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CU opponent preview: Air Force aiming to end two-year bowl drought

Buffs have not played Falcons since 1974

Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun

In most years during the Troy Calhoun era at Air Force, his teams could be penciled in for a bowl game slot.

Calhoun, who has been the Falcons’ coach since 2007, led the Academy to bowls in his first six seasons and nine of his first 10.

After missing out on the postseason the past two years, Calhoun and the Falcons are aiming to get back on track. This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on Air Force, which is coming off of back-to-back 5-7 seasons and visits Boulder on Sept. 14.

Once in-state rivals who played nearly every year from 1958-74, CU and Air Force have not met on the gridiron since Oct. 5, 1974, at the Academy. The Falcons will make their first trip to Boulder since 1973.

CU will face an Air Force team that believes it has the tools to put together a winning season. Although not a favorite to win the Mountain West Conference, the Falcons are projected by national publications to get back into a bowl. Phil Steele wrote in his preview magazine, “This is the best Air Force team in years.”

Experience is a big reason for the optimism. The Falcons have 14 returning starters (seven on each side of the ball) and punter/kicker Jake Koehnke is back.

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Included in the experience is the quarterback duo of Donald Hammond III and Isaiah Sanders, who split time last year. It’s likely both will play at some point this season.

Experience seems to have paid off in the spring. In an article by The Athletic, Calhoun was quoted as telling his team it was “hands down, the most productive spring we’ve probably ever had.”

In addition to the quarterbacks, the Falcons have a stable of talented backs for their triple-option attack – led by junior Kadin Remsberg. They’ve also got a solid offensive line and a good tight end in senior Kade Waguespack, who can block and catch the ball.

Defensively, the Falcons are a tough group that is stout against the run. After giving up 32.4 points per game in 2017, the Falcons cut that down to 25.8 a year ago. With seven starters back – including junior end Jordan Jackson, who has 12.5 tackles for loss – the Falcons could drop that number even more.

Despite back-to-back losing seasons, Air Force has continued to give opponents fits and the Falcons rarely go quietly. Five of the losses last year came by one score and the other two came by 10 points.

Turn some of those close games into win this year and the Falcons are likely to find themselves playing in December once again.

Calhoun usually doesn’t say much about his team, but told The Athletic in the spring, “I really like the group, and yet we’ve got five, six months until we go out. A lot of things can change.”

Air Force Falcons

Date with CU: Sept. 14, 11 a.m., at Folsom Field in Boulder

Head coach: Troy Calhoun, 13th year (87-67)

Series: CU leads 12-4

Falcons in 2018: 5-7, 3-5 in Mountain West

Returning starters: 14 – 7 on offense, 7 on defense

5 offensive players to watch (2018 statistics):

QB Donald Hammond III, Jr. (38-of-72, 623 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT; Rushing: 83 att., 371 yards, 9 TD)

FB Christian Mallard, Sr. (11 att., 46 yards, 1 TD)

RB Kadin Remsberg, Jr. (100 att., 583 yards, 3 TD; 6 catches, 20 yards, 1 TD)
WR Geraud Sanders, Sr. (14 catches, 236 yards)

RT Scott Hattock, Sr. (started all 12 games at RT last year)

5 defensive players to watch:

S Jeremy Fejedelem, Sr.  (104 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT)

DT Mosese Fifita, Sr. (25 tackles, 1.5 TFL)

DE Jordan Jackson, Jr. (54 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks)

LB Kyle Johnson, Sr. (70 tackles, 7.5 TFL)

CB Zane Lewis, Sr. (43 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU)

Notable: Hammond is the projected starter at quarterback, but that’s not a given, as senior Isaiah Sanders will push for the job. Sanders started five games last year and actually had better overall numbers than Hammond (48-of-78, 844 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT; 120 rushing attempts, 466 yards, 6 TD). … Air Force opens its season Aug. 31 against Colgate and then has a bye before taking on the Buffaloes. … Fullback Cole Fagan, who led the Falcons with 997 yards and 7 TD on the ground last year, was removed from the team in the spring. … The game at CU is Air Force’s only contest on natural grass this season. The Falcons are 0-7 on natural grass since the start of the 2012 season. Their last win on grass came in 2011 at New Mexico. … Last year, the Falcons ranked 55th national in scoring (30.3 points per game) and 56th in points allowed (25.8 per game). … AFA was third nationally in rushing yards per game, at 283.5, and it was 16th against the run, allowing only 116.9 per game.