Colorado v. Air Force Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs v. well-grounded Falcons

The last time Colorado played Air Force (a 28-27 Buff victory in Colorado Springs on October 5, 1974), Gerald Ford was president.

The last time the Falcons beat the Buffs (a 58-35 win in Boulder, on November 23, 1968), Lyndon Johnson was president.

Colorado and Air Force have played 16 times in their history (CU leads the all-time series against Air Force, 12-4, including a 7-3 record in games played in Boulder).

Sixteen games … that’s a rivalry with a more games than CU has played against Pac-12 mates Arizona State (10), California (10), Stanford (10), Oregon State (11), Washington State (12) and USC (13), and UCLA (14), and almost as many times as against Washington (18), Arizona (21) and Oregon (21). The only Pac-12 rival which CU has played significantly more than Air Force is Utah (65 games).

But, with 45 years since the most recent contest, it’s hard to call this a “rivalry” game … except that it is.

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. Air Force … Saturday, 11:00 a.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

Colorado coaches spent a great deal of time during practices a week ago preparing for a mobile quarterback, one who was just as lethal – if not more so – with his legs than his throwing arm.

Adrian Martinez was sent back to Lincoln with a loss, but the Buff coaches are back to the drawing board, as another mobile quarterback will be invading Folsom Field Saturday.

Meet junior Falcon quarterback Donald Hammond III.

Hammond scored three of Air Force’s seven rushing touchdowns in the Falcons’ 48-7 rout of Colgate on August 31st … on only five carries.

“They’re beatable,” said the Air Force quarterback of the Buffs, who described himself as “refreshed” after an off week. “Everybody’s beatable.”

Kadin Remsberg added two scores for Air Force against Colgate, which moved to 13-0 in season openers under coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons didn’t throw a pass until the third quarter against the Raiders — which turned out to be their only attempt of the game (a completion for 41 yards).

In a 48-7 game, there was no need to air it out, as the Falcon offense amassed 423 yards on the ground.

The Falcon defense, which ranked 43rd nationally in total defense last season (and 56th in scoring defense), surrendered only 161 yards (and 11 first downs) to Colgate in the opener.

In truth, not much can be discerned from the one game Air Force has played. With the win over the Raiders, the Falcons pushed their all-time record against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision to 24-0.

Conversely, Air Force has not posted a win over a Power Five conference school in nine years. Since beating Georgia Tech in the 2010 Independence Bowl, Air Force is 0-6 against Power 5 conference teams (or Notre Dame).

Last fall, in posting a 5-7 record, the Falcons beat four Group of Five schools: Colorado State; New Mexico; UNLV; and Navy (the other win coming over the Stony Brook Seawolves). Those four teams finished the 2018 campaign with a combined record of 13-36 … not a super impressive resume.

Granted, Troy Calhoun has brought Air Force back from mediocrity before. The Falcons went 2-10 in 2013. In the next three seasons, they posted 28 victories.

It remains to be seen if this year’s Air Force squad, a consensus third-place pick in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference (behind Boise State and Utah State, but also ahead of fifth-place pick, CSU), is a team on the rise.

I – Intangibles 

While the press releases for this game will highlight the “rivalry” aspect of the Colorado/Air Force game, there certainly won’t have a rivalry feel to the players.

Hell, the last time Colorado played Air Force, even I didn’t know/care about the outcome (and I’m old!). I was in junior high back in the early 1970’s, still a number of years away from stepping onto the the Boulder campus to become a Buff for life.

Contrived rivalry aside, there will be some dislike emanating from the visitors’ sidelines on Saturday.

Air Force, like Colorado State, plays in the Mountain West Conference.

Air Force, like Colorado State, plays with a chip on its shoulder when given the opportunity to knock off a team from a Power-Five conference … the Falcons are a more-than-respectable 26-33-2 all-time against teams from the Pac-12.

And Air Force, like Colorado State, has to deal with a state media which places it below CU in terms of coverage (not that the Buffs, in a world owned by the Denver Broncos, is receiving all that much media attention, anyway).

Throw in the fact that for all of the players on the current Falcon roster, this will be their one and only shot at the Buffs (the teams play again in Colorado Springs, but not until 2023), and you will have some pretty inspired cadets taking the bus up to Boulder from Colorado Springs.

“Everyone in America that knows anything about football knows that when you play Air Force you have to strap it up,” said Mel Tucker. “It takes what it takes and that’s non-negotiable.”

Being smaller and slower than the opposition is nothing new to the Falcons … but being more disciplined and determined than the opposition is nothing new to these players, either.

The Buffs have prided themselves on being the better conditioned team on the field in taking control in the second half of their first two games.

It would be hard to consider any team, however, as being in better condition than an academy team.

P – Preparation/Schedule

For the third time in as many weeks, the Buffs are at a disadvantage when it comes to preparation for their non-conference opponent.

Colorado State had a nine-month off-season to prepare for their Super Bowl, and it showed as the Rams were able to keep the final Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver close … for a half.

Nebraska had a bottom-feeder Sun Belt program in South Alabama as its tune up for the Buffs (not that the Cornhuskers didn’t struggle as 36-point favorites), while Colorado had to focus its attention on putting little brother back in his place.

Now, Air Force enjoys the advantage.

If you were trying to look up the score of the Air Force game from last weekend, you may have been surprised to find that Air Force had a bye week in Week Two. After taking out Colgate in the opener, 48-7, the Air Force coaches and players were given a two-week respite to heal up, and then put in some extra tweaks to their already tough-to-defend offense.

It’s not quite the full off-season of preparation afforded the CSU Rams before they played Colorado, but it’s close. So, if the Falcons are successful early on against the Buffs on Saturday, and the announcers blame it on CU’s hangover from the Nebraska celebrations, don’t buy it … It will be because Air Force has been preparing for this game since last December.

That being said, the Buffs are not flying completely blind when it comes to facing the Air Force triple option.

Defensive coordinator Tyson Summers was the defensive coordinator for Colorado State when the Rams beat the Falcons, 38-23, in 2015. Both Mel Tucker and Summers have experience preparing for Georgia Tech, which, up until the retirement of Paul Johnson last year, ran an offense similar to that run by the academies.

And, it’s worth noting, during Fall Camp the Buffs set aside a period each practice to prepare for Air Force. “You can’t just start preparing for teams like this the week of”, said Tucker.

If Buff fans have learned anything in the first two weeks of the 2019 season, it’s that Mel Tucker & Co. will have their team prepared.

S – Statistics

With Air Force having played only one game – and against an FCS team at that – the Falcons’ stat sheet is a little skewed (e.g., Air Force is No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency – going 1-for-1 for 41 yards will do that), so we’ll focus on CU’s statistical rankings.

In one sense, it’s a good thing for the CU stats sheet that the Buffs are playing Air Force this weekend. After two weeks, CU is 121st in the nation in pass defense, giving up 332.0 yards/game. Look for that number – and ranking – to improve this Saturday.

But … the Buffs are 118th in total defense (487.0/yards per game) and 98th in scoring defense (having given up 31 points in each of the first two games). It also doesn’t help that CU is 90th in time of possession. Normally, that’s not a stat with much bearing, but when the Buffs are playing with an opponent that wants to play keep-away from its offense, time of possession could be a factor.

On the offensive side of the ball, the numbers are a bit cheerier for the Buff Nation. CU is 39th nationally in total offense (469.5 yards/game) and 23rd in scoring offense (43.0 points/game).

From the stats sheet, it appears that the game will be a high-scoring affair. The over/under on the game, though, is 58.5 points, which works out to about a 31-27 win for the 4.5-point favorite Buffs …

Prediction … Air Force didn’t beat a team of consequence last season, with the best win over a 4-8 UNLV squad. Several key players, including last year’s leading rusher, Cole Fagan (who was dismissed from the team), are no longer on the roster.

And yet … there are several numbers which bother me:

  • 24-21 2(OT)
  • 28-21 (OT)
  • 3.5

The first two numbers are scores put up by Army the past two seasons. The Black Knights fell last weekend to No. 7 Michigan, 24-21, in two overtimes, and to No. 5 Oklahoma last fall, 28-21, in overtime. (Air Force, by the way, is not unaccustomed to putting a scare into ranked teams, either, falling to No. 7 Michigan, 29-13, and to No. 22 San Diego State, 28-24).

The third number is the betting line for the game, or at least it was (it has moved from 3.5 points to 4.5 points since the opening line was posted)

I would have thought that the line would have been in the 7-10 point range, but the oddsmakers basically see the teams as even. Considering that Las Vegas generally gives the home team a three-point edge, what we are being told is that, if this game were to be played in Mile High stadium, that it would close to a pick ’em game.

Suffice it to say that the Falcons won’t be giving in. As one opposing MWC assistant coach put it in Athlon’s preview magazine: “These kids don’t back off ever, and they seem to play better against the best teams in the league. They make you play on their terms”.

I’m not worrying about the Buffs being prepared. The Air Force offense is not complicated … it’s about execution. If there is one thing we have learned in Mel Tucker’s short tenure as coach, he will give his charges a game plan which can succeed.

The Air Force offense is going to be successful. The triple option is difficult to prepare for, and that is what gives the Falcons their best chance to win.

The Air Force defense, however, doesn’t have the same ability to dictate play – and that should be the difference.

Colorado has a number of playmakers on offense, and it’s hard to see the Falcon defense being able to contain them all afternoon.

Buff fans will be nervous for longer than they might otherwise hope to be, but these Buffs believe in Mel Tucker, and will be able to take on the adversity head-on.

Prediction … Colorado 34, Air Force 24

Previous predictions … 

Colorado 38, Colorado State 20 … Actual: Colorado 52, Colorado State 31

Colorado 37, No. 25 Nebraska 31 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 25 Nebraska 31 (OT)


8 Replies to “CU v. Air Force – “T.I.P.S.” for Buffs v. well-grounded Falcons”

  1. I think the Buffs are in for a tough game on Saturday, but Tucker and the staff will have the team prepared. Also I love watching Tucker’s demeanor on the sidelines; calm and cool.

    CU 28 AFA 17

    On a side note, I watched the game last Saturday with a close friend (Nebraska fan) and it was amazing how quick the “excuses” started as the Nebraska lead started to dwindle; Frost this…Frost that…players aren’t good…etc. LOL

  2. Worried?………………not worried. These are not your gardners Buffs. Where there was no attitude, was not plan was nothing except…………….well nothing and loss after loss from the ear ot the ache……….(I’m sure they will figure it out……………they are great coaches…………….I trust them………They almost won………Mac is a great leader.. blah blah blah blewey)…………….Charge of the light brigade…………..ooha…..

    This staff has a different attitude No arrogance………..(like mickey the unamiomus COY haha

    It will be interesting to see the coaching staff reactions after a loss. Players too. But note it will not be this weekend. One could expect the Buffs go into the first bye week 4-0 The ASU road game will be the major stake in the ground………..
    if you haven’t read this you need to………………..perhaps Stu will …………….?? Why it is different in a nutshell

    Buffs……………..get a bowl game eh?

  3. I can’t bring myself to call this a rivalry after 16 games. But i have watched AFA football for decades and these kids always play their rear ends off. They never quit never give up always tough. I have tons of respect for them. But ultimately CU is better and should win going away in the second half again. I am going with CU 44 AFA 19 – GO BUFFS !!!!!

  4. Yo Stuart,
    This one scares me. Colorado should win. They should win handily. But Air Force is always close. Last year, five of their losses were within a single touchdown. That means they stay close enough to win. One missed tackle or blown coverage is all that it would take.

    Colorado would show a lot by winning by 3 or 4 touchdowns. Just not sure if Air Force will lose that way. Look at the Army-Nebraska game last week. It’s scary playing the Academy teams.

    Go Buffs! Be Smart, Be Strong, Don’t be Overconfident!


  5. I hope this game is so different than 73. Lets give the cadets a standing ovation when they take the field. Let them know we are patriotic and really appreciate all the sacrifices they have and will make. Then beat them. With respect. Go Buffs!!

  6. I tell you what Stuart, we are usually close(great minds), and I adjust my score sometimes because I don’t like it being so close to yours. Before reading this(I always pick my score 1st) I felt and still do 31-24, then I see yours 34-24(I’ll take yours). GO BUFFS!!!

  7. Over the last decade or so, I’ve gone to one Falcons home game each year. I never leave disappointed, win or lose, because the cadets always leave everything on the field and play hard to the last snap. They aren’t there because of football or because of recruiting stars. Contrast this team against the attitude that comes from USC, UCLA, or the arrogance of the Huskers. I look forward to seeing the Falcons in Folsom on Saturday. I agree that that CU’s offense should be the overall difference against the AF defense. CU 35 AF 28.

  8. The last time Air Force beat a P5 team…they beat Georgia Tech, one of the only other teams running a similar system? That’s kind of hilarious.

    I just don’t see how CU loses this, though. Air Force’s weirdness is only a threat when you have no one on the staff that knows what to do against it, and when you don’t spend time throughout the entire offseason preparing for it (like CU has done). Better athletes for CU = win for CU.

    CU 42 AF 24

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