The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 105 Air Force.
Previewing Air Force’s offense for 2014
Nate Romine directed a diverse offense last season, at least by Air Force standards. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who is a better passer than runner. The Falcons went to six straight bowl games with a run-oriented offense. They stayed home last season with a 2–10 record employing their more diverse attack.
Coach Troy Calhoun faces a complicated decision for 2014. Does he go with Romine, the superior passer, or Kale Pearson, the superior runner? A run-first attack will keep opposing offenses off the field. The struggle between Romine and Pearson will define the season. Pearson is returning from a surgically repaired right knee, but he’s such a gifted runner that he might return kickoffs if he fails to win the starting quarterback job.
Senior tailback Jon Lee has long been a can’t-miss future star for the Falcons. He boasts sprinter’s speed and strength, and he’s elusive in the open field. But nagging ankle and elbow injuries might prevent Lee from reaching his considerable potential. Broam Hart, who played fullback last season, could switch to tailback while Lee watches, yet again, from the bench.
Under assistant coach Clay Hendrix’s direction, the Falcons’ offensive line consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most athletic. Air Force linemen are often seen decking defenders 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Center Michael Husar leads what could be a dominating unit.
When watching wide receiver Jalen Robinette, the question arises: Why did this big, fast, gifted pass-catcher decide to play for a running team? If Romine wins the quarterback job, Robinette will become one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous receivers. Sam Gagliano could serve as an effective sidekick to Robinette but must solve his habit of dropping passes.
Previewing Air Force’s defense for 2014
The Falcons return seven defensive starters, but here’s the key question of the 2014 season: Is that good news? Air Force’s defense was comically inept last season, surrendering averages of 40.0 points and 490.3 yards of total offense per game.
There is hope. Joey Nichol, if healthy, and Spencer Proctor lead an aggressive group of linebackers, and Weston Steelhammer, Christian Spears and Dexter Walker bring attitude at safety.
The Falcons need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. No one on the Falcons’ defensive front weighs more than 265 pounds. Air Force employed three down linemen during most of last season but tinkered with formations in the offseason. The Falcons could surprise opponents with a 2-5 alignment in the fall.
Previewing Air Force’s specialists for 2014
Will Conant owns an accurate (11-of-13 last season) and powerful leg. He should rank among the Mountain West’s top placekickers. The punting job is wide open.
Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.
However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.