The last two seasons have produced lots of skepticism on the Academy base in Colorado Springs, however with a team growing in experience many believe that Air Force can make a strong push back towards the top of the Mountain West Conference and bowl eligibility. Coach Calhoun will be leading his 11th Falcons team on the gridiron this year and has been as successful as the young men he has had the privilege coaching in that time. Calhoun has been the standard of coaching in college football being recognized as Mountain West coach of the year in 2007. Despite the pedigree of Calhoun’s resume this year more than most feels like a make or break season having not one the Commander In Chief trophy since 2016 and missing out on Bowl season for at least the past two years. Without further adieu lets looks at the positives and negatives for the Air Force Fighting Falcons for the 2019 season.
Reasons for optimism: The main key for Air Force and their offense is the hogs up front which is where most of the experience on the offense will come from. Having multiple starters return from last season the trenches will now boast the mean and nasty tendencies that these five have learned over their years under offensive line coach Lobo. Some continuity at the quarterback position will also have a major hand in the success of this offensive unit, Donald Hammond III will be returning under center and the challenges and triumphs he experienced last season will play into the running of the military academy staple triple option offense.
Causes For Concern: The first concern for the Falcons would be whether or not Hammond can come back and hold onto the position he won outright during the latter half of last season. If he will not be able to show out during camp this will mean the fourth person to play quarterback for the Falcons in as many years, which is hard for any offense but the intricacies of the triple option will add ten degrees of difficulty. The second concern is whether or not the triple option offense is now obsolete in the modern age of college football, Army put a wrench in this theory two seasons ago winning many games without throwing the ball more than five times. However, the most successful teams in the country have moved to more of a spread system or for teams like Wyoming at least a more pro style system.
Key Stat: 52.8%, This is significant because it was the completion percentage of Donald Hammond III in the opportunities he got last season. The question will now be in a bigger sample size will his numbers increase, stay the same, or decline. Obviously the team would favor of the first two options but based on the law of averages the most likely outcome would be for his stats to drop and who knows if he has the talent around him to make up for it.
Wildcard: Isaiah Sanders, the 6-2 210lb quarterback lost his position to Hammond in the late stages of the season but now as he returns for his senior campaign will he be motivated enough to take back and keep his spot for the final time he will be able to play. Size wise Sanders is more of a traditional size for quarterbacks in college but brings the athleticism to run the triple option.
Reasons for Optimism: Though losing seven games last season most of the scores sans a few games against the top of the conference were very close within at least 10 points. This stinginess along with a more experienced offense should allow for more turnarounds in the upcoming seasons.
Causes for Concern: The big cause for concern are those games against the top teams in the Mountain West like Boise State and Utah State the defense was not able to slow down these prolific offenses. Specifically the Boise game where in the offense scored more than 35 points while the defense gave up 48. The bright lights of the top teams will have to be overcome to get the program back to the prominence of year past.
Key Stat: 25.75ppg, This is the biggest stat for the 2019 Falcons defense last season gave up on average 25.75 points per game which is not the worst but can definitely be improved. If they can hold opponents to around 19-21 the chances of winning and the offense having the confidence to score with the better teams in the conference.
8/31- vs Colgate
9/14- @ Colorado
9/20- @ Boise State
9/27- vs San Jose State
10/5- @ Navy
10/12- vs Fresno State
10/19- @ Hawaii
10/26- vs Utah State
11/2- vs Army
11/9- @ New Mexico
11/16- @ Colorado State
11/30- vs Wyoming
Best Case Scenario: The maturity of the team builds upon the flashes that were shown last year of the Falcons of the past and can become bowl eligible for the first time in two years. The quarterback position stabilizes itself and the defense improves and as a whole the team climbs back into the upper third of the conference. If all goes well the team should be pushing the perennial teams at the top, Boise State, Utah State, and Fresno state towards the end of the season to possibly get back into the conference championship picture.
What will most likely happen: Hammond struggles as the full time starter but rights the ship after tough games on the road against Boise and Colorado. I do think that they will be back to 6 wins and be bowl eligible but it will not be a marquee bowl game. On a bright note in the shift of power that will need to take place among the military schools Air Force is in the right spot to take back the CIC and that will be another show of promise and a step in the right direction moving forward to hopefully moving back into the Conference title picture.