Some programs need a fresh start, others need a total change of direction, and others simply need a breath of fresh air. Troy Calhoun provided a little of all three.
Air Force had become a bit stale under Fisher DeBerry, who received more attention for a few controversial remarks than for what his teams did on the field. Calhoun didn’t make sweeping fundamental changes and he didn’t ruin the foundation of what DeBerry built. Instead he enhanced it by winning how a program like Air Force, with all its recruiting restrictions, has to win.
The Falcons ran the ball as well as ever, played good, aggressive defense that got picked apart by the offenses with the far superior talent, like California’s and BYU’s, but shut down the mediocre. And there weren’t many mistakes finishing 15th in the nation in turnover margin and 8th in penalties.
There’s rebuilding to be done this year, but replacing players will be easier than changing the program’s momentum.
What to watch for on offense: A desperate, ongoing search for players who can make big things happen. This will be an inexperienced group that’ll need to fight through mistakes by being consistent, and to hit a home run here and there. The coaching staff would love if it Ty Paffett could come close to being the type of runner Chad Hall grew into last season, while there might be more from the receiving corps that shows promise and has a nice target in tight end Ty Dekker to work around.
What to watch for on defense: Ben Garland in the middle. One of the team’s best linemen last season, Garland moves from the outside in to provide more bulk. It’s not like the run defense was all that bad with the veterans returning to the front three, but putting Garland inside should bring even more activity.
The team will be far better if … the quarterback situation can be quickly settled. Air Force always used to plug in offensive players under DeBerry with consistent results, and that also went for the quarterbacks. Four-year starter Shaun Carney needs to be replaced, and the issue is hardly settled with Shea Smith and Eric Herbort almost dead even after a decent, but not great spring for each.
The Schedule: It’s not that bad. Getting BYU and Utah at home, along with the New Mexico game, gives the Falcons a fighting shot at being in the league title hunt, but closing with a trip to TCU after the date with the Cougars will be tough. There’s not a non-conference game that’s not winnable facing Southern Utah, at Houston, Navy and at Army. The midseason stretch of three road games in four weeks would normally be tough, but the away dates are at San Diego State, UNLV and Army.
Best Offensive Player: Senior TE Travis Dekker. Ty Paffett will likely get most of the attention and the honors if he emerges in the Z position like Chad Hall did last year, but Dekker is the best talent on a team in need of receiving weapons. He’d be a lock for first team All-Mountain West honors if he played at BYU or Utah.
Best Defensive Player: Junior NG Ben Garland, but it could quickly become sophomore CB Reggie Rembert. Rembert will be used as a kick returner, a receiver, a runner, and as the team’s No. 1 corner. While there might be a little too much on his plate, he’s needed most in the secondary that will be in big, big trouble if he’s not making big plays.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Eric Herbort of senior QB Shea Smith. There are more options than these two to play around with, but they got most of the key reps this spring. These two are neck-and-neck going into the fall, but Herbort, after a great off-season, appears to have the edge.
The season will be a success if … Air Force gets back to a bowl game. That’s never a given for Air Force, with all of its recruiting restrictions and all the difficulties in turnover. The program was a huge surprise in Calhoun’s first year, but a winning season and another bowl appearance would show that the coaching staff can fill in the gaps in a big hurry, and that it can adjust and adapt to the personnel to fit the system.
Key game: Sept. 6 at Wyoming. Call this game against UW a momentum setter. The Cowboys will be looking for a hot Mountain West start and will desperately need the home win. The Falcons can reestablish that they’ll be players in the league race in what could be a must win with a loaded Utah coming to Colorado Springs two weeks later.
2007 Fun Stats:
– Rushing yards per game: Air Force 299.5 – Opponents 136.5
– Fourth down conversions: Air Force 17 of 25 (68%) – Opponents 16 of 29 (55%)
– Interceptions thrown: Opponents 15 – Air Force 5