Coming off an appearance in the Mountain Championship game last season, expectations are high at the United State Air Force Academy as the Air Force Falcons prepare to open up their 2016 season Saturday afternoon at high noon versus FCS opponent Abilene Christian.
The Falcons, who finished last season 8-6, have key returners in key positions but no returner is bigger than quarterback Nate Romine. In the second game of the 2015 season against San Jose State, Romine was about to score a touchdown when he was tackled by two Spartan defenders. With the two players coming from opposite directions, the impact on Romine's knee was devastating, tearing his ACL along with other damage and ending the quarterback's season. Romine is back, ready to lead the rushing heavy offense that includes senior running back Jacobi Owens and senior wide receiver Jalen Robinette. The Falcons were the 4th best rushing team in the nation last season, and expectations are just as high this season with both Owens and Robinette looking to move up in the school's record book for their respective positional statistics. Owens is 11th at the moment in all time rushing yards in Air Force history while Robinette is sixth in receptions and third in receiving yards. Other key members of the Falcons offense include tailbacks Timothy McVey and Benton Washington along with fullbacks D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern.
Defensively, the Falcons are led by all-everything defensive back Weston Steelhammer. Steelhammer is one of the most decorated Falcons players of all time, and this season finds his name on many watch list in the nation including the Jim Thorpe and Ronnie Lott awards. A key plus for Steelhammer and the Air Force defense is that fellow senior cornerback Roland Ladipo will be available at the start of the season. Ladipo has been battling a sprained MCL, but has put in a good week of practice and will play. Not to be outdone is the Falcons' front seven, which returns key players Grant Ross and Haji Dunn Jr. for a team that held opponents to 144 yards rushing per game. The defensive unit will also be looking to atone for a horrible bowl performance which saw them shredded by number one draft pick Jared Goff and the California Bears.
The Falcons will be looking to extend their current 12 game home winning streak against a struggling FCS team in Abilene Christian. The Wildcats won only three games last season, and like many FCS teams, Abilene Christian will face a focused and disciplined Falcons team that does not lose to FCS opponents. The Falcons are 20-0 all-time versus FCS opponents.