***** NCAA Football Preview - Air Force Falcons *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Air Force Falcons closed out the 2010 campaign with
four straight wins and a record of 9-4 overall, so big things were expected
from the Academy when it took the field last year as well.
In the early going, the Falcons were served some very favorable opponents,
defeating the likes of South Dakota, Tennessee State and Navy, but in between
the squad kicked off its Mountain West Conference schedule in early September
and was defeated by league favorite TCU by a score of 35-19. The victory versus
the Midshipmen (35-34 in OT) was by no means easy, but it did come on the road
and provided the Falcons with a 3-1 start to the campaign.
Unfortunately, the opposition grew tougher as Notre Dame, San Diego State and
Boise State all defeated Air Force by double digits in the three weeks
following the triumph over Navy. The Academy was able to get back on track
thanks to a 42-0 thrashing of overmatched New Mexico in Albuquerque in late
October, and then used a 24-14 win over Army at home to retain possession of
the coveted Commander-in-Chief's Trophy which is awarded to the Academy which
finishes with the best mark amongst the three programs.
If not for a 25-17 setback versus Wyoming the Falcons, who defeated both UNLV
and Colorado State rather convincingly, would have closed out the regular
season on a five-game win streak, but instead the team went into the 2011
Military Bowl against the Toledo Rockets riding only a two-game run and
finished up only 3-4 in conference play. In a wild meeting the day after
Christmas, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun watched his squad crumble under
the pressure of a failed two-point conversion with under a minute remaining in
regulation, resulting in a painful 42-41 setback versus the Rockets.
Known primarily as a squad that pounds the ball on the ground one play after
another, Air Force finished first in the conference and third in the nation in
rushing with 314.8 ypg and again the passing attack took a distant second with
just 140.1 ypg. However, quarterback Tim Jefferson did supply plenty of aerial
highlights for the Falcons as he became the first signal-caller in service
academy history to take his team to the postseason four straight years.
OFFENSE: The Falcons are in rebuilding mode heading into 2012, trying to figure
out how they are going to get by with only a handful of returning starters
altogether. Jefferson took almost all of the snaps for the squad when he was
healthy and while Air Force is not known as a passing program by any stretch,
the signal-caller was able to put his own stamp on the offense while he was at
the Academy, something that Connor Dietz might have some trouble replicating.
Now entering his senior campaign, Dietz has attempted a total of just 60 passes
in 21 career games, resulting in a grand total of 393 yards and 3 touchdowns.
By comparison, in nine games last year he ran for 252 yards and scored twice on
38 attempts so don't be surprised to see the coaching staff revert back to an
almost exclusive running attack.
Focusing on who might be coming out of the backfield with the ball, Mike DeWitt
is a logical option given that he was second on the team and first among
fullbacks with 567 yards and led everyone with 12 touchdowns, tying for third
in the MWC in rushing scores.
Wes Cobb was one of four players to carry the ball at least 100 times a year
ago, finishing with 425 yards and 4 TDs.
As is typically the case, expect a wealth of players to take their turn
carrying the ball for the Falcons in an effort to keep running backs fresh
while continuing to pound away at the line of scrimmage.
DEFENSE: Experience on the defensive side of the ball is rather thin for the
Falcons. The team will try to build around the example set by linebacker Alex
Means. A preseason all-conference selection, Means is the top returning tackler
for the group after posting 77 stops a year ago. Means did it all for the
Falcons through 13 games as he led the program in tackles for loss (9.5), sacks
(6.0) and blocked kicks (2), not to mention placing second with 3 forced
Junior linebacker Jamil Cooks also showed an ability to fight his way into the
opponent's backfield in 2011 as he rolled up 8.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and a blocked
kick of his own.
Providing some experience in the secondary, junior defensive back Anthony
Wooding returns after placing fifth on the team in total stops with 57
although, oddly enough, he failed to register a single pass breakup in 13 games
for the Falcons.
SPECIAL TEAMS: While both the offense and defense might be in a state of flux
for the Falcons, the team can find some comfort in knowing that senior kicker
Parker Herrington is ready to repeat as one of the top players at his position
in the MWC. Herrington, an all-conference performer who led the Mountain West
in field goal percentage (.833), has been named to the 2012 Lou Groza Award
David Baska handled the punting duties last year, averaging close to 41 yards
per kick and landing six of his 32 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Baska didn't see too much action, compared to a number of other punters in the
league, but he can still handle the job.
OUTLOOK: With a shortened practice time, players enduring training outside of
football and the area around the Academy being so heavily affected by wild
fires, football is always put into perspective at Air Force but the games are
still to be played.
"For us, we know we have a pretty significant challenge ahead of us," admits
Of all the teams on the schedule this season, Air Force has a winning record
against all but two with which it has a previous history, those being Michigan
and, surprisingly enough, Idaho State which is first on the list to kick off
the month of September. The Falcons actually catch more than a few breaks,
missing out on playing Boise State which is a gift all by itself. Then again,
the Academy lost by just 11 points to the Broncos when they were ranked seventh
in the nation last season, so maybe the Falcons are disappointed in being left
off the BSU slate. Catching Hawaii at home is also key, as is playing Navy in
Colorado rather than Maryland. The Falcons do have to travel to Army in early
November, but still the squad should be able to retain the Commander-in-Chief's
Trophy as long as everything goes according to plan.
08/24 13:56:24 ET