The Falcons aren't ready to challenge Boise State or TCU for the Mountain West title, but they could contend for a spot in the top 25 this season.
By: Steven Lassan | 6/6/11, 12:23 PM EDT
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#29 Air Force
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix, Blane Morgan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Wallerstedt, Charlton Warren
Air Force’s complex, run-obsessed option offense accumulated nearly 4,000 yards rushing last season as a collection of backs cruised behind a lean and athletic offensive line. Here’s a warning for defenses that plan to react to this rushing success by loading up the line of scrimmage this season: This edition of the Falcons boasts the program’s most dangerous passing attack of the 21st century. Tim Jefferson is the rare quarterback who can sprint to a 50-yard touchdown or throw a 50-yard touchdown. Jefferson is poised to complete one of the more impressive careers in Air Force football history. He’s quiet and dislikes attention, but he’s grown into a steady, distinctive leader. Connor Dietz is a proven backup.
Look for senior wide receiver Zach Kauth to emerge as a star. He’s a big target and is blessed with surprising speed and athleticism. Jefferson can also throw to speedster Mikel Hunter and double-threat receiver/back Jonathan Warzeka.
Tackle Jason Kons and guard A.J. Wallerstein lead an undersized yet highly effective line. The Falcons employ a zone blocking scheme, which emphasizes speed and agility over girth, and it’s common to see a Falcon lineman sprinting 20 yards downfield for a key block.
The glaring question for the offense is at fullback. Jared Tew, who has graduated, had the power to break tackles at the line of scrimmage and the speed to outrun defensive backs. For the offense to truly soar, either Mike DeWitt or Wesley Cobb must be productive.
Senior Asher Clark has delivered a steady, if not sensational, career as the lead running back. He’s grown tougher but remains undersized and will be more effective if Darius Jones provides relief as his backup.
The Falcons boast one of the conference’s more talented defensive backfields, even after the loss of All-American Reggie Rembert. Look for strong safety Brian Lindsay to emerge as a star. He will deliver a bone-rattling, intimidating presence, which is a rarity for this program. Senior cornerback Anthony Wright must rebound from an underachieving season.
Linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole has the physical gifts to become a dominating star but must add the required every-down determination and focus.
The defensive line is surprisingly fast. That’s the good news. The question will be whether the undersized trio of seniors Zach Payne, Ryan Gardner and Harry Kehs can stand tough against the run. Gardner has potential to become a dangerous pass-rusher, but departed tackle Rick Ricketts could be sorely missed this season.
Placekicker Erik Soderberg’s confidence — and accuracy — vanished last season, prompting coach Troy Calhoun to replace him late in the season. If Soderberg regains his form from 2009, when he hit 22-of-30, the Falcons will have a superb kicker. Kauth could become the rare wide receiver who also punts. He’s battling David Baska for the starting job.
The Falcons were close — extremely close — to a breakout season in 2010, losing to San Diego State, Utah and Oklahoma by an average of 3.3 points. With Jefferson, Wright, Kauth and Warzeka, this team boasts the star power to threaten the top teams — Boise State and TCU — in the MWC. Air Force will again roll to 300 or so rushing yards per game, and there’s enough talent in the defensive backfield to stifle the pass. If an undersized defense can stop the run, this could be a special season.