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Defensive Improvement Key to Air Force Season

Improving on a defense that was near the bottom in the nation in every meaningful statistical category will be vital for the Falcons to be competitive in the Mountain West Conference in 2014.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

There was no bowl game for the Air Force Falcons in 2013 for the first time in Troy Calhoun's coaching stint at Air Force. It will be extremely difficult for the Falcons to get the six wins necessary to get to a bowl game in 2014 without significant improvement from the defense that was either ranked as the worst or near the bottom in most NCAA statistical categories.

How bad was it for the Falcons? Here is their ranking in key defensive categories among the 123 FBS teams in 2013:

Scoring Defense - 40.0 points allowed - 116th in Nation

Total Yards per game - 490.3 yards allowed per game - 114th in Nation

Rushing Defense - 250.6 yards allowed per game - 119th in Nation

Pass Defense - 239.7 yards allowed per game - 77th in Nation

Third Down Conversion Defense - 59% success rate by opponent - 123rd in Nation

To further illustrate how much the defense struggled, they were victimized for 40 or more points eight times last season. And it was the last game of the season that really stung the Falcons, as they gave up 58 points to Colorado State, their in-state rival.

Changes were made, as Air Force departed from the co-defensive coordinator arraignment they used in 2013 and appointed Steve Russ as the coordinator for this season. In the spring, Russ experimented with some 4 man fronts, a stark contrast to the 3-4 alignment Air Force has deployed back to the glory days of Fisher DeBerry. Also, the Falcons moved their best defensive player Dexter Walker from safety to weak side linebacker to allow him to help make a difference at the line of scrimmage.

Things have not started out well in rebuilding the defense however. A group of linebackers that would have been heavily counted on to play meaningful minutes for the Falcons have not returned to the team. With a linebacker driven defense, the Falcons will have to count on young and inexperienced players to carry the load. Plus, the move to bring Walker up to linebacker from the safety position has the potential to significantly weaken the secondary.

Calhoun, Russ and the defensive coaching staff have their work cut out for them in 2014. If the Falcons can drastically improve their defensive efficiency and get the offense the ball back without giving up points, the Falcons have the opportunity to return to the bowl picture