We’ve been running a series the past week that consisted of one homer piece for each service academy and one “anti-homer” piece. It started out with some of our Air Force and Navy contributors telling Army why they would not win the CIC for a third straight season, was followed up with a rebuttal by our Army folks of why they were going to defeat Michigan along the way to an undefeated season, saw our Navy writers claim an 11-1 season was possible, and then our Army writers got their turn to share why a repeat of last year’s three win season was much more likely.
It’s all been fun and the responses on Twitter have been as expected from every fan base. Look, for the first year of Against All Enemies we walked the line, and we will get back to doing just that heading into week one. It’s crazy though that for a site dedicated to covering three rivals that we have had no chance really to showcase the craziness that is the “psychology of the sports fan”. That’s definitely on me as the site manager. So, for one week, I took the training wheels off and let everyone get it out of their system! We’ve never seen so much traction on social media, and though it’s been fun, this is the last article in the series. It will be back to your regular scheduled coverage from here on out this season!
And Scott actually did exactly what I was going to do and brought the homerness down to a reasonable level in his discussion on how Air Force will fare in the Mountain West and CIC races this season. You can check that article out here. I’m not sure if it was the assault brought on by Army fans last week that wore him out, but you won’t find any discussion of undefeated Air Force teams, but reasonable thoughts on why it is possible to compete in the MW and win the CIC this year for the Falcons.
So, in the same vein, I’ll try and meet him halfway. Yes, I’m getting ready to tell you why Air Force could end up 5-7 for a third straight year, and it’s fine Falcon fans, I’m ready for the pitchforks. But hopefully between the two articles, you’ll see nearly the same exact reasons for what Air Force’s season hinges on. It just becomes whether you are a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of fan!
As I was preparing to write this article over the weekend, there was no answer yet to who would be the starting quarterback for the Falcons this weekend against Colgate. But yesterday, mere minutes before we started recording our weekly podcast, Colorado Springs Gazette beat writer Brent Briggeman broke the news that Donald Hammond III would be under center when Air Force lines up on Saturday afternoon.
So, I suppose that my reasoning or concern over this being an issue moving forward is a little bit diluted. But, even though it has just been announced this week that he won the job over Isaiah Sanders to start the season and will get this week, an FCS game, and two more weeks as “the guy” before having to square off against Colorado in Boulder, I still think that an inability to stick with a quarterback hurt both Air Force and Navy last season. A rotation that started with Arion Worthman, shifted to Sanders, then to Hammond, then to Sanders, and then back to Hammond last year I believe had an impact on the offense’s inconsistency throughout the year.
It’s a new year to be sure, and just based on my observations last year watching the Falcons I expected Hammond to be named the starter in 2019. But how long is the leash becomes the biggest question moving into the season. This is not something I’m sure we will get from Calhoun in any press conference, but will be evident quickly by his actions during the season. Even in his press conference today, he was non-committal on who the starter was after Briggeman wrote that it was Hammond after practice yesterday.
Hammond is super talented, absolutely has a swagger about him, and appears to be a true “gamer”. But if he is constantly wondering when the plug is going to get pulled when things go south in a game, and that could certainly happen in the second and third games of the season, how will that affect his play? I think if you are an Air Force fan, you are hoping that if Hammond is the guy, Calhoun lets him be the guy. But this was not the case last year, and so I have no reason to believe it will automatically be the case this year.
Loss of Status for Key Players
Another important announcement of the past week has been the loss of two key players for no longer being “in good standing” with USAFA in receivers Brandon Lewis and David Cormier. This certainly explains part of why we have seen Ben Peterson’s name in the mix for awhile now, and I’m sure is something the coaching staff anticipated, but it’s still a big deal. We don’t know why they lost their status and ability to compete for the Academy, as it could be anything from academic to conduct to honor related, but with the fact that the team lost starting fullback Cole Fagan and running back Joseph Saucier earlier this summer for similar reasons, it does signify a bit of a trend.
Once again, I don’t have a clue why the drop in status occurred, but these were several key players that were expected to contribute in a big way this season. Now, outside of Geraud Sanders, there is a serious lack of experience for the wide receiver corps.
So from both a production and overall team standpoint, this could be a factor.
Rise of “others” in MW and Schedule
Last season saw five teams in the Mountain West conference receive votes at some point throughout the year and none of them were Air Force. The Mountain West is becoming an increasingly competitive league in the upper echelon and the Falcons will have to contend with four of those teams this season.
Getting Boise State on a Friday night in Boise after playing Colorado the previous week is a tough task. Having to take on last year’s conference champion Fresno State Bulldogs the week after traveling to Annapolis in your first CIC game of the year is a tough task. Traveling the very next week after that to Hawaii is a tough task. Following that three game stretch up with a return to Colorado Springs to take on Utah State and quarterback Jordan Love the next week is a tough task. And then if that stretch wasn’t tough enough, welcoming Army to the Springs the next week to round out the CIC games is the icing on the cake.
I think Air Force will be competitive in each of these games, though that turnaround for the Boise State game could be pretty brutal, but simply in terms of the way the schedule is setup, I don’t think it’s doing the Falcons any favors.
The CIC Race
I know the Falcon faithful are confident in Air Force’s ability to rebound in the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy race this season, but the glass half-empty fan would point out that the winner of the Navy-Air Force game has gone to the home team every time since 2012, and the two times it didn’t go that way in recent memory (2011 and 2012), it was an overtime nail biter needed for the road team to pull out the victory.
And this year’s game is in Annapolis.
I know this is an Air Force team that is also clamoring to beat the Black Knights after coming up just short last year and getting shut out two years ago in their last home outing against Army. But, like I mentioned earlier, this caps off an incredibly tough middle of the season stretch for the Falcons, and frankly, Army has given no indication they are working their way backwards at this point. I think these are both going to be very competitive games, as many CIC games tend to be, but there are certainly reasons to be pessimistic about Air Force’s chances.
I know, I know, that wasn’t some statistical or position vs. position breakdown in how they players stack up against each other, but hey, what blatant anti-homer would give you that kind of analysis?
In the end, there are only a total of four games on the Falcons schedule that I would consider as locks for them to win. And if they bounce back and forth between quarterbacks, can’t find the depth they expected to have at the skill positions, and enter a slide during that rough scheduling stretch of the season, the glass half empty would say that this team is just as likely to go 5-7 again for the third straight year and miss a bowl game as they are to turn things around.