After a season that began with coach Troy Calhoun possibly staring down the barrel of a hostile fanbase and administration the Falcons turned in their best regular season with their head coach. With only minor hiccups against Boise State, who will be representing the Mountain division in the conference championship against Hawaii, and Armed forces rival Navy Air Force dominated the rest of their schedule, outscoring their opponents on the season 412-237 (a 175-point difference) while also out-gaining the opposition by 108 yards a game. There were many stars to point too for the terrific product the Falcons put on the field this regular season, and now with selection Sunday and bowl season looming over all of college football, it is a good time to acknowledge those who performed at a high level in 2019.
First we will begin with the offensive and defensive units as a whole, and since I am a. biased former offensive lineman we will start there. It was no surprise that the strength of this Falcons offense was upfront and running with the ball, even with the expectations of high rushing totals a triple option armed forces academy brings Air Force astonished with their totals. For the regular season Air Force averaged 293.3 yards a game making it seem as though you were looking at passing stats every week behind those big hogs on the offensive line, this lead to a crazy 5.4 yards per carry average as well almost 2 yards more than the expected average per rushing play. When you move the ball at that pace on the ground it figures that points will follow and the Falcons averaged 3.1 rushing touchdowns a game. In a time where people think that football is loosing touch with it’s hard-nosed roots one look at these averages from the season will show you that football may be changing but there still is no substitute for pounding the ball on the ground. To compliment that punch you in the mouth style offensively the defense as a whole, and specifically the front seven, did not disappoint either. The falcons forced offenses to change their gamelans from the opening kickoff allowing just 107 yards pregame rushing, 3.5 per carry, and a mere .9 rushing touchdowns a game. To make a reference an old school boxing fan would remember the Falcons front seven on defense were like old school George Foreman pounding you early and often with punches that normally wouldn’t devastate someone but you look up three rounds later from your back staring at the lights from your back as the referee counts to ten. Just because offenses are finding new ways to pass it doesn’t mean they enjoy having to abandon the run game altogether but against the 2019 Air Force defense you had no other choice.
Since it is the most important position on the field and most high profile Donald Hammond III followed up an impressive debut start in the 2018 finale by leading Air Force to 10 wins and a 35 points per game average. Hammond’s ability to run the ball fit well into the scheme this season and he finished with 491 yards on the ground to go along with 11 touchdown as well. His leadership was immense and showed when he was on the field since when his injury forced him out of the final stages of the Navy game in the heartbreaking loss to the Midshipmen. In just his junior year at the Academy Falcons fans should be excited to have him play in the upcoming bowl game as well as next season. Along with impressive ground stats Hammond also grew as a passer especially towards the end of the season, overall Hammond had 1286 yards passing 13 touchdowns and a rating of 194 in an offense that doesn't feature the passing game much. For a season offensive MVP its hard to not pick Hammond who accounted for 1777 yards and 26 touchdowns both rushing and passing. Hammond is making his place among the great quarterbacks who have manned the helm at Air Force.
Defensively I will focus on two players because they impacted the game from different levels of the defense and in different ways. My first co-MVP will Milton Tre Bugg III, I played with Tre on one of the USA Football teams who played internationally and he is a game changer in the defensive backfield, a fact he drove home this year with his 3 interceptions one of which he returned to the house. Though the Falcons struggled defending the pass as a whole that could be attributed to the amount of pass plays ran against them since no team could move the ball rushing. In spite of this Bugg also showed a willingness to stick his nose into the action finishing the season with 34 solo tackles and 48 total giving a presence not normally seen on the outside of defenses that corners don’t often provide. The second co-MVP for the Falcons defense was junior inside linebacker Demonte Meeks which shouldn’t come as a surprise to many who saw Air Force play. Meeks’ stat line reads like this: 42 solo tackles, 97 total tackles, 9 of those tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. If you were looking for the anchor to the defensive from that allowed only 107 yards rushing a game you don’t have to go much farther than number 38 who will look to cap off a great season that will most likely see him break the 100 total tackle mark and maybe the 10 sack barrier as well.
The success was a total team effort but the 3 players mentioned above stand out amongst a myriad of other candidates on both sides of the ball, and they also reinforce the amazing standard coach Calhoun has created in Colorado, Springs withe the Juniors and below.
As for where the Falcons will finish their season it is all speculation until December 8th, when all the conference championships are finished and the final rankings are selected and released. Another bright spot for the Falcons was they finished 25th in the AP and coaches poll rankings after being 1 of the 20 division 1a college football programs to finish with double digit wins in the regular season, there are 129 total teams in division 1a. According to ESPN.com and their college football experts there are two possible landing spots for Air Force and their bowl game, the first sends Air Force to the desert to play in the Cheez-it bowl being played at Chase Field in Phoenix the normal home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This bowl game would see them take on the Texas Longhorns in another opportunity to see the Mountain West Conference to take another win against a team from a power five conference, no matter how underwhelming the Longhorns have been since their highly anticipated matchup against the LSU tigers way back in September. This matchup plays into both strengths of the Falcons as Texas QB Sam Ellinger is more Tim Tebow than Peyton Manning, both are winners but one is a tried and true quarterback while the other is a glorified tight end who can throw a little bit. Demonte Meeks and the rest of the vaunted front seven of Air Force would force the young Texan out of his comfort zone running the ball and Ellinger’s downfall is when he is forced to throw the ball.
The Second matchup, though a bowl game of more prestige, would see Air Force playing the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl taking place in Fort Worth, Texas at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Hilltoppers finished the season 8-4 coming out of the C-USA Eastern division who's signature win came against Arkansas 45-19. However, with the common opponent with Air Force in Army won a close game 17-8 holding the Black Knights to 5 points less than the Falcons. Honestly living in Colorado we don’t get too many C-USA games on the standard sports package so I will have to do more digging if in fact Air Force does play WKU in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Ultimately there is still a slate of conference championship games and chaos could ensue, though most would probably bet chalk which would cause little surprises for the upcoming games. For myself on this blog thread since Air Force won’t have a game for a few more weeks there will not be a pregame or recap until the week of their Bowl Game. If you enjoy my takes and my writing I will be contributing more to the roundtable and collaborative articles for Mountain West Connection but you can listen to my radio show that airs twice a week live Wednesday and Friday at 10am Mountain Standard time on the tunein app if you search KWSB, or you can listen to the recordings on our soundcloud page at this link https://soundcloud.com/user-523669779. I normally upload them that evening or the following day. Follow me on twitter @JimmyPallotto for my takes and random thoughts as well. Thanks for reading and following along this season.