By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 11:13 AM EDT
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You can read the entire Air Force preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#92 Air Force
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 41-24 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix, Blane Morgan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ, Charlton Warren
If the Falcons hope to deliver a winning season, quarterback Connor Dietz must be superb. He’s a fifth-year senior, a rarity among service-academy athletes, after suffering an injury during his freshman year. His experience has given him a deep understanding of coach Troy Calhoun’s complex option attack. Dietz is a swift, elusive, brave runner, able to outrun cornerbacks and eager to trample over linebackers.
The Falcons rushed for 4,092 yards last season. Under Dietz’s direction, they might rush for even more in 2012. The question about Dietz is his right arm. He’s been erratic in passing situations throughout his career. Opposing defenses will dare Dietz and the Falcons to pass. If Dietz can burn defenders for cheating on the run, the Falcons should again be powerful on offense.
Jon Lee, a sophomore who seldom played last season, could become Air Force’s most dangerous halfback of the 21st century. He’s fast and shifty, and he will pair with Dietz to form one of the best one-two running combinations in the MWC.
Dietz needs someone to step forward among the receivers. Mikel Hunter was expected to be one of the top receivers, but he was not with the team in fall practice.
Tackle Jason Kons ranks among the conference’s finest players, even though he lacks size. Kons, a relatively slender 255 pounds, does much of his best work downfield, often leveling potential tacklers 20 yards downfield. If the Falcons hope to deliver a winning season, quarterback Connor Dietz must be superb. He’s a fifth-year senior, a rarity among service-academy athletes, after suffering an injury during his freshman year. His experience has given him a deep understanding of coach Troy Calhoun’s complex option attack. Dietz is a swift, elusive, brave runner, able to outrun cornerbacks and eager to trample over linebackers.
Say this for the Falcons’ 2012 defense: It can’t get much worse. Air Force’s extreme defensive generosity in 2011 doomed the team to an underachieving 7–6 record. The Falcons allowed 5,024 yards and surrendered an average of 39.8 points in their losses. The Falcons will again be undersized, but Air Force is always undersized. The problem last season was extreme predictability. Defensive co-coordinator Charlton Warren promises a more aggressive defense that will take risks.
There’s hope for improvement. Junior linebacker Jamil Cooks dazzled coaches during spring drills, but he was not with the team in the fall. Air Force desperately needs a tough, swift force to anchor the defense.
Senior strong safety Brian Lindsay has struggled with injuries for much of his career. He could form a tag-team demolition crew with Cooks. End Nick Fitzgerald and linebacker Alex Means, who recorded 77 tackles as a junior, will be the key defenders against the run.
David Baska is a consistent punter who could deliver a few surprises to opponents. He’s one of the team’s best athletes and could burst out of the backfield on fakes. Parker Herrington is a solid field goal kicker who must improve on extra points after missing three in 2011. The Falcons ranked third in the MWC in punt returns with a 10.7-yard average.
Dietz leads an offense that returns only three starters. He must remain healthy, which is a large question considering his reckless style, and he must be more generous. In past seasons, Dietz has been too eager to call his own number on the option.
The bigger question is defense. The Falcons averaged 34.9 points in 2011, but their defense — which struggled mightily against the run — doomed them to disappointment.