***** NCAA Football Preview - Air Force Falcons *****
 By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: In in his first five seasons as the head coach of Air
 Force, Troy Calhoun led his alma mater to a bowl game and at the conclusion of
 the 2012 campaign the story was again the same for the Falcons and their
 However, the road to the postseason was somewhat rocky for a program that
 actually accepted a bid to the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl still with
 one game remaining in the regular season. The Falcons tore up Idaho State in
 the season opener at home, 49-21, but then dropped winnable contests versus
 Michigan and UNLV by a combined nine points on the road.
 The squad did come around with four wins in the next five outings, including
 Mountain West Conference victories versus Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico
 and Nevada, but the lone setback was rather tough to swallow. The first week
 of October saw the Falcons host Navy in the first portion of the annual
 Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series, an event they claimed in 2011.
 Unfortunately, Air Force did not have luck on its side when, in overtime, a
 fumbled snap by Navy was recovered by a Midshipmen in the end zone for what
 proved to be the winning score. Add to that mishap the team's complete failure
 versus Army (41-21) on Nov. 3 as the Black Knights ran for 314 yards and four
 touchdowns, and the competition versus the other service academies was a
 complete wash.
 Nevertheless, the Falcons were invited to take part in the Armed Forces Bowl
 in the middle of November, the fourth time in six years that the program was
 slated to appear in the event, this time against the Rice Owls. Unfortunately
 for The Academy, Rice was more than up to the challenge as it captured a
 resounding 33-14 victory in late December. Overall, the defeat was the fourth
 in the final five outings for Air Force, leaving the team one game below .500
 (6-7) and 5-3 in MWC action. The last setback also pushed the Falcons to just
 10-12-1 all-time in postseason appearances.
 "It fuels the fire that makes you want to work harder," offensive lineman
 Austin Hayes said of the disappointing finish to 2012. "I think it eats at
 pretty much all the players, that they want to not have that 6-7 season again
 and go to a bowl game and get blown out like that."
 OFFENSE: Unfortunately for the Falcons, the offense is in complete rebuilding
 mode, with just three starters coming back from last season when they ranked
 second in the country in rushing with 316.2 ypg. Obviously the team will again
 be focusing on keeping the ball on the ground, using a stable of available
 running backs, but still a quarterback will have to be in charge of
 facilitating that attack and that appears to be in the hands of Kale Pearson
 who is the most experienced of the signal-callers on the roster, but don't
 assume that coach Calhoun will tie the entire season to the youngster who
 attempted only 29 passes last season and completed just 11 to his own
 teammates and four to opposing defenses.
 Not only does Air Force have to break in a new starting quarterback following
 the departure of Connor Dietz, but finding ample bodies to work in the
 trenches and protect him will also be a challenge for coach Calhoun with only
 two returning starters back along the offensive line (Drew Kerber and Austin
 Hayes). In terms of returning starters at the skill positions, wide receiver
 Ty MacArthur fits the bill and could become an even more important fixture
 after leading the team in receiving last year with 24 catches for 411 yards,
 leading to a pair of touchdowns.
 DEFENSE: Slightly more stable than the offense heading into the 2013 campaign,
 the defense for the Falcons features five returning starters, three of whom
 are defensive backs who had a hand in limiting the competition to 210.6 ypg
 through the air (fifth in the MWC and 35th nationally), but that's only
 because the run defense was often beaten up by opponents who gained close to
 200 ypg (99th in the country).
 Along the front line there are returning starters Alex Hansen and Joseph
 Champaign, but the former is just a sophomore and the latter a junior which
 means their actual game experience is still far from optimal. Fortunately for
 the Falcons, Hansen has already proven himself to be a threat in pushing
 forward at the line of scrimmage, resulting in nine tackles for loss and four
 sacks last season, the latter tying him for first on the unit.
 As the top returning tackler for the group, defensive back Christian Spears
 not only recorded 91 stops, but he also forced a pair of fumbles, one of only
 two players to have more than just a single tally in that department. Of the
 mere eight interceptions logged by the defense, a pair were credited to
 Steffon Batts.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: For the most part, it was the end zone or bust for the Falcons
 a season ago when it came to putting points on the board. The squad attempted
 only 10 field goals, and just four of those were converted by Parker
 Harrington. The kicker has moved on, which means the coaching staff will have
 to find someone to fill his spot which, based on last year's results,
 shouldn't be that difficult.
 The punting chores are again being handled by David Baska who averaged better
 than 39 yards per attempt and landed 11 of his 40 kicks inside the 20-yard
 line. It will be important for Baska to take care of business and the coverage
 team to be aggressive in order to keep opponents from taking advantage of
 short fields versus an inexperienced defense.
 OUTLOOK: Picked to finish third in the Mountain Division behind Boise State
 and newcomer Utah State, the Falcons don't have very many easy games on the
 2013 docket outside of the season opener against Colgate.
 With the expansion of the MWC, Air Force will be jumping into the league
 schedule almost immediately with a home date versus USU on Sept. 7, and with
 three of the next four contests on the road against the likes of Boise State,
 Nevada and Navy, there's a good chance The Academy could be in deep trouble
 once the second half of the season rolls around, although the group might be
 able to peek out from that potential hole in the final weeks with meetings
 versus New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State to close out the month of November.
 08/23 09:19:20 ET