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Air Force football and its fussy, underrated coach should win big again in 2016

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The defending division champs show no signs of collapsing again any time soon, and this time, the schedule sets up nicely.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Sustained gains

Former Notre Dame and Missouri head coach Dan Devine used to call himself a fussbudget. It's a great word that I think I have only seen used by Devine and in a Peanuts cartoon. A fussbudget is a worrier, a perfectionist with a permanent wince.

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun has always struck me as one. He rubs other coaches the wrong way from time to timeHe gives honest answers when something is bothering himHe interviews for other jobs. He doesn't seem like the type who will be completely happy anywhere.

He's also one hell of a coach. And Air Force afforded him an opportunity many coaches don't get: a chance to rebound.

Calhoun played quarterback during perhaps Air Force's most pivotal moment. His first season was 1985, when quarterback Bart Weiss and second-year head coach Fisher DeBerry were leading the Falcons to a 12-1 record and top-10 finish. They lost only to BYU and beat Notre Dame and Texas, among others.

Calhoun got full exposure. After the great 1985, the Falcons went 6-5, then 9-4, then 5-7. Up, down, up, down. When he served as their recruiting coordinator in 1993-94, they went 4-8 and 8-4.

Sustaining success is hard at a place with weight limits, service requirements, and no redshirts. When you've got the right mix of talent and experience, you can ride an underdog approach to a lovely season. In 59 years, Air Force has been to 25 bowls, has won at least eight games 21 times, and has spent parts of 16 seasons in the AP poll.

Considering the limitations, that's remarkable, not to mention a reminder that there are a lot of ways to win a football game. But the limitations catch up to you, at least for a while. In 23 seasons, DeBerry finished 8-5 or better nine times and twice won 12 games, but he also went 5-7 or worse five times, including in each of his final three years. DeBerry was an awesome coach, but the ups and downs were evident. And that has continued under Calhoun.

Calhoun spent eight years under the wing of another fantastic underdog coach: Jim Grobe. He spent six seasons at Ohio, as offensive coordinator for the last four. He joined Grobe at Wake Forest for two years before taking an interesting detour by joining the Denver Broncos. When Denver OC Gary Kubiak got the Houston Texans head coaching job, he made Calhoun his coordinator. To his option- and misdirection-based knowledge, he added zone blocking schemes and pro-style concepts. Then he returned to Colorado Springs to succeed DeBerry.

Though still an option-based team (out of necessity), Calhoun's Air Force has featured zone blocking and vertical passing to a degree that other service academies have not. The results have been strong. From 2007-10, the Falcons averaged 8.5 wins per year, then went 13-13 in 2011-12. And over the last two seasons, they've gone 18-9, winning 10 games in 2014 and a MWC Mountain title in 2015.

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this nice run, Air Force went 2-10 in 2013. After ranking 53rd in S&P+ in 2010, Calhoun's Falcons fell to 92nd, then 112th and 111th. The offense was inconsistent, and the defense was dreadful (122nd in Def. S&P+ in 2013). But given time to rectify issues, Calhoun did. The defense has ranked 60th and 71st the last two years. The offense hit a Calhoun-era high of 34th in Off. S&P+ last year.

Overnight, the program rebounded. And in 2015, Air Force sustained the gains of the out-of-nowhere, 10-losses-to-10-wins turnaround. Calhoun, happy or not, proved himself again.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-6 | Adj. Record: 9-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 63 | Final S&P+ Rk: 52
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Morgan State N/A 63-7 W 90% 100% +39.8
12-Sep San Jose State 89 37-16 W 66% 85% +13.8 +15.0
19-Sep at Michigan State 9 21-35 L 46% 35% +11.6 +12.0
3-Oct at Navy 21 11-33 L 23% 2% -15.8 -16.5
10-Oct Wyoming 115 31-17 W 60% 93% -15.4 -10.0
17-Oct at Colorado State 86 23-38 L 12% 1% -20.3 -18.0
24-Oct Fresno State 103 42-14 W 82% 100% +10.6 +10.5
31-Oct at Hawaii 120 58-7 W 97% 100% +41.9 +44.0
7-Nov Army 108 20-3 W 87% 100% -5.1 0.0
14-Nov Utah State 53 35-28 W 69% 83% +5.4 +8.5
20-Nov at Boise State 37 37-30 W 91% 98% +10.4 +19.0
28-Nov at New Mexico 99 35-47 L 25% 17% -26.8 -21.5
5-Dec at San Diego State 43 24-27 L 63% 52% +0.2 +1.5
29-Dec vs. California 29 36-55 L 17% 2% -18.6 -12.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 34.6 34 28.7 71
Points Per Game 33.8 39 25.5 48

2. Unsustainable brilliance

Air Force's 2015 was a three-act play. The Falcons began with a romp over Morgan State, competed well against eventual CFP participant Michigan State, and handled San Jose State and Wyoming. But they also got romped by rival Navy and self-destructed with turnovers against Colorado State.

Midway, Air Force was 3-3, looking like a bowl team but nothing much more than that. And then the Falcons found altitude.

  • First 6 games
    Average percentile performance: 50% (~top 65) | Record: 3-3 | Average score: AFA 31, Opp 24 | Average performance vs. spread: -3.5 PPG
  • Next 5 games
    Average percentile performance: 85% (~top 20) | Record: 5-0 | Average score: AFA 38, Opp 16 | Average performance vs. spread: +16.4 PPG
  • Last 3 games
    Average percentile performance: 35% (~top 85) | Record: 0-3 | Average score: Opp 43, AFA 32 | Average performance vs. spread: -10.7 PPG

Air Force went from 3-3 to 8-3, Mountain Division champion. The offense averaged at least 6.2 yards per play in each game of the win streak. The defense allowed 4.7 or fewer three times. The Falcons outgained Utah State by 141 yards, then went to Boise and outgained the preseason MWC favorite by 229. This wasn't an instance where the perceived underdog beats good teams with turnovers or lucky bounces; Utah State and Boise State were lucky to stay within seven points. It was unlucky that Air Force didn't win by more.

This surge, in which Air Force played like a legitimate top-20 team, couldn't last. With the division title clinched, the Falcons laid an egg in Albuquerque, and they were comfortably outgained in both the MWC title game and Armed Forces Bowl. The defense gave out, and the offense couldn't make up the difference.

This was a half-season of brilliance and a half-season of scuffling. But even with the late fade ... damn, were those Utah State and Boise State performances impressive.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 37 IsoPPP+ 112.2 36
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.0% 22 Succ. Rt. + 109.8 32
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.3 58 Def. FP+ 28.8 50
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.2 13 Redzone S&P+ 114.6 23
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.9 ACTUAL 23 +5.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 33 33 32 36
RUSHING 4 19 22 20
PASSING 123 7 76 2
Standard Downs 21 21 19
Passing Downs 71 85 62
Q1 Rk 65 1st Down Rk 33
Q2 Rk 40 2nd Down Rk 10
Q3 Rk 24 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 16

3. They figured you out

Air Force's offensive strength was adaptability. Starting quarterback Nate Romine tore his ACL and MCL late in the Week 2 win over San Jose State, but after a slow start, senior Karson Roberts ended up performing even better than Romine. Fullbacks D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern both missed significant portions. But until the postseason, at least, the Falcons just kept improving.

It was the same within a given game. Air Force ranked 65th in first-quarter S&P+, 40th in the second quarter, 24th in the third, and 16th in the fourth. As opponents' game plans became clearer, Air Force's adjustments became more effective.

Coordinator Mike Thiessen proved himself tactically nimble, especially when it came to the big pass play. Air Force quarterbacks completed just 34 percent, at 8.3 yards per completion, with a 61.8 passer rating in the first quarter; in the final three quarters: 56 percent completion rate, 23.3 yards per completion, 182.2 passer rating. Once opponents got lulled in by the run, it was over.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Karson Roberts 77 148 1595 11 11 52.0% 3 2.0% 10.5
Nate Romine 5'11, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 7 18 143 2 1 38.9% 0 0.0% 7.9
Pate Davis 6'0, 180 Sr. NR
Ryan Brand 5'8, 193 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8048

4. Got a quarterback? Got two?

Romine's career has been beset with ups and downs. He saw significant action as a freshman over the second half of Air Force's miserable 2013, then took a backseat to then-senior Kale Pearson during 2014's rebound. He was the heir apparent, but his 2015 ended after just a couple of games.

There are no redshirts in Colorado Springs, so Romine enters his senior season again as the perceived starter, but he's still got some recovering to do. In the meantime, Pate Davis and former three-star signee Ryan Brand have been splitting first-team snaps in the spring.

The role of Air Force quarterback is one prone to injury -- you're running the option, and when you do pass, you're often looking pretty far downfield. That opens you up to hits (though with a great offensive line, QBs didn't take many hits last year).

You're probably going to need more than one QB. And it will be interesting to see what happens if or when Romine is forced to miss more time.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jacobi Owens FB 6'0, 202 Sr. NR NR 207 1096 7 5.3 4.8 39.6% 4 2
Karson Roberts QB 165 752 10 4.6 4.0 41.8% 7 4
D.J. Johnson FB 5'10, 235 Sr. NR NR 82 425 6 5.2 3.6 40.2% 2 2
Benton Washington RB 5'11, 205 Jr. NR NR 55 321 4 5.8 3.4 52.7% 1 0
Timothy McVey RB 5'9, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7889 51 435 9 8.5 11.9 39.2% 1 0
Bryan Driskell RB 5'8, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 50 363 0 7.3 7.1 48.0% 0 0
Shayne Davern FB 6'0, 240 Sr. NR NR 46 323 4 7.0 9.6 34.8% 0 0
Garrett Brown WR 35 259 1 7.4 7.6 51.4% 1 1
Tyler Williams WR 5'10, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900 31 182 1 5.9 3.7 61.3% 1 0
Aubrey Duty-Tyson FB 6'0, 240 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794 24 101 1 4.2 1.8 33.3% 2 1
Nate Romine QB 5'11, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 22 111 1 5.0 9.3 31.8% 2 0
Jacob Stafford RB 9 27 0 3.0 0.0 0.0% 0 0
Jake LaCoste RB 5'10, 205 Jr. NR NR 7 36 0 5.1 2.0 42.9% 0 0
Scott Hester RB 6'0, 230 Sr. NR NR 6 34 1 5.7 2.3 50.0% 0 0

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jalen Robinette WR 6'4, 215 Sr. NR NR 58 26 641 44.8% 37.7% 11.1 50.0% 43.1% 2.46
Garrett Brown WR 40 27 557 67.5% 26.0% 13.9 60.0% 52.5% 2.49
Garrett Griffin TE 19 12 208 63.2% 12.3% 10.9 68.4% 57.9% 1.83
Timothy McVey RB 5'9, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7889 12 10 307 83.3% 7.8% 25.6 75.0% 58.3% 4.38
Ryan Reffitt TE 6'5, 230 Jr. NR NR 8 2 14 25.0% 5.2% 1.8 25.0% 12.5% 1.05
Bryan Driskell RB 5'8, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059 4 2 11 50.0% 2.6% 2.8 75.0% 25.0% 0.93
Alex Ludowig WR 3 2 45 66.7% 1.9% 15.0 33.3% 66.7% 2.37
Tyler Williams WR 5'10, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900 3 2 10 66.7% 1.9% 3.3 33.3% 0.0% 0.00
Benton Washington RB 5'11, 205 Jr. NR NR 3 2 1 66.7% 1.9% 0.3 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
Shayne Davern RB 6'0, 240 Sr. NR NR 1 1 33 100.0% 0.6% 33.0 100.0% 100.0% 3.34
Karson Roberts QB 1 1 20 100.0% 0.6% 20.0 0.0% 100.0% 2.41
Jacobi Owens FB 6'0, 202 Sr. NR NR 1 0 0 0.0% 0.6% 0.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.00
Andrew Smith WR
1 0 0 0.0% 0.6% 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.00
Josh Self TE 6'3, 225 Sr. NR NR
Andrew Daughtery WR 6'2, 190 Jr. NR NR








Cody Bronkar WR 6'2, 197 So. NR NR








5. Fullbacks and play-action

The offensive line was the driver of success.

In 2014, Air Force ranked 100th in Adj. Line Yards and 84th in Adj. Sack Rate, then lost three starters. But offensive line coach Clay Hendrix found the right recipe last fall; the Falcons improved to 13th and second, respectively (they allowed just three sacks all season), and produced two all-conference performers in tackle Sevrin Remmo and guard A.J. Ruechel.

With almost no defender presence in the backfield, Air Force had time to establish its option and pull the ball back and look deep. As is customary, Hendrix now has to replace three more starters (including Remmo and Ruechel) but will be calling from a pool of juniors and seniors.

If the line holds up, the skill positions should do their jobs. Last year's top seven running backs return, including leader Jacobi Owens and explosive options in Timothy McVey, Bryan Driskell, and Shayne Davern.

Meanwhile, one of the two primary receivers is back. Air Force must replace Garrett Brown and his 13.9 yards per target, but big senior Jalen Robinette, a three-year contributor who has caught 85 passes for 1,738 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career, is back for one more go-round. Four to five solid running backs and a big-play receiver: That's pretty much what Air Force's offense requires. If the quarterback and offensive line are up to snuff, this offense will again play at a high level.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 114.3 3.29 3.56 42.1% 75.6% 14.2% 448.3 2.7% 0.0%
Rank 13 15 33 27 20 4 2 22 1
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Sevrin Remmo RT 14 17 2015 1st All-MWC
A.J. Ruechel RG 14 27 2015 2nd All-MWC
Matt Rochell LT 14 39
Colin Sandor LG 6'2, 275 Sr. NR 0.7333 14 18
Alex Norton C 6'2, 288 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 8 8
Dylan Vail C 6'2, 280 Sr. NR NR 6 6
Allen Caunitz RG 6'4, 250 Sr. NR NR 0 1
James Rast LT 6'4, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.1) 0.7372 0 0
Jackson Wilson LG 6'3, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7667 0 0
Jake Barnhorst RT 6'4, 260 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Andrew Gikas OL 6'3, 230 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Patrick Halloran OL 6'4, 255 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Jordan Tyler OL 6'2, 260 Jr. NR NR 0 0

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.64 128 IsoPPP+ 88.0 105
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.2% 13 Succ. Rt. + 117.9 12
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.1 88 Off. FP+ 29.5 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 90 Redzone S&P+ 113.6 25
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 16.9 ACTUAL 18.0 +1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 32 71 12 105
RUSHING 36 47 4 95
PASSING 46 79 61 87
Standard Downs 78 6 118
Passing Downs 65 59 74
Q1 Rk 112 1st Down Rk 66
Q2 Rk 13 2nd Down Rk 91
Q3 Rk 55 3rd Down Rk 80
Q4 Rk 31

6. Damn the torpedoes (and the consequences)

The single biggest reason for Air Force's stark turnaround was a defense that went from identity-free to as aggressive as any in the country. The Falcons ranked 13th in success rate allowed in 2014 and 112th in IsoPPP, which measures the magnitude of successful plays.

They were willing to allow big plays (77 gains of 20-plus yards, 120th in FBS) to force three-and-outs and turnovers. If the balance is there, this is a perfect way to run a college defense.

It was the same in 2015. Air Force again ranked 13th in success rate allowed, but there was at times too much slippage in the big-play department. The Falcons gave up only 70 gains of 20-plus this time (101st), but 28 were 40-plus yards. Only Arizona State allowed more 40-yarders. The result: a ranking of 128th in IsoPPP, dead last.

That was a bit much. You can give up big plays if you're making stops in return, but a couple of 40-yarders per game will kill you. Air Force made as many run stops near the line as anybody, but if you got to the second level of the defense, you were running until your legs got tired.

A lot of that can be ascribed to youth. Air Force returned only four starters last year, and as you see below, very few seniors were in the rotation -- the Falcons return four of their five primary linemen, seven of nine linebackers, and five of six defensive backs. That means good things for 2016, and it tells you that inexperience was probably a handicap in 2015.

(The Air Force defense, by the way, ALSO tended to adapt and adjust well. The Falcons ranked 112th in first-quarter S&P+ but 13th in the second. They fell to 55th in the third, then improved to 31st in the fourth. Better do your damage early.)

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 116.4 2.48 2.59 28.4% 67.4% 22.9% 133.9 5.0% 11.1%
Rank 12 16 11 2 77 30 19 65 16
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alex Hansen DE 14 53.0 8.1% 15.5 7.5 0 3 1 0
Lochlin Deeks NT 6'4, 265 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 14 23.0 3.5% 5.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Santo Coppola DT 6'4, 285 Jr. NR NR 13 13.0 2.0% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Samuel Byers DT 6'5, 275 Sr. NR NR 10 10.0 1.5% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
David Harris DL 6'0, 269 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 4 8.0 1.2% 2.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Jalen Lacy NT 6'4, 250 Sr. NR NR 12 4.5 0.7% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kellen Cleveland DE 6'4, 235 Sr. NR NR 4 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cody Moorhead DL 6'5, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 12 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Grant Ross ILB 6'0, 220 Jr. NR NR 14 45.5 7.0% 5.0 1.5 0 0 1 0
Claude Alexander III ILB 6'1, 225 Sr. NR NR 13 45.0 6.9% 10.5 4.0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Dunn, Jr. OLB 6'3, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 13 38.5 5.9% 12.5 6.0 0 2 0 0
Patrick Healy ILB 6'1, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656 10 29.5 4.5% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Connor Healy ILB 9 23.0 3.5% 1.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Jack Flor ILB 6'2, 225 Jr. NR NR 14 23.0 3.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob Onyechi OLB 6'1, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7667 12 21.5 3.3% 4.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Ryan Watson OLB 6'3, 230 Sr. NR NR 14 17.5 2.7% 4.5 3.0 0 0 1 0
Dexter Walker OLB 11 15.5 2.4% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Matt Evans LB 6'4, 225 Jr. NR NR 12 1.5 0.2% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Omar Gardea LB 6'2, 225 Jr. NR NR 3 1.5 0.2% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shaquille Vereen LB 6'0, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667
Brody Bagnall LB 6'3, 230 So. NR NR

7. Only one (really important) guy to replace

Only 28 percent of opponent carries gained even five yards on Air Force last year. Unadjusted for opponent, that's the second-best opportunity rate in the country; the Falcons also boasted a top-20 sack rate, presenting one of the most active, exciting front sevens in college football. There was obvious, aforementioned downside to this approach, but defensive coordinator Steve Russ knew how to get people into the backfield and around the ball.

Russ has basically the same cast of characters to work with this year. Master blitzer D.J. Dunn Jr. is back, as are strong run-stopping inside linebackers Grant Ross and Claude Alexander III. Lochlin Deeks, a former star recruit who broke out as a junior, is also back.

Only one guy doesn't return, but he's a big one. Alex Hansen was Air Force's best run stopper and pass rusher, with 7.5 sacks and eight non-sack tackles for loss. He picked up the slack after Air Force lost two play-making linebackers following 2014, and now someone else has to pick up the slack for his departure.

It's hard to predict breakout performers at Air Force, where most guys don't have recruiting profiles and often go straight from being unlisted on the roster to landing on the two-deep. But keep an eye on senior nose guard David Harris, who started strong but missed much of the season with injury, and junior linebackers Matt Evans, Omar Gardea, and Shaq Vereen, who all seem to boast strong athleticism but might not get a chance to shine until the first-stringers graduate (or, I guess, get hurt).

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Roland Ladipo CB 5'10, 185 Sr. NR NR 14 65.5 10.0% 4.5 1 3 17 1 0
Weston Steelhammer SS 6'2, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7733 14 63.0 9.6% 10.5 1 5 7 0 0
Brodie Hicks FS 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 13 52.5 8.0% 1 0 2 2 0 0
Jesse Washington CB 6'0, 185 Sr. NR 0.7800 14 33.5 5.1% 2 1 0 5 1 0
Hayes Linn FS 6'0, 185 Sr. NR NR 14 16.5 2.5% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Kalon Baker CB 7 12.5 1.9% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Marquis Griffin CB 5'11, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 14 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Weaver SS 6'1, 210 Sr. NR NR 14 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jayce Webster DB 5'10, 175 Jr. NR NR
Brayden Hill DB 5'10, 205 Sr. NR NR
Tyler Jackson DB 6'0, 192 Jr. NR NR








Dailen Sutton CB 6'1, 170 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652








Kyle Floyd SS 6'0, 200 So. NR NR








8. Big plays for, big plays against

Opponents completed only 53 percent of their passes but averaged 14.4 yards per completion in 2015. That pretty much tells the story. Air Force pressured the quarterback and attacked the ball when it was in the air. That often worked out beautifully, and it often went horribly wrong. And opponents' passing success usually dictated the winner of the game.

  • Opposing QBs in Air Force wins: 47% completion rate, 11.8 yards per completion, 3.4% INT rate, 97.5 passer rating
  • Opposing QBs in Air Force losses: 65% completion rate, 18.3 yards per completion, 1.6% INT rate, 202.1 passer rating

That is ... a stark difference.

For better and worse, this year's secondary will resemble last year's, only with slightly more experience. That probably means more big plays allowed, but it also means another year of dynamic, aptly-named strong safety Weston Steelhammer, who recorded 10.5 TFLs, defensed 12 passes, and got himself ejected for targeting very early in the bowl loss to Cal. And it means another year of corners Roland Lapido and Jesse Washington, who combined for 6.5 tackles for loss and 25 passes defensed.

If you can protect your QB, and if your receivers can fight off physical coverage, you will probably score a lot of points on Air Force. But if you can't, you might not find a Plan B.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Steve Brosy 5'11, 210 Sr. 33 37.0 3 12 11 69.7%
Brett Dunn 13 41.5 0 7 3 76.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Luke Strebel 5'10, 170 Jr. 42 62.1 24 3 57.1%
Drew Oehrle 38 63.2 23 0 60.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Luke Strebel 5'10, 170 Jr. 37-37 5-6 83.3% 5-5 100.0%
Drew Oehrle 18-20 1-1 100.0% 2-4 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyler Williams KR 5'10, 185 Jr. 15 22.2 0
Bryan Driskell KR 5'8, 190 Sr. 8 19.5 0
Garrett Brown PR 15 9.3 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 23
Field Goal Efficiency 11
Punt Return Success Rate 123
Kick Return Success Rate 14
Punt Success Rate 105
Kickoff Success Rate 46

9. Kickoffs good, punts bad

Shootouts worked pretty well for Air Force in one regard: It meant more kickoffs. That was good news for a special teams unit that was efficient in punt returns and solid in kick coverage but could neither cover nor return punts with any consistency. Garrett Brown did return a punt for a score, and Steve Brosy's punts were certainly high. But the punts didn't go very far, and Brown didn't have many good returns beyond that one.

Luckily, the good aspects of this unit return. Luke Strebel's place-kicking, combined with his deep kickoffs, make him one of the conference's more important special teams weapons.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Abilene Christian NR 32.6 97%
10-Sep Georgia State 105 12.0 76%
24-Sep at Utah State 73 -4.8 39%
1-Oct Navy 66 0.4 51%
8-Oct at Wyoming 110 7.4 67%
15-Oct vs. New Mexico 102 7.7 67%
22-Oct Hawaii 118 16.3 83%
29-Oct at Fresno State 94 0.8 52%
5-Nov at Army 124 11.3 74%
12-Nov Colorado State 96 9.2 70%
19-Nov at San Jose State 92 0.7 52%
26-Nov Boise State 36 -5.5 38%
Projected wins: 7.7
Five-Year F/+ Rk -14.3% (90)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 125 / 121
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -5 / -1.0
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.5
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 60% (34%, 85%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.7 (-0.7)

10. The fussbudget will probably win again

Last year's schedule was impressive, with road games against teams ranked No. 9, 21, 37, and (in the conference title game) 43 in S&P+, plus a home game against No. 53 Utah State.

At first glance, this year's schedule offers far less resistance. Navy and Boise State visit Colorado Springs (and Navy won't be nearly as good), Utah State is projected to regress, and instead of Michigan State in non-conference play, the Falcons welcome Georgia State. Nine of 12 opponents are projected 92nd or worse.

That offers some slack. It is quite conceivable that the Air Force defense improves and the offense holds steady, pushing Air Force toward 10 or 11 wins with a top-50 rating. But if the Falcons do slide on offense and still give up too many big plays, the schedule should assure they win another eight or nine games.