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Is it too early to look at next year?

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2021 Falcon Defense

While I sit eagerly awaiting the CIC Championship Game, I started thinking about how the Air Force team might look next year. I think everyone knows that the NCAA has declared this a gimme year as far as eligibility for every team. And most MW fans know that 38 players on the Falcon roster opted for a turnback in the fall semester, which allowed them to skip all Academy activities until the spring semester and have the opportunity to play another season before their graduation. The extra year of NCAA eligibility is not really an issue for Air Force players because so few actually play football in their freshman year, and they are expected to become officers after their four years of school. The turnback option is about the only way to get another season of eligibility.

I mention this now because I think it was a significant indicator that Troy Calhoun, in his latest press conference started to pontificate about how it would be a nice option for cadets to more routinely take the turnback option for a chance to do other things that are important to an individual’s development such as church missions, individual study, or maybe just getting your head in order to serve in the military in a productive manner.

Now, I can already hear the cynical remarks about Calhoun’s true intentions to basically get more experience on his squad, and I’m sure that plays into it. He’s trying to compensate for the disadvantage that the Falcons have with redshirt and transfer portal rules. He specifically talked about the situation at Wyoming where Levi Williams will essentially be a redshirt freshman for three years.

The main argument against the turnback is that it delays the graduation of a necessary asset for the nation’s defense, leaders that are trained in military matters and educated with expertise in needed skills. However, the Air Force’s manpower planning department can always advise the Academy about a need for any specific career paths that are time critical, so no turnback would be automatically granted. Also, there would be no additional cost to the Air Force to essentially separate a cadet for a semester.

Interestingly enough, I have heard rumors of some cadets currently on the roster who are seniors possibly requesting a turnback for the spring semester. This would allow them to come back next year and finish after playing another season during the fall alongside the fall turnbacks. Imagine getting to watch Nolan Laufenberg, Kade Remsberg, Parker Ferguson and a few others suit up for another year. Since the Academy doesn’t reveal its turnbacks, we may not know until practice starts next year, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for any leaks from the program.

Laufenberg’s situation is particularly interesting, as he is a possible NFL draftee. With the limited number of games this year, and having to miss one of the games due to contract tracing, there will be a somewhat limited amount of senior year tapes for the scouts to watch, and of course another year of weight training and game experience is always a positive.

So, with that discussion as a background, I wanted to start with an examination of how the Falcon roster might look next year, and I thought I should start with the defense, since we already know about a lot of turnback seniors who will be back next year. I’ll follow up with a look at the offense later.

Defensive Line

The top player on the D line next year will be Jordan Jackson, a two time All-MW selection in 2019 and 2018 at defensive tackle. Also, my pick from last year as breakout player of the year, Christopher Herrera, will return at defensive end. Sophomore Kalawai’a Pescaia appears to be the lead candidate for nose guard, although it would be nice to see George Silvanic take a turnback and play again next year. As a senior getting his first substantial playing time and as a competitor willing to play both offensive and defensive line, he has been a good asset this year, and at 6-5 285 lbs has impressive size.

Linebacker

This unit appears to be a major positive force next year. Preseason 1st Team All-MW inside linebacker Demonte Meeks will return from turnback, along with ILB TD Blackmon. Three freshmen that have impressed this year will also be back at ILB, Alec Mock, Johnathan Youngblood, and Matt Malloy. Noah Bush has also seen time this year at ILB, and will return for his senior year. The biggest problem with this unit will be finding playing time to keep everyone sharp.

At OLB, Lakota Wills will return from turnback. He has been a solid performer ever since his freshman year, especially by disrupting plays in the backfield, but has missed quite a bit of playing time with injuries. Hopefully, the time off will heal any residual effects, and he can come back for a full year of playing time. Also returning are two juniors who have made some plays in the backfield this year are Brandon Gooding and Caleb Humphrey. Ethan Erickson will return at the Spur linebacker spot, a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position.

Defensive Backs

This unit has been the weakest performer this year, but there will be considerable experience coming back from turnbacks next year, and some very young players who have gained valuable experience this year. Tre Bugg, who was an all-MW selection in 2019 will return at one of the cornerback slots. James Jones, who had an excellent sophomore year and then missed 2018 with an injury will return from turnback having had time to completely heal at one of the safety spots.

The returning DBs that have logged a lot of time this year are juniors Corvan Taylor and David Eure, sophomore Zion Kelley, and freshmen Jayden Goodwin and Camby Goff.

The elements are in place for a solid defense in 2021, but of course every player in the Mountain West this year will have the opportunity for another year of eligibility, so we all should expect a conference-wide upgrade in performance next year as well as a hopefully more consistent performance without sidelining due to Covid.

Mark me up as an enthusiast for 2021.