2011 Air Force Preview
Air Force QB Tim Jefferson
Air Force QB Tim Jefferson
Posted Jul 22, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Air Force Falcons

Air Force Falcons

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Troy Calhoun
5th year: 34-18
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 28, Def. 27, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Air Force Players
1. LB Jordan Waiwaiole, Sr.
2. QB Tim Jefferson, Sr.
3. S/PR Jon Davis, Sr.
4. LB Brady Amack, Sr.
5. RB Asher Clark, Sr.
6. WR/KR Jonathan Warzaka, Sr.
7. CB Anthony Wright, Sr.
8. OG A.J. Wallerstein, Sr.
9. LB Patrick Hennessey, Sr.
10. S Anthony Wooding, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 South Dakota
Sep. 10 TCU
Sep. 24 Tennessee State
Oct. 1 at Navy
Oct. 8 at Notre Dame
Oct. 15 San Diego State
Oct. 22 at Boise State
Oct. 29 at New Mexico
Nov. 5 Army
Nov. 12 Wyoming
Nov. 19 UNLV
Nov. 26 at Colorado State

Air Force, your time is here.

The Falcons haven't been able to break through to be among the Mountain West elite of the elite, stuck in a purgatory between TCU, Utah, and BYU at the top, and the dregs at the bottom, but now things are changing. Now the big boys are leaving, and now Air Force has its chance to be really and truly in the hunt for conference championships on a yearly basis.

With Utah and BYU already out of the league, and TCU gone next year, in 2012 the Falcons will have a yearly tussle with Boise State, and then they'll have to take on the stars of the WAC with Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii coming in. Head coach Troy Calhoun will gladly take that trade.

But it's not like Air Force ever backs down form a challenge. It gave Oklahoma all it could handle in a 27-24 thriller early on last year, and it managed to shut down Georgia Tech cold in a 14-7 Independence Bowl win. It won the Commander In Chief trophy with strong wins over Army and Navy, and it blew away BYU in a 35-14 romp. But for all the positives and for all the excitement over a 9-4 season, and for four straight great yeas under Calhoun, it would be nice to get that one really, really big win to get to a championship level.

Oh sure, when it comes to putting away New Mexico, or thumping a UNLV, or getting by a Wyoming, there's not much of a problem. When it comes to giving it the old college try, no one does more with less – including Navy – considering the recruiting restrictions, and few teams make the most out of their schemes and abilities. But Air Force under Calhoun has been great at getting the rock right up to the top of the mountain, only to not have that one extra push to get it over the top. Starting next year, that might change, but this year's team might have the make-up to shock the league even with some of the big boys still around.

San Diego State has improved, and it beat Air Force last year, but the Mountain West is all about the addition of Boise State and the greatness of TCU. The Falcons host the Horned Frogs and got to the blue turf of Boise, and if they can come up with at least a split in the two games, they should be in the mix for the championship. Finally.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson leads an offense that should once again be among the nation's most effective on the ground. The Falcons finished second in the nation to Georgia Tech in rushing, averaging over 306 yards per game, and the passing game was efficient and effective when need. Six starters are back, but everyone knows the system and everyone knows what they're doing, with three strong linemen up front and dangerous skill players in receiver Jonathan Warzeka and running back Asher Clark to work with.

The defense under Calhoun showed it could handle a high-octane passing attack, stopping Houston in the Armed Forced Bowl two years ago, and it showed it could stop a top running game, shutting down Georgia Tech last year, and now it could be loaded with eight starters returning with playmakers across the board. This is a versatile, quick defense that always gets around the ball and should be outstanding in the back seven, or eight, depending on the formation.

This could be the year it all comes together and the Falcons win ten games, stay in the thick of the Mountain West race all season long, and show that in the new world of the Mountain West, they're going to be one of the superstars.

What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. Every year, Air Force talks about the idea of balancing out the attack and getting more passing involved, but why fight it? The ground game was dominant averaging 307 yards per game while the passing attack finished 118th in the nation in yards averaging 119 per game. This year, there might not be any pretending; the ground game is going to own the offense thanks to the line. Tim Jefferson is a perfect leader and conductor to make the offense go, and Asher Clark is a dangerous back who can hit the home run whenever he gets the ball in his hands. They'll both have room to move with guard A.J. Wallerstein, center Michael Hester, and tackle Jason Kons leading the most talented line yet in the Calhoun era, and it should be terrific from the opening snap once again.

What to watch for on defense: The back eight. The three man line is full of experience, but as always, size is a problem with three beefed up linebackers having to hold down the fort. Fortunately, the linebackers and secondary are experienced, talented, and they can all hit. Linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole is an all-around playmaker to work everything around, while Jon Davis is a big-hitting free safety who is always around the ball. Four of the top five tacklers are back, and the Air Force run defense should be sound, mistake-free, and a major factor in the Mountain West race.

The team will be far better if … There's more pressure into the backfield. It's not like Calhoun's defenses are against hitting the quarterback or coming up with big plays – Air Force was 18th in the nation and second in the Mountain West in sacks in 2008 – but the production started to tail off two years ago and was non-existent last year, finishing 109th in the nation in sacks and 103rd in tackles for loss. The defense was good overall, so the lack of pressure didn't matter too much, and getting to the quarterback won't be an issue early on, but if Air Force wants to beat Notre Dame or Boise State, the front seven has to be more disruptive.

The schedule: The veteran Falcons will know where they stand in Mountain West play right away with a showdown against TCU on September 10th, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call it the biggest conference game in the school's history. Win that, and it's Game On for a run for the conference title with San Diego State at home and with one brutal road game, at Boise State, to follow. If Air Force is as good as expected, the second half of the year should be a walk in the park with Army the toughest test in the last five. Back-to-back road games against Navy and Notre Dame will be tough in non-conference play, especially coming before the San Diego State game, and the Falcons catch a bad break with the open date coming after the TCU showdown and before the layup against Tennessee State.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Tim Jefferson. Air Force always has shifty, smart quarterbacks who know how to lead an attack, but it's a big bonus to have a player like Jefferson who has been around for the last three years and has shown he can be a tough leader. Whether it's taking over the ground game to put away UNLV, or throwing and moving well against Oklahoma to keep the game alive, he was steady and he was always keeping the attack moving. It would be nice to be better than 3-of-7 against TCU, and there won't be many bombs, Jefferson will keep the mistakes to a minimum and he'll be the perfect main man to run the attack.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Jordan Waiwaiole. He came in last year as a decent-looking new starter to the linebacker mix, and then he became a star with a team-leading 96 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Now the 6-3, 230-pound senior has Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year potential as the leader of the defense on the inside, Senior Brady Amack will come up with his share of big plays on the inside, but it's Waiwaiole who'll put up the big numbers again. It won't be a shock if he's not around the 100-tackle mark.

Key player to a successful season: Junior FB Wesley Cobb. Tim Jefferson will be one of the team's leading rushers, and Asher Clark will be the most dangerous runner, but the offense needs a thumping fullback to work at peak efficiency. Gone is Jared Tew, a tough 210-pound interior rusher who dominated over the first half of last year before getting hurt.

The season will be a success if … Air Force wins ten games. The Falcons aren't better than Boise State or TCU, and it's asking for too much to win the Mountain West title, but they can win nine games and a bowl to get the first ten win season since 1998. Even if Air Force loses to the Horned Frogs and Broncos, and loses at Notre Dame, a big year is still possible considering it'll likely be favored in every other game. The toughest road game after the trip to Boise is at Navy, and the third toughest is at Colorado State.

Key game: Sept. 10 vs. TCU. If you want to beat the big dog, do it early. TCU has a ton of holes to fill, but it'll still be loaded and good enough to win the conference title. If Air Force can be mistake-free, can control the ball, and can force a few mistakes, it has an honest shot of winning the Mountain West opener and taking control of the conference race early on. The Horned Frogs open up the season with Baylor, while Air Force gets a true tune-up against South Dakota.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Punt Return Average: Air Force 9.6 yards – Opponents 3.8 yards
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Air Force 122 – Opponents 50
- Sacks: Air Force 14 for 113 yards – Opponents 5 for 25 yards

- 2011 Air Force Preview | 2011 Air Force Offense
- 2011 Air Force Defense | 2011 Air Force Depth Chart