The Air Force Falcons will be in everyone's gunsights this year after their surge in the MWC power structure last year. One team who hopes to have a crack at the fly boys is the Tennessee State Tigers out of Nashville. The Tigers are a FCS school and a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. They will be traveling to Colorado Springs on September 24th to see what its like to run and suck in the thin mountain air at 6,620 feet of altitude. The good thing is they will be right at home on a natural grass field.
The last time the Tigers won their conference was in 1999. Last year they went 3-8 overall, which was a slip downward from their 2009 mark of 4-7, and they were 0-7 in conference play. This year, Air Force will be the Tiger's top ranked opponent, and the Tennesseans arrive in Colorado a week after traveling to Murray State, who beat them last year 28-23.
Their opponent on the other hand, was a top-25 ranked FBS team last year. Air Force is a team that is expected to go places this year and will be looking to send a message: we are ready to create a power shift in the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons will be will be rested, even eager, coming off a bye week after a final matchup in conference play with top-ranked and Big East bound, TCU. I they beat TCU they will be motivated and thinking about the MWC championship, and if they lose, they will be looking for redemption.
Either way, its going to be a long day up in the Rockies for Tennessee State.
The Tigers do not have a lot of positives to call attention to. Head Coach Rod Reed took over the ailing program in 2009, after serving as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach since 2003. Reed himself is a former TSU Tiger, playing from 1984-1988. One postive is that last year the Tigers averaged 20 points a game with 355.5 total yards while holding their opponents to 342 average yards a game. But the downside was they were also outscored 220-258 in total points.
Reed's QB will probably be Sr. Jeremy Perry, 6' 3" who last season completed about 54% of his passes. He was 131 of 244 with 6 INTs for 1,469 yards. His long was an 84 yard bomb so he has the arm to get it done if he gets the opportunity to go deep. His backup is Michael German. German went 8-19-2 for 116 yards during their sping game. The QB's have a number of receivers to go to if they can get open: Jrs. Devon Wilson, 6' 3" 195 lbs. and Travis James, 5' 10" 170 lbs, are two of those who put up good numbers last season. WR Brandon Brown also had a good spring game and is guaraneed to be downfield in September looking to make a play.
The Tigers are an in-your-face type of team who prefer to run the ball. Last season they rushed 428 times for 2339 total yeards and 17 TDs, versus 159 completed passes on 309 attempts for 1820 yards and 10 TDs. And they like to spread around those carrying duties so you don't know who's coming at you. At least one of those workhorses you can expect to see in the backfield is senior Dante Thomas, 5' 10" 210 lbs. This running back led the team last season in running and earned 832 yards the hard way with an average of 5.1 per carry. Trabis Ward is another RB who will be given the ball. In the Spring game he had 69 yards on 11 rushes.
But if the Tigers have a secret offensive weapon to throw at the Falcons it will be redshirt senior Calvin McNairl, 6' 0" 185 lbs. He has proven his ability to both run and throw the football, and he has also shown he as the skills to get out there and catch it. The roster has him listed as a QB, where he also has experience. This guy is a jack-of-all-trades and if he plays it could be anywhere on the field where he will be a huge threat to the Falcon defenders.
While the Tigers usually controlled the times of possession in 2010, they were also prone to turnovers. Last season they were 16-9 on fumbles and gave up 9 interceptions. What is more telling is that most of their points were made in the first half were they outscored their opponents 139-115. But in the second half it was another story; they seemed to run out of gas by the beginning of the third quarter and were unable to keep themselves in the game. They were steamrolled by a total score of 81-140 in the two quarters of play. And kicking wise, they were only 9 of 18 on field goals.
As for the Falcons, many thought that they were supposed to break out last year and failed to do so. Still, a 9-4 record over some very fine opponents is nothing to be ashamed of. They lost 26 seniors off their football team last year, but they have a squadron of seasoned veterans who can step up. Senior RG A. J. Wallerstein, a 6' 4" 285 lbs slab of muscle is already there to anchor the O-line and give dual-threat quarterback senior Tim Jefferson, 6' 1" 200 lbs, a chance to complete his plays. Last year, Jefferson passed for 1,459 yards with 82 completions on 159 attempts. He also ran the ball for 794 yards. Behind Jefferson is senior running back Asher Clark, 5' 8" 185 lbs, who had 1,081 yards on 182 carries last season. And if he needs to pass there is WR Jonathan Warzeka who accounted for 312 yards on the ground while still leading the team in pass receptions (18 for 406 yards). Senior WR Zach Kauth, 6' 5" 195lbs, could be making a big difference down field if he is healthy. Otherwise look for WR Drew Coleman, 5' 10" 170 lbs to be in the lineup. QB Jefferson will be backed up by senior Connor Dietz , 6' 1" 185 lbs, as his backup.
The Falcons gave up a lot of ground last year on defense, and this year they replace seven players on the front line. That could spell a little trouble in the march to a championship. They will need others to step in and help DE Zach Payne, 6' 3" 225 lbs, and inside LB Jordan Waiwaiole, 6' 3" 225 lbs, to bust up plays. Luckily for the Falcons they have a number of top ranked defensive backs and ends that could do just that. Perhaps by the time they face Tennessee State, freshmen DB's Trent Dennington, 6'0' 195 lbs, and Trevor Caswell, 6'1" 200 lbs, along with DE's Troy Timmerman, 6'4" 245 lbs and Tanner Rice 6'2" 240 lbs will all have a little experience on the on the field. If the Falcons get to an early lead, DB Aaryn Bouzos, 5'9" 180 lbs is another new recruit who could find himsefl in the mix.
Its no secret that Air Force has struggled in the past, but this game shouldn't be a tough one for Air Force. But it is not one they should take lightly, either. Upsets happen. Head coach Troy Calhoun, a former Falcon quarterback (1985-1988) who was the Offensive Coordinator for the Houston Texans, knows that. Since his hire, the coach has amassed a record of 34-18-0 and taken the Falcons to four consecutive post-season bowl games with a win last season over Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl.
A lot more is riding on this year's performance. The coach wants more than just another bowl appearance and another Commander-in-Chief trophy. This season could place the Falcons in the MWC championship, something they have never won. And that is one reason Calhoun won't allow his team to take another team for granted, even Tennessee State. Its 2011, and nothings a gimme anymore. All wins have to be earned.