2012 Air Force Preview - Can Calhoun Reload?
Air Force LB Alex Means
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Air Force Falcons
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Is this as far as Troy Calhoun can take Air Force?
Head coach: Troy Calhoun
6th year: 41-24
Off. 27, Def. 20, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Air Force Players
1. LB Alex Means, Sr.
2. FB Mike DeWitt, Sr.
3. OT Jason Konz, Sr.
4. S Anthony Wooding, Jr.
5. PK Parker Herrington, Sr.
6. QB Connor Dietz, Sr.
7. C Michael Husar, Jr.
8. LB Jamil Cooks, Jr.
9. RB Wes Cobb, Sr.
10. LB Austin Niklas, Sr.
QB - 6.5
RB - 8
WR - 4.5
OL - 6
DL - 6
LB - 6.5
DB - 6
ST - 7
Sep. 1 Idaho State
Sep. 8 at Michigan
Sep. 15 OPEN DATE
Sep. 22 at UNLV
Sep. 29 Colorado State
Oct. 6 Navy
Oct. 13 at Wyoming
Oct. 20 New Mexico
Oct. 26 Nevada
Nov. 3 at Army
Nov. 10 at San Diego State
Nov. 17 Hawaii
Nov. 24 at Fresno State
Calhoun has never received enough credit for being the best head coach in Air Force history, doing more in his short time than Fisher DeBerry did in his tremendous career, but there's a hard ceiling on what the team can do. Hamstrung by many of the same restraints that Army and Navy have to deal with, Air Force has been able to compete at a consistently higher level than the other service academies and has been so good under Calhoun that a 7-6 2011 season seemed shocking. Meanwhile, Army and Navy each failed to go to a bowl game.
But the bar has been raised higher under Calhoun with the Falcons being just good enough to be above the mediocre in the Mountain West, but not strong enough overall to push get into the conference title mix on a regular basis. In his sixth year, Calhoun has done wonders and is always on the short list for many of the bigger job openings, but now he might have to do some of his best work yet to turn things back around.
2011 was supposed to be the best season under Calhoun with a team loaded with veterans and plenty of momentum coming off a nine-win season and a bowl victory over Georgia Tech. But injuries swept through the Falcons and the defensive consistency was never there. Shutting out New Mexico and stopping UNLV wasn't a problem, but when the team needed to come up with something big against one of the better teams, it didn't happen going 0-6 against bowl teams and 7-0 against everyone else.
The only positive from the bumps and bruises was the opportunity it gave several players to see a little bit of time. Even though only three starters return to each side of the ball, Air Force isn't exactly starting from scratch and, like always, has players seemingly ready to fit the system.
The Air Force running game will still be as strong as ever with Connor Dietz taking over the reins. Fullback Mike DeWitt and tailback Wes Cobb should form a strong rushing tandem, and while only two starters return to the O line, there's plenty of promise with center Michael Husar looking ready to be an anchor.
The defense that failed so much last season should be more than fine at linebacker. Alex Means is a team leader and a good veteran, while several upperclassmen appear ready to do more with bigger roles. The secondary has a ton of work to do from a group that finished sixth in the nation, but there aren't too many teams on the schedule able to bomb away.
It should be business as usual in a lot of ways under Calhoun. Air Force will get back to a bowl game and will beat almost all the teams it's supposed to, but it still won't be enough to get over the Mountain West hump.
What You Need To Know ...
Offense: How does the nation's No. 3 rushing offense replace the winningest quarterback in school history? Tim Jefferson might be gone, but Connor Dietz has been around long enough to know what he's doing running the tremendous ground game. He's not much of a passer, but he's a good decision maker and very, very quick. Fullback Mike DeWitt should be able to pound away once again without a problem as the steadying force for the attack, but leading rusher Asher Clark has to be replaced. There's more power than raw speed in the backfield with the depth a bit lacking among the tailbacks. Only two starters return on the line with left tackle Jason Kons the best blocker on the lot, but the Falcons never have problems finding replacements. The receiving corps is always along for the ride needing to make big plays when the chances are there, and Mikel Hunter get deep.
Defense: Will the Falcons ever get into the backfield? New co-defensive coordinators Steve Russ and Chartlon Warren will try to get more production out of the run defense. Rushing the passer isn't always high on the team's priority list, and last year it showed getting gouged way too often by good ground games. Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald is back and should be the best producer up front, but there are no sure-thing pass rushers. The linebacking corps gets back the team's best playmaker in the backfield, Alex Means, but has to replace three other starters. On the plus side, the new defenders in the mix have plenty of experience. The secondary welcomes back Anthony Wooding at safety and has to hope three juniors can go from being nice backups to steady producers.
What to watch for on offense: How healthy can the backfield stay? As long as quarterback Connor Dietz, fullback Mike DeWitt and tailback Wes Cobb stay healthy, everything should be fine for the mighty ground attack. However, there isn't another Dietz waiting in the wings in case the starter gets hurt. Mitch Griebel and Dano Graves have good potential, but there's a drop off. DeWitt missed all of 2010 with a knee injury and backup tailback Cody Getz is coming back after getting hurt late last year. Also trying to return healthy is Anthony LaCoste, a promising option returning from a torn ACL. There isn't a passing game to fall back on, so it could be a long, long season if the backs aren't in one piece.
What to watch for on defense: More aggressiveness. Defensive coordinator Charlton Warren has been around as the co-defensive coordinator for the last three seasons, but now he has the job all to himself and he's looking to make some changes. The defensive front wasn't nearly aggressive enough at getting into the backfield, finishing 98th in the nation in sack and 115th in tackles for loss, but that's nothing new for a defense that never, ever seems able to get into the backfield. Now the goal is to turn things up a few notches to try to come up with more big plays. The offense did its part at times throughout last year, but the D didn't do what it needed to. This year, the defense will look to start being more disruptive because …
The team will be far better if … the team owns the turnover margin. In 2009 the Falcons led the nation in turnover margin giving the ball away just 12 times while the D came up with a whopping 34 takeaways. In 2010 the Falcons managed to finish 31st in the nation and second in the Mountain West in turnover margin. Last season the Falcons finished a respectable 59th, but it least 18 fumbles with at least one a game to go along with eight picks thrown. The defense started to come up with big plays late with 14 of the 26 takeaways coming in the final five games, but to beat the better teams and to come up with a more even season, Air Force has to own the stat.
The schedule: The Falcons don't have to deal with Boise State in Mountain West play. Merry Christmas. There's a nice tune-up game to open things up against Idaho State before going to Michigan, and then four of the next five games are against teams that didn't go bowling last year. In all, there are only four games against teams that went to bowls, and Wyoming, Nevada and San Diego State are all winnable. However, the slate closes out with three of the final four games on the road.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Mike DeWitt. The bruising fullback misses all of 2010 with a knee injury, but he came back to finish second on the team with 567 yards and 12 scores including four touchdowns against New Mexico and six in the final four games. The 6-1, 220-pound bruiser is always moving forward and is nearly impossible to get down with just one man, and best of all, there's still plenty of tread left on the tires after carrying the ball a mere 117 times. Now he'll be the focal point of the attack.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Alex Means. The 6-5, 230-pound veteran not only finished third on the team with 77 tackles, he led the way with six sack and 9.5 tackles for loss. A quick and big outside defender, he needs to help pick up the slack with Brady Amack and his 136 tackles gone. Means is a tough leader who was steady throughout the year against the run before coming into his own as a pass rusher over the final few games. As one of just three returning starters on defense, the spotlight will be on to do a little bit of everything for the front seven.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Connor Dietz. Tim Jefferson ended his Air Force career as the school's all-time winningest quarterback. Not just a runner, he was an effective passer when he had to be and a strong leader who knew what he was doing. Dietz isn't going to throw much, but he's lightning quick, knows the offense, and is the right fit for what the Falcons like to do. He can't just be good, though, he has to be outstanding and he has to be healthy with questionable options behind him.
The season will be a success if … the Falcons win nine games for the second time in three seasons. That might be a stretch for a team with only eight returning starters and with so many question marks and concerns, but if everything is working right and Calhoun is able to fill in the gaps in a hurry, there's no reason to hope for anything less than eight regular season wins. With no Boise State to deal with and no brutal road games after going to Michigan early on, the chance will be there for a bounceback campaign.
Key game: Oct. 26th vs. Nevada. There will be big games to deal with over the final month with road games at San Diego State and Fresno State, but those battles might take on a whole other meaning if Air Force can beat Nevada at home on a Friday night. The two teams have never played, but this season they should be jockeying for a top three finish with the winner to likely be in the Mountain West title hunt.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Fourth Down Conversions: Air Force 26-of-32 (81%) – Opponents 11-of-16 (69%)
- Penalties: Opponents 85 for 742 yards – Air Force 61 for 562 yards
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Air Force 314.8 – Opponents 219.7
Air Force Depth Chart