defense in the conference.
``They play hard,'' Hall said. ``I always thought Air Force had the type of kids that we have here. It's always a battle.''

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