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Air Force Football: 2021 Falcons Season Preview and Prediction

The Falcons rank No. 82 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Demonte Meeks, Air Force Falcons Football

Led by linebacker Demonte Meeks, Air Force's defense should be solid this season

It’s hard to glean too much from Air Force’s six-game slate in the 2020 college football season. However, it’s safe to assume coach Troy Calhoun will have this program on track for a winning record in ’21. The Falcons should have one of the Mountain West’s top defenses, and as always, will plug the gaps along the line to keep the offense on track. 

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Air Force's Offense for 2021

A surprise six-game audition at quarterback for Haaziq Daniels didn’t solidify his status as the team’s starter, but it provides a head start at a crowded position. Daniels beat Warren Bryan in the competition to replace Donald Hammond III when an academy violation wiped out the senior season for the program’s all-time leader in passing efficiency. Daniels flashed moments of Hammonds-like production, but the offense scored just six and seven points in close losses at San Jose State and Army.

The candidates to challenge Daniels will again include Bryan and sophomore Ben Brittain. Chance Stevenson, who has bounced between backfield positions, spent spring back at quarterback. The wild card is Jake Smith, who once beat Trevor Lawrence in high school. Smith was one of about 40 Falcons who left the academy for the fall 2020 semester when the Mountain West said the football season would be held in the spring. When the conference reversed the decision, it was too late for those players to return. They now receive an extra semester of eligibility.

The Falcons must replace all five offensive linemen, including the All-Mountain West left side of tackle Parker Ferguson and guard Nolan Laufenberg.

Some shifting could take place in the backfield, with leading returning rusher Brad Roberts possibly moving from fullback to tailback. Slot receiver Brandon Lewis would then likely take the edge runs.

Receiver David Cormier has been a practice star for years but hasn’t played because of various circumstances. Finally, five years after a standout high school football/basketball career in Albuquerque, N.M., he figures to step into a starting role.

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Previewing Air Force's Defense for 2021

Those rare COVID-prompted redshirt seasons taken from Air Force were concentrated on defense, where 10 of 11 projected starters left for the season. Multiyear starters — cornerback Milton Bugg III, linebacker Demonte Meeks, outside linebacker Lakota Wills and defensive end Jordan Jackson — return after time away and will face position battles from the backups who inherited starting roles in their absence. It’s a uniquely experienced group.

The linebacker position figures to be the strength, with Meeks (team-high 98 tackles for the 2019 squad that went 11–2) and TD Blackmon (a top-10 recruit for the program since 247Sports began issuing ratings) securing the inside.

Jackson, at 6'5", 280, brings Power 5 size on the edge, a rarity for the Falcons.

Previewing Air Force's Specialists for 2021

New names will occupy the kicking and return spots, but the biggest change comes with Curome Cox taking over as special teams coordinator due to Ben Miller’s departure for Illinois after 10 years in the role. Air Force keeps things conservative (fair caught all but one punt and one kickoff in 2020), but Cox will bring his experience as an NFL specialist into the role.

Final Analysis

The mass redshirts (known as “turnbacks” in Air Force parlance) used in 2020 left the Falcons shorthanded in the short term but suddenly flush with experience. The defense is positioned to be the team’s strength, and there is adequate talent at the skill positions. The direction of the season for this system-oriented program will hinge on finding the right players to plug in at quarterback and along the offensive line.

National Ranking: 82

Podcast: Top 25 Breakdown and Predictions