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Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 92 Air Force

Ron Chenoy-USA Today Sports

Last season was one to forget for the Air Force Falcons. Not only did they finish under .500 for the first time under head coach Troy Calhoun, they also lost the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, getting swept by rivals Army and Navy. They did qualify for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, but were soundly beaten by the Rice Owls, 33-14. Heading into the 2013 season, there are key questions that need to be answered, particularly who will orchestrate the option-based Falcons attack?

Top Players:

RB Jon Lee, WR Ty MacArthur, DE Alex Hansen, CB Steffon Batts

Offense:

Air Force will have to find a replacement for last year’s starting quarterback Connor Dietz … always a daunting task for an offense centered around its QB. One possible option (no pun intended) could be junior Kale Pearson, who has served as the backup last year, playing sparingly. In limited opportunities, Pearson was not a very effective passer (41% completion, four interceptions, zero touchdowns), but did score the game-winning touchdown on the ground against Wyoming. If he’s not behind center, expect sophomore Jaleel Awini to be taking the snaps. Awini is a taller, rangier QB with a much better throwing arm, but no experience running the sophisticated option offense.

Regardless of who is at quarterback, there is little doubt who will be getting a majority of carries from the running back spot. Much is expected from Jon Lee, an explosive back with breakaway speed. As a back-up last year, Lee ran for 557 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. With more of a workload, it’s safe to assume his numbers will grow significantly in 2013. If he’s able to run well, he’ll take a little pressure off the new signal caller.

Finally, Air Force will need to find ways to get the ball into the hands of play-making wide receiver Ty MacArthur. Last season he had 57 carries and 24 catches for a combined 895 yards and four touchdowns.

Defense:

There are many questions for the 2013 Air Force defense, particularly at linebacker. The only returning player with significant experience is Jared Jones. Only having one experienced LB is a scary proposition for a defense that operates out of a 3-4 scheme. The Falcons do have their leading sack man back in sophomore Alex Hansen, who should help get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Corner Steffon Batts will lead a secondary that returns three starters from a solid, although unspectacular unit.

Traditionally, the Falcon defenses tend to be undersized, but make up for it with sound execution of their fundamentals. One other benefit to them is their ball-controlled offense, which eats up the clock and rarely turns the ball over.

Schedule: 

The schedule for Air Force in 2013 is not a particularly favorable one. On September 7th, Mountain West newcomer Utah State will travel to Colorado Springs to take on the Falcons. The Aggies were 11-2 overall last year and undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference. Just six days later, the Falcons head to Boise State to take on a Broncos team they didn’t have to play last year. The short week and travel should combine to make winning a very tough task.

They, of course, play both Army and Navy again, looking to avenge last years defeats. And perhaps most interestingly, the Falcons will also host Notre Dame in late October. The Fighting Irish are coming off a trip to last years’ National Championship game and will be a huge favorite to beat Air Force.

When all is said and done, the Falcons should be hovering right around the .500 mark again. They’ll be breaking in a new quarterback and playing a much more difficult schedule than they did last year. It’s possible they’ll win seven or eight games, but it’s also possible they only win four or five.

B.L. is a college football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip or on his Facebook page.