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You can read the entire Air Force preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#82 Air Force
Mountain West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 47-31 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix, Blane Morgan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ, Charlton Warren
For the past decade, Air Force’s quarterback position has lacked controversy. From Chance Harridge in 2002 to Connor Dietz in 2012, the starters were close to certain.
This season is different. Kale Pearson and Jaleel Awini, two gems from coach Troy Calhoun’s recent recruiting work, are engaged in fierce competition. The quarterbacks are very different. Pearson stands 5'9" and specializes in running. He’s fast enough to play halfback, where he played a few downs last season, and he scored on a 90-yard kickoff return in his high school state title game. Awini stands 6'2" and is a pass-first quarterback, a rarity for the Falcons. If Awini wins the starting job, he could inspire Calhoun to expand the playbook.
Ty MacArthur, the team’s best receiver, will be the top option no matter who wins the quarterback derby. Halfback Jon Lee could become one of the most dangerous players in recent Air Force history. Lee is fast, elusive and powerful, but fumbles have limited his playing time. The fumbling continued during spring practice. A healthy Lee could gain 1,500 yards. A fumbling Lee could again sit the bench.
The offensive line should again be solid, led by coach Clay Hendrix, one of college football’s unsung craftsmen. Tackle Jerry Henry leads a deep, fast, athletic group.
During his first four seasons at Air Force, Calhoun rolled to a 34–18 record and drew mentions for the head coaching jobs at Tennessee, Colorado and the Denver Broncos. In the past two seasons, Calhoun has stumbled to a 13–13 record.
This downturn is largely due to a porous defense that has allowed more than 30 points 12 times in the past two seasons. Opposing quarterbacks have long stood safe in the pocket before devouring the Falcons’ defense. Last season, passers completed 68 percent of their throws. End Alex Hansen will seek to deliver havoc to quarterbacks. He led the Falcons in sacks last season as a true freshman. He’s undersized, but fast, quick and hungry.
Calhoun hopes inside linebackers Connor Healy and Joey Nichol will bring a fresh toughness to the defense. Free safety Christian Spears and cornerback Steffon Batts seek to change the recent generous culture of the secondary.
The defense is young, with only one projected senior starter, and it remains undersized. No starter weighs more than 265 pounds. Last season, defensive co-coordinator Charlton Warren tried — and failed — to use quickness and speed to make up for girth. He will be forced to use the same recipe.
Punter David Baska struggled during the final five games of last season, and now could struggle to keep his job. Zach Hoffman could be the new punter. The team’s placekicking was horrendous last season as the departed Parker Herrington made just 4-of-10 field goals. Drew Oehrle and Will Conant were close to even in spring practice.
If Pearson wins the quarterback battle, the Falcons’ option attack will be dangerous, with the possibility of Pearson and Lee sprinting to 60-yard gains. If Awini emerges, the Falcons’ passing attack might be more dangerous than their rushing attack for once. But the defense must transform. Last season, the Falcons rushed for 4,111 yards, averaged 27.4 points per game and finished with a losing record.
During his first four seasons, Calhoun pushed his teams beyond their talent while excelling in winning close games. Calhoun and his program have tumbled into a slump, but this edition of the Falcons has the potential for revival. If Lee can hang on to the football and Hansen can harass quarterbacks, the Falcons could surprise.