No. 83 Air Force
Name a Group of Five team with two 10-win seasons in the last three years. Air Force will not come to your mind first — or second or third. The Falcons are accustomed to roster turnover but if they plan to make it three 10-win seasons in four years, they'll have to replace an elite receiver and almost an entire defense.
2016 Record: 10-3 (5-3, Mountain West)
Air Force lost three games by a combined 21 points, including a double-overtime loss to Hawai'i in late October. Their defense yielded an average of 38 points in those three games, compared to 20.6 in the other 10 games.
Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (11th year, 77-53 overall)
Take out the two-win debacle in 2013 and Troy Calhoun has won 64 percent of his games in 10 years at Air Force. They've reached nine bowl games (four wins), have won at least eight games seven times and hit 10 wins for the second time in three seasons.
Calhoun, however, is still chasing his first conference title. They did win the Mountain Division in 2015 but fell to San Diego State in the title game.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Arion Worthman, RB Tim McVey, WR Tyler Williams, TE Ryan Reffitt, OT James Rast, OT Jake Barnhorst, C Alex Norton
Arion Worthman took over for the injured Nate Romine vs. Fresno State on Oct. 28 and did not lose a game. Though the sophomore didn't complete — or attempt — a pass in the comeback win over the Bulldogs, he ran 20 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Worthman topped the 100-yard rushing mark two more times, including a 215-yard effort in a win at San Jose State.
"He's a fast, fast learner. And yet he just bowed his neck and played like a big fella the rest of the way," Troy Calhoun said after Worthman rebounded from his first career interception in a win over Colorado State in November. "That was pretty important."
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound Illinois native is still developing as a passer (23-of-39 for 546 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions on the season) but will lead a dangerous rushing attack alongside Tim McVey and three experienced offensive linemen.
Senior receiver Tyler Williams will continue to see carries but he'll also see a big jump in targets with the departure of Jalen Robinette. Ryan Reffitt is also in line for a bigger role in the passing game, though most of his value comes as a destructive blocker.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Santo Coppola, LB Grant Ross, LB R.J. Jackson CB Marquis Griffin
Grant Ross is the only returnee who registered 30 tackles last season. The senior was part of a sure-tackling unit that yielded only 114 rushing yards per game, intercepted 15 passes and forced nine fumbles. He'll be joined by junior R.J. Jackson, who is tore his ACL last year.
Though the defense will be laced with more upperclassmen, senior Santo Coppola is one of few who've played significant snaps. The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder has 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in two seasons.
Senior corner Marquis Griffin headlines a secondary with a ton to prove.
Notable Player Losses
RB Jacobi Owens, RB D.J. Johnson, WR Jalen Robinette, LB Ryan Watson, CB Jesse Washington, S Weston Steelhammer, S Brodie Hicks
Jacobi Owens and D.J. Johnson are gone after leading a rushing attack that averaged 317 yards per game. The pair combined for 1,481 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. But the biggest offensive loss is one of the nation's best receivers, Jalen Robinette. A three-year starter, he had three-straight 600-yard seasons — almost unheard of at a service academy — and was the only receiver to catch a touchdown pass.
You could write a book on the Falcons' defensive losses and the five players listed, particularly disruptive linebacker Ryan Watson and hard-hitting safety Weston Steelhammer, are only the tip of the iceberg. Defensive coordinator Steve Russ lost 12 of his top 13 tacklers.
Notable Player Additions
DT Mosese Fifita, CB Zane Lewis, S James Jones
Air Force doesn't have the typical freshmen and transfer additions like other FBS programs, therefore their notable player additions are sophomores who didn't play last year.
Mosese Fifita, who could be the program's first 300-pound player ever, will help stabilize a defensive line gutted by departures, and both Zane Lewis and James Jones should see significant playing time.
Air Force has an early bye in Week 2 before traveling to Michigan in Week 3. After a home game against defending conference champion San Diego State, they hit the road for four of their next five games, including an Oct. 7 trip to Navy.
After the brutal midseason travel, the Falcons return to Colorado Springs for three of their final four games.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. VMI|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. San Diego State|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at New Mexico|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Navy|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. UNLV|
|Friday, Oct. 20||at Nevada|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Colorado State|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Army|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Wyoming|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Boise State|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. Utah State|