The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the
Today at No. 71:
Coach: Troy Calhoun (41-24, entering third season)
2011 record: 7-6 (3-4 in
Look back: Air Force opened the season on a high note, relying on its powerful rushing attack to win three of the first four games of the season. The
The team then hit arguably the toughest part of its schedule and went on a three-game losing streak. The Falcons lost 59-33 at
Air Force bounced back with a 42-0 win at New Mexico and a 24-14 home win over Army to claim the coveted Commander-In-Chief Trophy awarded by the president of the United States to the winner of games among the nation's three service academies.
Air Force lost 25-17 against Wyoming, but it clinched bowl eligibility with a 45-17 win over UNLV and closed out the regular season with a 45-21 win at
The Falcons earned an invitation to the
Offensive starters lost/returning: 8/3
Defensive starters lost/returning: 8/3
Key losses: OL A. J. Wallerstein, DB Jon Davis, RB Asher Clark, QB Tim Jefferson, LB Brady Amack, DB
Top returnees: QB Connor Dietz, LB Alex Means, K Parker Herrington, OL Jason Kons, RB Mike DeWitt, OL Jordan Eason, RB Wes Cobb, LB Jamil Cooks, DB Jay Fullam.
Strengths: Troy Calhoun has been a strong leader at Air Force, stepping in to replace Hall of Fame coach Fisher DeBerry five years ago. Calhoun has led the Falcons to five consecutive bowl games, improving the academy's run-heavy offensive attack to remain competitive in the surging Mountain West Conference lineup.
While Air Force loses 2011 leading rusher Asher Clark, the team returns strong rushing threats in Mike DeWitt and Wes Cobb. The duo will likely thrive in the Air Force system. The Falcons have been ranked in the Top 5 nationally in rushing offense during each of the past five seasons, including a No. 3 ranking in 2011 with 314.77 yards per game.
Four-year starting quarterback Tim Jefferson has also left the program, but his replacement did earn game-day experience. Connor Dietz, who played in nine games in 2011, rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. He also went nine-of-15 passing for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Linebacker Alex Means is the top returning defensive performer. He led the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss of 46 yards and 6.0 sacks for a loss of 39 yards last season.
Weaknesses: Air Force returns the second fewest starters in the nation, according to Phil Steele's breakdown of returning starters at all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. While the Falcons run an elite and efficient system, it's still a challenge to replace eight offensive players and eight defensive players. The group of departures includes Tim Jefferson, the first quarterback in Air Force history to lead his team to four consecutive bowl games. Jefferson was a true dual-threat quarterback who made the Falcons' run-heavy offense much tougher to stop because teams had to respect his passing skills.
Outlook: Can Air Force extend its streak of five consecutive bowl appearances? It will all depend on how well players adapt to new starting jobs.
Sept. 8 At Michigan
Sept. 22 At UNLV
Sept. 29 Colorado State
Oct. 6 Navy
Oct. 13 At Wyoming
Oct. 20 New Mexico
Nov. 3 At Army
Nov. 10 At San Diego State
Nov. 17 Hawai’i
Nov. 24 At