Sunday, February 7, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Air Force Falcons

Air Force Falcons
8-6 (6-2)
Lost 55-26 to California in Armed Forces Bowl

Looking Back: The Falcons were a success of sorts, winning the MWC Mountain Division, but they fell short in the title game, and were eventually outclassed and hammered by Cal in their bowl loss. What Went Right: The offense was in good shape in 2015, as the Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game on the season. Air Force rushed for over double the yards that they gave up on the season, finishing with 4472 yards and 45 TDs on the year, while giving up 2026 yards and 20 TDs. The Falcons averaged 6.4 yards per offensive play, and managed to edge out opponents in red zone scoring by a margin of around two percent.
Stars: Jacobi Owens rushed for 1026 yards and seven TDs on the season, while QB Karson Roberts added 10 rushing scores on the season. Owens averaged 5.32 yards per carry. Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown both averaged over 20 yards per reception as big play targets. Luke Strebel was a star in the kicking game, hitting 10/11 FG attempts on the season. Weston Steelhammer, one of the best DBs in the league, picked off five passes, and also led the team with 80 tackles, and 10.5 TFLs. Alex Hanson led the team with 15.5 TFLs, while DJ Dunn, Jr. recorded 12.5 TFLs, and Claude Alexander III recorded 10.5.
What Went Wrong: The Falcons did manage to lose six games this season, including a loss to Navy that cost them the Commander-In-Chief trophy in 2015. That takes some shine off the season. The Falcons did manage to beat Army 20-3, but were not in the game in a 33-11 loss to Navy. The Falcons were also outclassed in the Armed Forces Bowl loss to Cal. The Falcons were solid at home, but they were less than stellar on the road, having finished 2-6 on the road/in neutral site games. The Falcons also largely were not great on 3rd down conversions, making just 43% of them on the year. Either the Falcons made big plays, or they were a three and out kind of team. They were better on 4th downs than at 3rd down conversions. The Falcons two wins in non-conference play were against Morgan State and Army, while they were outgunned in losses to Michigan State and Navy, and we've already discussed the Cal game.
Best Win: Boise State (37-30)
Worst Loss: Colorado State (38-23)
Looking Ahead: Nate Romine returns to reclaim the QB job next fall, as Karson Roberts moves on. Owens should return as the primary back as well, giving the Falcons plenty to work with in the backfield. Timothy McVey, DJ Johnson, Bryan Driskell, Shane Davern, and Benton Washington all return as well, giving the Falcons the deepest backfield in the conference, and one of the deepest in the nation. Garrett Brown departs, however Jalen Robinette does return as the primary deep threat in the passing game. Garrett Griffin is gone at TE as well, so look for Ryan Refitt to step into the starting role. Tyler Williams, who caught just two passes, will need to step up in a big way at WR.
Seven Offensive Linemen return, so the Falcons could use some help and some depth there as well.
Defensively, the Falcons Alex Hansen and his 15.5 TFLs are gone, so someone up front needs to step up off the edge. Dunn and Alexander are joined at LB by Grant Ross and Ryan Watson at LB, Jacob Onyechi, Patrick Healy, Omar Gardea, and Matt Evans all return as well, giving the Falcons solid depth. Weston Steelhammer is the leader on defense, and he returns in the secondary, as does Roland Ladipo, Brodie Hicks, and Jesse Washington. The Falcons have experience at three more spots in the secondary, so there should be no issues there either.
Luke Strebel was almost automatic at PK last fall, and returns this fall. Short of a slump, he should provide plenty of scoring options. Steve Brosy returns at Punter, but averaged just 37 yards per punt on 33 attempts last season, and senior Brett Dunn is gone. The Falcons could use some help there.
What 2016 Holds In Store: Winning the division again is absolutely in range, but I am not sure if the Falcons have enough to win the league for the first time. Troy Calhoun is back as coach, but did flirt somewhat with Missouri during the off season. He was on the hot seat two years ago, but has rebounded nicely. He may never be the best coach going, but he has done a fine job with the Falcons. Boise State was down in 2015, and Air Force took advantage. The falcons will be pressed by the Broncos in 2016, and look for New Mexico and Utah State to press as well.
The non-conference schedule is highly manageable, as they host Abilene Christian, Georgia State, and Navy, and they visit Army in a winnable road game. Look for the Falcons to push for another division title, and maybe improve on their overall record. In short, a return to a bowl is highly probable.
Final Prediction: 8-4, bowl bound

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