SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION – Air Force

Note … Previews for CU’s opponents will be posted each week leading up to the start of Fall Camp … Previously posted: Colorado StateNebraska

2019 Game Three – Colorado v. Air Force – 11:00 a.m., MT, September 14th

Last five games between Colorado and Air Force*

— 1970 – Colorado 49, Air Force 19 (Colorado Springs)

— 1971 – Colorado 53, Air Force 17 (Boulder)

— 1972 – Colorado 38, Air Force 7 (Colorado Springs)

— 1973 – Colorado 38, Air Force 17 (Boulder)

— 1974 – Colorado 28, Air Force 27 (Colorado Springs) (Here is a link to CUBuffs.com story on the game)

— Colorado leads the all-time series v. Air Force, 12-4, with a 7-3 advantage in games played in Boulder —

* Sorry, but my history with CU only goes back to my freshman year, 1980, so I don’t have any links to Air Force games to give you from the CU at the Game Archives. I’m really looking forward to attending CU’s first game against the Falcons in 45 seasons!

2018 Air Force results – 5-7 (3-5 in Mountain West Ten play)

– 2018 Air Force National Rankings (Offense)

— Scoring – 55th … 30.3 points per game  (Colorado scoring defense – 70th … 27.3 points per game)

— Rushing – 3rd … 283.5 yards per game   (Colorado rushing defense – 44th … 145.6 yards per game)

— Passing – 125th … 131.3 yards per game   (Colorado passing defense – 74th … 234.7 yards per game)

— Total – 53rd … 414.8 yards per game  (Colorado total defense – 52nd … 380.3 yards per game)

– 2018 Air Force National Rankings (Defense)

— Scoring – 56th … 25.8 points per game  (Colorado scoring offense – 79th … 27.1 points per game)

— Rushing – 16th … 116.9 yards per game (Colorado rushing offense – 99th … 143.0 yards per game)

— Passing – 84th … 244.0 yards per game (Colorado passing offense – 45th … 249.6 yards per game)

— Total – 43rd … 360.9 yards per game  (Colorado total offense – 74th … 392.6 yards per game)

Air Force storylines … 

– A rivalry renewed … 

When the renewal of the CU/Air Force rivalry was announced back in 2015, it seemed like a natural (especially for a CU program looking forward to an end of the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver).

“The renewal of this rivalry will be great for the state,” CU athletic director Rick George said at the time.  “Nearly two generations have come and gone since we last played Air Force in football, and I’ve often heard from fans that they’d like to see them back on our schedule.  We were both fortunate enough to have available dates for the games in the not-too-distant future to make this happen.  It’s an easy drive for fans of both teams and I am sure ours will really enjoy seeing Air Force once again as an opponent in football.”

No arguments here.

The last time the two teams played, as pointed out by CU Associate AD/Sports Information Director Dave Plati, All in the Family was TV’s No. 1 show and the Denver Rockets of the ABA were morphing into the Denver Nuggets, heading for the NBA.

That’s awhile ago.

While it’s true that the CU/Air Force game represents – like the CSU game – a “no win” situation for the Buff program, it serves several positive purposes.

First, it gives local media the opportunity to talk about college football. In a Denver media world dominated by the Broncos, a game between local in-state rivals who haven’t met in four decades gives the local television stations reason to spend time talking about the Buffs (it shouldn’t take such a move to create coverage, but that’s the world CU lives in).

Second, it gives the CU athletic department a chance to make some coin while still bringing in an opponent which represents a likely “W”. The Buffs need victories, to be sure, and a non-conference schedule of New Hampshire, Texas State and Idaho State – and a guaranteed 3-0 start to the season – is arguably a smart path to a six-win season and bowl eligibility.

The problem. When Idaho State came to Boulder in 2016, the 56-7 Buff win drew a crowd of 39,505. The 37-3 win over Texas State in 2017 was witnessed by 43,822, with the 41-21 victory over in-state “rival” Northern Colorado bringing in 44,318.

Air Force?

A crowd of 48,000-50,000 is likely … especially if the Buffs are 2-0.

When you have an athletic department which needs to pay off a former coach, and are trying to up the annual budget for assistant coaches, several thousand more fans in the seats (who hopefully will like what they see, and will come back for additional games) isn’t a bad strategy.

Players make plays

Why don’t more teams run the triple-option offense?

Try on this stat for size: The last Air Force quarterback to start every game in a season was Connor Dietz … in 2012.

This just in … option offenses are hard on quarterbacks.

The next quarterback to try to lead the Falcons for an entire campaign will either be junior Donald Hammond III, who started six games last season (including the last four) or senior Isaiah Sanders, who started five games of the other six games in 2018.

Whichever quarterback is chosen as starter, they will have help moving the ball on the ground. Senior running back Cole Fagan, who was just short of 1,000 yards last season (997), is a second-team All-Mountain West performer. The offensive line, meanwhile, returns four starters. Last season, that talent combination produced the nation’s third-best rushing attack in 2018 (283.5 yards per game).

The Air Force defense is like its offense, at least insofar as they would rather have a game played on the ground instead of the air. The Falcons were 16th in the nation in rushing defense last season, but 84th in pass defense. Air Force returns seven starters on defense, led by senior nose guard Mosese Fiftia, the rare Falcon who tips the scales at over 300 pounds.

If you are looking for a key statistic which to keep an eye on during the game, check out the (usually) insignificant stat of time of possession. Air Force was fourth in the nation last season in that stat, and playing keep-away from the CU offense will a major goal for the Zoomies when they head up I-25 on September 14th.

How the Buffs fit into the Falcons’ 2019 schedule

If given a choice, most coaches would prefer to have a bye week before facing the Falcons and their option offense.

The Colorado coaches won’t have that luxury, with Air Force coming to Boulder a week after the Buffs face the Cornhuskers.

Meanwhile, the Falcons will come into Boulder will a full head of steam. Air Force opens the 2019 season at home against Colgate on August 31st, and then, while the Buffs are doing battle with the Cornhuskers on September 7th, the Falcons … have a bye week.

So, yes, Colorado is Game Two for Air Force, with the CU game coming after a game against an FCS team and a bye week.

Not a bad lead up to an important game.

Think the Air Force coaches will be emphasizing the CU game during Fall Camp? Think the Falcon players will be excited to take the bus up to Boulder?

Still, there are a few mitigating factors in the Air Force schedule which do work in the Buffs’ favor.

First, Colgate may be an FCS team, but it is not just any FCS team. The Raiders went 10-2 in 2018, shutting out five opponents (and giving up only a field goal to two other opponents). Colgate’s only losses were to an 11-2 Army team and to 15-0 FCS national champion North Dakota State.

So Colgate is no pushover.

Second, the Falcons’ third game of the 2019 season, the weekend after their trip to Boulder, is against Mountain West favorite, Boise State. If Air Force is to have a chance at a Mountain West Mountain division title, they need to conquer the Broncos on the Smurf Turf in Boise … and that reality may grab some of the attention of the Air Force coaches this August.

To be sure, the Colorado game has a certain cache for Air Force and its fans, but, all things considered, it may only be the third-most important game for the Falcons this September.

Bottom Line

Air Force finished 5-7 last year. In addition to taking out the Stony Brook Seawolves, the Falcons defeated CSU, New Mexico, UNLV and Navy … teams which went a combined 13-36 last season.

That being said, the Falcons were within ten points of 8-4 Utah State, within four points of 8-4 San Diego State, within 10 of 11-2 Boise State, and within three of 11-2 Army.

In other words, Falcons fans can look at the 2018 season with the same “woulda, coulda, shoulda” mantra that the Buff Nation has been reciting since November.

This was always going to be a trap game for the Buffs, coming between the emotional home opener against Nebraska and the Pac-12 opener on the road against Arizona State. The fact that there is an 11:00 a.m., MT, kickoff (Pac-12 Networks) – which means the student section will be even more empty at kickoff than usual – just adds to the anxiety.

That being said, if the Buffs are going to go bowling in 2019 … Hell, if the Buffs are going to match the 5-7 record of the past two seasons, this is a must-win game.

The Buffs should be able to out-muscle the Falcons on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the Buff wide receivers should have a field day against the Air Force secondary.

With only one game under their belts before the CU game, we may not know much about the 2019 Falcons before September 14th, but we should have a pretty good idea by then as to what we can expect from the Mel Tucker Buffs.

Let’s hope that the first game against Air Force in 45 seasons will end the same way the last five games between the schools did … with a Colorado victory.

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