Air Force brings back nine starters off last year's 11-win team, including quarterback Donald Hammond III to pilot an offense that averaged 34.1 points a contest. Hammond's return should ensure the Falcons have a shot to win the Mountain West, especially with Boise State coming to Colorado Springs on Sept. 12. The defense lost key cogs at every level, but the offense should be good enough to push for double-digit wins again.
Previewing Air Force's Offense for 2020
Donald Hammond III has demonstrated a knack for hitting the big passing plays made possible by Air Force’s prolific running game. With Hammond directing the action, Falcons ranked second nationally in rushing and third in passing efficiency in 2019.
Hammond averaged 50 yards on his 13 TD passes last year, connecting primarily with departed seniors Ben Waters and Geraud Sanders. Replacements are ready in junior receivers Brandon Lewis and David Cormier along with touted sophomore tight end Kyle Patterson (who turned down an offer from Alabama).
Senior tailback Kadin Remsberg is back after a 1,050-yard season and an MVP performance in the Cheez-It Bowl, and tall, slender fullback Timothy Jackson returns after a breakout campaign that included four consecutive 100-yard games.
Potential All-America guard Nolan Laufenberg and tackle Parker Ferguson are three-year starters up front and should be joined by three fellow seniors.
Previewing Air Force's Defense for 2020
Air Force ranked seventh nationally last season against the run (100.5 ypg) despite a schedule that included two of the nation’s top three rushing offenses. Maintaining that strength will be a challenge with the loss of 330-pound nose guard Mosese Fifita to graduation.
Veterans return on the defensive line with Jordan Jackson at end and Christopher Herrera at tackle.
The Falcons should be loaded at inside linebacker with the return of top tackler Demonte Meeks, who will be joined by former top recruit TD Blackmon.
The secondary will break in three new starters, but several years of strong recruiting should leave the Falcons faster at all of those spots. Sophomore safety Tre Taylor was a ballhawk in spring, when the Falcons managed to get all but two practices in before the coronavirus pandemic shut things down. Cornerback Tre’ Bugg is the lone returner and is entering his third year as a starter.
Previewing Air Force's Specialists for 2020
Replacements are needed at placekicker and punter. The placekicking void will be much harder to fill, as Jake Koehnke finished a perfect 13-of-13 on field-goal attempts last year. Cole Johnson and Brice Honaker are the top options. There are no obvious candidates in the return game, but the Falcons place little emphasis on those roles, opting for fair catches and touchbacks when possible.
Air Force streaked to eight straight wins to close the season, and the key pieces are back. Hammond stretches defenses that can’t afford to do anything but crowd the box to contend against the diverse rushing attack. Hammond, Remsberg, Jackson, Cormier, Lewis and Patterson are as good a collection of skill-position talent as this program has ever assembled. “There’s talent all across the board everywhere,” Hammond says. “[This] year’s going to be really exciting.”
Rules changes at the academy allow for bigger bodies, and Troy Calhoun’s program has seized the opportunity. Closing the gap on physical mismatches was a big reason the Falcons won two games vs. Pac-12 teams last year (Colorado, Washington State).
The Falcons’ most pivotal tests — Boise State and Navy — will be played at home in 2020. Pass those, and there will be clear paths to the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and the MW title.
National Ranking: 65
(Top photo courtesy of Air Force Athletics)