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CU Buffs opponent preview: Experienced Air Force aims to top 2021 success

FT. COLLINS, CO - NOVEMBER 13: Air Force Falcons running back Brad Roberts (20) runs through Colorado State Rams defensive back Marshaun Cameron (26) and Colorado State Rams linebacker Cam'Ron Carter (12) and scores a touchdown in the third quarter at Canvas Stadium November 13, 2021. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
FT. COLLINS, CO – NOVEMBER 13: Air Force Falcons running back Brad Roberts (20) runs through Colorado State Rams defensive back Marshaun Cameron (26) and Colorado State Rams linebacker Cam’Ron Carter (12) and scores a touchdown in the third quarter at Canvas Stadium November 13, 2021. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
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Colorado’s 12-game football schedule this fall includes 11 games against Power 5 conference opponents.

The other one might be the most difficult one to prepare for, however.

On Sept. 10, CU will travel about 85 miles south to Falcon Stadium to take on the Air Force Academy in game No. 2. The matchup with the Falcons, from the Mountain West Conference, won’t be easy.

FT. COLLINS, CO - NOVEMBER 13: Air Force Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun is all smiles talking to a referee late in the 4th quarter during the game against the Colorado State Rams at Canvas Stadium November 13, 2021. Falcons won 35-21. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
FT. COLLINS, CO – NOVEMBER 13: Air Force Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun is all smiles talking to a referee late in the 4th quarter during the game against the Colorado State Rams at Canvas Stadium November 13, 2021. Falcons won 35-21. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

This summer, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s opponents for the 2022 season and in this installment, we look at Air Force.

Led by veteran coach Troy Calhoun, Air Force is one of the few teams in the country still running a triple-option offense. Teams such as Colorado don’t see this type of attack often and it can wear on coaches. When CU and Air Force met in 2019, former Buffs’ head coach Mel Tucker and his staff devoted extra time throughout the offseason to prepare for the Falcons – and still lost the game, 30-23 in overtime at Folsom Field.

That 2019 team was one of Calhoun’s best. The 2022 team has a chance to be better.

Air Force returns 16 starters from a team that went 10-3 a year ago and tied for first in the Mountain division of the MWC.

Most of the top players on offense are back, including quarterback Haaziq Daniels. Several full or part-time starters also return from a defense that ranked 16th nationally in points allowed (19.8 per game) and top five in yards allowed (296.7 per game) last year.

With so much talent returning, the Falcons are eyeing their first outright division title since 2015. They haven’t won a conference title since a win in the WAC championship game in 1998.

Air Force Academy Falcons

Head coach: Troy Calhoun, 16th season (111-75)

2021 season: 10-3, 6-2 Mountain West

Series with CU: Buffs lead 12-5

The Game

Who: Colorado Buffaloes at Air Force Falcons

When: Saturday, Sept. 10, 1:30 p.m. MT (TV: CBS)

Where: Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy

5 Guys to Watch

  • QB Haaziq Daniels: Entering his third season as a starter, Daniels is a talented runner and solid passer. In 18 games, he has rushed for 1,031 yards and 14 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,617 yards, 10 TD and six INT.
  • TE Kyle Patterson: An injury cut his 2021 season short, but he’s arguably the best tight end in the MWC. Coming out of high school, he turned down offers from Alabama and four Pac-12 schools to play for the Falcons. He had 12 catches for 205 yards and two TDs in five games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, becoming the first tight end to lead the team in receiving since 2002.
  • FB Brad Roberts: Last season, the Ralston Valley High School graduate rushed for 1,356 yards, the third-best single-season total in AFA history. He also had 13 touchdowns. Roberts played only four of six games in 2020, but led the Falcons with 461 yards and five TDs.
  • OLB Vince Sanford: After recording eight total tackles in his first three years at AFA, he had a breakout season in 2021. He racked up 59 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbled, three pass breakups and nine QB hurries.
  • S Trey Taylor: Despite missing the first three games of last year with an illness, he led the Falcons with 62 tackles. He also had five pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble.

Good to know

  • CU will be making its first trip to Falcon Stadium since Oct. 5, 1974. Billy Waddy ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Buffs to a 28-27 victory. Air Force was upset with how their Cadets were treated in a 1973 game in Boulder and the series ended after the 1974 game. CU and AFA met 16 times from 1958-74, but wouldn’t face each other again until 2019.
  • In 1963, the game between CU and Air Force was delayed two weeks following the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy. Air Force won the postponed game, 17-14, on Dec. 7 in CU’s first-ever trip to Falcon Stadium. That was CU’s only loss in that stadium, as the Buffs are 5-0 since then.
  • AFA’s Troy Calhoun interviewed for CU’s head coaching vacancy in February of 2020, but the Buffs ultimately hired Karl Dorrell for the job. Dorrell is now entering his third season with the Buffs.
  • Calhoun has led AFA to four 10-win seasons, including two in the last three years. The Falcons are 24-8 since the start of the 2019 season.
  • In the last two seasons, fullback Brad Roberts has carried the ball 363 times and has rarely been tackled behind the line of scrimmage. He has gained 1,827 yards and lost just 10 – for a net of 1,817 yards (5.0 yards per carry).
  • AFA had five new starters on the offensive line last year, but still led the country in rushing, at 327.8 yards per game. Three of those starters return this year. The Falcons have led the country in rushing the past two seasons
  • In the last three years, Air Force is 8-3 in non-conference games, including 6-0 against non-service academies.
  • Brian Knorr takes over as the defensive coordinator for the Falcons after John Rudzinski left for Virginia. A former Air Force quarterback (1982-85), Knorr is a long-time defensive coach, including coordinator stops at Ohio (1999-2000), Wake Forest (2011-13) and Indiana (2014-15). Knorr has coached the Falcons’ inside linebackers since 2018. Rudzinski had coached at Air Force since 2010.

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