Air Force football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Falcons, best players and season prediction.
What To Watch For In Air Force’s Offense
Can the offensive line gel in a hurry? Everything is in place to come up with a whopper of a season on the ground with the top five running backs and quarterback Nate Romine returning.
The receiving corps is in place to come up with the two or three big plays when the opportunity it there. The offensive line has to rock, and it should be okay – as always.
Can it be fantastic? Air Force knows how to groom linemen, but even so, this was a strength last season and now three starters are gone along with both tackles. If the line is great, the offense could be unstoppable.
Key To The Air Force Offense
As always, Air Force’s offense is going to work on the ground with its dangerous, multi-faceted option attack, but it has the weapons to create one of the nation’s most efficient passing games, too. The Falcons aren’t going to bomb away, but when they do throw it’s effective. The line loses three starters, but replacing offensive linemen is never a problem for the Falcons – the cogs always step up in the system. Romine returns at quarterback after missing most of last year due to injury, and so is wideout Jalen Robinette, one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous targets. The passing game will work.
What To Watch For In Air Force’s Defense
Is this going to be the best defense yet under Troy Calhoun? At the very least it’s among the most experienced. And after generating 37 sacks last season, it’s going to be among the most aggressive. The defense that was such a rock last season – especially against the run – starts with a phenomenal secondary that gets back all-star safety Weston Steelhammer and all four starters. The front seven isn’t bad-looking, either, with three of the starting four linebackers returning.
Key To The Air Force Defense
Can the defensive front take a punch? The Falcons were outstanding against the run last season – stuffing Michigan State and holding down Utah State and Army – but late in the year New Mexico and San Diego State ran amok. In the bowl blowout loss to Cal, the tremendous secondary was ripped to shreds by Jared Goff. When the run defense allowed 160 yards or more it was 0-5. For the Air Force formula to work, the defense has to get off the field.
Air Force Football Will Be Far Better If …
It always wins the turnover margin. Under Troy Calhoun, the defense has always been just okay at taking the ball away, but as long as it comes up with over 20 takeaways, it should be doing its job – it generated 18 last year. But the offense can’t make a slew of mistakes, struggling late in the season with ten giveaways in the last four games – four against Boise State, three against New Mexico, and three against Cal. Over a four game stretch early on, they gave it up 11 times, losing three of the games. In all, Air Force was 1-5 when turning it over three times or more.
Best Offensive Player
RB Jacobi Owens – The good-sized veteran leads a veteran backfield coming off a 1,096-yard, seven touchdown season. As is always the case with Air Force runners, when it’s his time up, he’s terrific with four 100-yard games in the last seven in the regular season, highlighted by a 156-yard day against the phenomenal San Diego State defense in the Mountain West championship. He’s hardly alone with the top six running backs in the mix, but he’s as much of a workhorse as the backfield has.
Best Defensive Player
S Weston Steelhammer – The hammer in the defensive backfield, the veteran strong safety was one of the team’s top tacklers over the last few seasons, leading the way with 80 stops last year. The Air Force secondary is loaded with talent, experience and production, but it’s Steelhammer who quarterbacks it all doing a great job in run support while also being one of the Mountain West’s top ball hawks, coming up with 11 of the team’s 21 interceptions over the last two seasons.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DT Santo Coppola – The Falcons generate pressure from several different spots – 18 defenders registered at least a part of a sack – but it was Alex Hansen who was the lead dog into the backfield with a team-high 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The linebackers will come up with most of the tackles for loss, but it’ll be up to Coppola to rise up as one of the new leaders up front. More of a true tackle than a pass rusher, he’s not going to necessarily replace Hansen, but with his 6-4, 285-pound size he needs to be one of the rocks of the line – and occasionally get to the quarterback.
The Season Will Be A Success If …
It gets back to the Mountain West title game. With all the experience on both sides of the ball, anything less than another Mountain division title will be a step back – even in the loaded division. The Falcons get Boise State and Colorado State at home, and they miss San Diego State from the West, so there’s no excuse schedule-wise.
Sept. 24 at Utah State. Obviously the games against Colorado State and Boise State are going to be the most important battles, but those are at home. By far the toughest Mountain West road game should be against Utah State, and it comes in the conference opener. Fortunately for the Falcons they get two weeks to prepare for it, and if they win, they should set up nicely for the key finishing kick in late November. Lose, and there might not be much margin for error.
Fun Stats From 2015
– Sacks: Air Force 37 for 224 yards – Opponents 3 for 9 yards
– Fourth Quarter Scoring: Air Force 138 – Opponents 66
– Penalties: Opponents 77 for 587 yards – Air Force 53 for 532 yards