The Falcons rank No. 101 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
A year ago at this time, Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman looked ready to become one of the Mountain West's top offensive threats. He was dynamic as a sophomore, leading the Falcons to six straight wins, but he struggled in his second season as a starter. Whether or not he gets back on track could define Air Force's season.
Previewing Air Force Football's Offense for 2018
Worthman completed only 49.5 percent of his passes, and his yards per carry dropped from 5.2 to 3.8. All of Worthman's and Air Force's faults were on display when Army shut out the Falcons.
Worthman must improve if the Falcons hope to climb back to a winning record. His passes were more accurate in the offseason, and he says he plans to pitch the ball to fellow runners more often. During the Troy Calhoun era, which started in 2007, quarterbacks have worked more as distributors than as runners. No QB averaged more than 14 carries until Worthman, who has averaged nearly 22 carries per start. His carries need to drop for the attack to thrive.
Tailback Tim McVey leaves a massive hole in the offense. A superb runner and receiver, McVey was never properly utilized. Joey Saucier emerged in the offseason as the top candidate to serve as lead running back. Tackles Griffin Landrum and Wolfgang Rehbock anchor an undersized but athletic offensive line that pushed Air Force to fourth place nationally in rushing yards in 2017.
Ronald Cleveland leads a talented group of receivers. Cleveland spent much of last season open in the secondary, but Worthman seldom found him.
Previewing Air Force Football's Defense for 2018
A flimsy defensive front allowed 6.0 yards per carry, worst in the nation. Continued softness in the middle will doom the Falcons, who face the powerful rushing attacks of Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, New Mexico, Army and Navy.
Air Force must recover from the departure of defensive coordinator Steve Russ, who left for the Carolina Panthers. Russ, a former star AFA linebacker, knew how to build stingy defenses with undersized players.
End Jordan Jackson showed promise as a freshman and was dominating in offseason practices. Nose guard Mosese Fifita is the rare Falcon who flirts with 300 pounds. His development into a snarling force could give the defense more toughness against the run. Linebacker Kyle Johnson emerged as a force in the offseason and has the look of a future star.
The defensive backfield should again be solid. Runners thrashed the Falcons in 2017, but Air Force finished 10th nationally in passing yards allowed. Garrett Kauppila, out for most of 2017, is a rugged and wise strong safety, and Kyle Floyd is ideal for the Falcons' hybrid linebacker/defensive back position.
Previewing Air Force Football's Specialists for 2018
Punter Charlie Scott delivered a strong sophomore season, but Calhoun wants him to add hang time to his kicks. Cleveland is a dangerous and reliable punt returner. Jake Koehnke is the lead candidate to emerge from a mediocre collection of placekickers.
Few Air Force quarterbacks have possessed Worthman's combination of power and speed, but he's still struggling to master the position. He must mature as a passer and option distributor for the offense to thrive. If he fails to mature, he could lose his job to Isaiah Sanders, who led the Falcons to victory in last season's finale against Utah State.
Someone, or a few someones, must emerge on defense to stop the run. A Sept. 8 trip to Florida Atlantic will do much to reveal the Falcons. If FAU stampedes to a big rushing day, Air Force could be destined for a repeat of last season's troubles.