Location: Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, CO
Date/Time: Saturday, September 2nd at 11:00 am (Mountain Time)
Television: Altitude Sports
Draft Kings Odds: No line
The 2023 season will open for the Air Force Falcons just as it has since the 2007 season - Troy Calhoun’s first year as head coach - against an FCS team on Parents Weekend. As usual this game will do nothing for establishing a resume that could propel the Falcons to a prominent slot in any post-season Bowl game, but it is very important for the new cadets beginning their journey toward a career as an Air Force officer. Their parents will have the first opportunity to see their sons and daughters after finishing basic training and get initiated into the pageantry of Academy football. The weekend is simply not possible in today’s college football universe without having an FCS team visit the Academy.
The game also serves a purpose of providing valuable experience to players that don’t have as many opportunities of getting practice reps that other FBS teams do. No redshirting, no transferring, shorter practice sessions, more demanding academic and extracurricular requirements are factors that work against the Falcon’s player development. This game provides a good opportunity to work out the kinks and develop confidence in executing the intricate Air Force offensive and defensive schemes.
This year’s opponent is Robert Morris University, getting the opportunity to come to Falcon Field after losing it to a cancellation during the shortened COVID season. To put it mildly, the Colonials are a struggling program. They’ve suffered through three straight losing seasons, which culminated in an 0-11 record last year. ESPN’s SP+ rankings has the Colonials ranked as the fourth worst team in FCS and Sagarin’s computer ranking have them as the 14th worst team.
RMU on Offense
A quick look at the roster and returning players for RMU doesn’t provide a lot of highlights. On offense, the two returning QBs from last year are Zach Turner and Anthony Chiccitt. Both connect on about 50% of their passes and combined last year for 14 interceptions and only 5 TDs last year. Chiccitt has a phenomenal story of recovering from Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease and the death of his mother to walk on to the team and earn considerable playing time. If you want more detail on the story you can read about it here.
At running back, the Colonials lost their two top running backs from last year on a team that only gained 64 yards per game. DJ Moyer (transfer from Elon) and Kimon O’Sullivan should compete for playing time.
The experience and depth is better at receiver and along the offensive line. James Westry had 35 receptions for 460 yards two years ago and Parker Fetterman was second in receptions last year with 20 for 230 yards. The offensive line has four returning starters, led by center Luke Beltavski.
As a team RMU averaged less than 10 points per game and averaged only 223 yards per game.
RMU on Defense
The story isn’t much better on the defensive side of the ball. Last year the Colonials gave up 34.3 points per game and 422.5 yards per game, including 216 yards per game on the ground.
The main bright spot on defense is the linebacker corps. LB Joe Casale and LB Jamar Shegog were named to the Big South/Ohio Valley preseason watchlist, and second leading tackler from a year ago, LB Tony Brown, returns to anchor the defense.
The secondary lost its only all conference player from last year, Sydney Audiger, and will be breaking in several newcomers.
Notes on the Falcon Depth Chart
There are seven differences on the opening day depth chart as compared to preseason expectations.
On the offensive line, sophomore Mason Carlan is listed as the starter at Right Tackle instead of Kaleb Holcomb. Reports indicate that Holcomb has an issue with his back that will keep him out for a couple games. He is expected to be back in time for the conference opener against Utah State, and perhaps earlier. Carlan saw playing time in five games last year. The two tackle positions are the only two slots on the depth chart that list only two players, a sign that depth might be a little thin with the loss of Smalley and Holcomb.
James Bryant is listed as the starting tight end. He saw action in all 12 games last year as a backup. Starter Caleb Rillos has an injury that will keep him out for a couple games and also is expected back in time for Utah State.
Wyatt Wilson is listed as the starting wide receiver in place of Brandon Engel, although the two were expected to split reps. Engel’s status is unknown.
The trio of possible starting QBs has been reduced to two - Zac Larrier and Jensen Jones. Coach Calhoun has already indicated that at least two quarterbacks will likely see a lot of snaps this year. Given that Calhoun usually likes to stick with one main QB, I don’t know what to think of this. It could be he thinks he doesn’t have one guy that can take change in all aspects, or it could mean that he and OC Mike Thiessen will utilize unique specific talents in different situations.
Emmanuel Michel and Zion Kelly are not listed at all on the depth chart, as those two have been waiting to be cleared to play by the NCAA (which seems ridiculous considering some players in the NCAA have been able to stretch their eligibility to seven years). Their notification of approval arrived yesterday and Coach Calhoun stated they likely won’t play this weekend due to the late approval.
On defense DL Kupono Blake is listed as the starter at DT due to an injury to Jayden Thiergood. I would expect he might be in a rotation with sophomore Daniel Grobe, who has had a good fall camp.
Jerome Gaillard has nabbed one of the starting cornerback positions with Jamari Bellamy and Corey Collins sharing the other spot.
What to Expect
The Falcons should be able to win this game while running nothing more than the basic ground game all day long. On the other hand, with the new players in the starting lineup, particularly at quarterback, Calhoun might want to insert some of his new playbook from the shotgun formation to get gametime familiarity for his team. Calhoun usually holds back from exposing some of his offensive playbook for the conference season and especially for the Army and Navy games, and I don’t expect him to show much of his hand in this game, but I would expect him to stretch his new starting quarterbacks with some challenging plays.
ESPN’s SP+ rating system predicts a 100% chance of the Falcons winning and pegs the final score at 45-0. We should see mostly second and third stringers in the game in the second half and an easy victory for the Falcons. The score might not be quite as one sided as predicted just because the length of garbage time should consume a lot of the game, but I’ll predict a final score of 40-3.