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Air Force football preview: Falcons host Colgate to open season

Air Force has never lost to an FCS team, but a tough Colgate team — looking to bounce back from a loss to Villanova — comes to Colorado Springs this week.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Two seasons have passed since the Air Force Falcons last played in a bowl game and last won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. The road to rectifying that begins Saturday, when Troy Calhoun’s boys host the Colgate Raiders in Colorado Springs.

The Basics

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. MT; 3:30 p.m. EST
Watch: The game is being streamed free on ESPN3. Trey Bender and Al Groh have the call.
Radio: On the American Forces Network (AFN) (SIRIUS 99, EX 210, Internet 984) Jim Arthur and Jesse Kurtz have the call.
Where: Falcon Stadium — Colorado Springs, Colorado
Spread: Most books have Air Force favored by 20.5 points.
Rankings: Colgate was No. 13 in the STATS FCS Preseason Poll, but will most certainly fall after losing to un-ranked Villanova 34-14 last week. Air Force wasn’t ranked in the AP or coaches poll. The Falcons enter the season ranked 81st in Bill Connelly’s SP+.

Last Time They Met

Colgate and Air Force have met once before, with the Raiders coming to Colorado Springs in 2013. The Falcons won 38-13 behind Jon Lee and Broam Hart, who combined for 231 rushing yards and four touchdowns. After Colgate took a 7-0 lead, Air Force scored 38 straight points.

Things to know about Colgate

The Toothbrushes Raiders were pretty good last year. They won 10 games and went to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. One of their FBS opponents was Army, who beat the Raiders 28-14 in a game that featured a combined 88 yards of passing.

And while Colgate won the Patriot League last year, made the playoffs and entered the season ranked, there is reason to believe that they might not be all that good, in comparison to an FBS program like Air Force. That’s what the numbers say, anyway, and it kind of showed last week when Colgate got trounced by Villanova, who plays in a better league.

Still, there’s a chance the numbers are wrong and a chance that last week was a fluke. Colgate showed last year — by hanging with Army and beating James Madison in the FCS playoffs — that it’s a tough football team. The Raiders had 10 players named to the preseason All-Patriot League team too. And last year, Colgate led the nation in scoring defense, allowing 9.3 points per-game, total defense at 237.7 yards per-game allowed, and pass efficiency defense with an 88.77 rating. That accounts for something, right?

The Patriot League began to allow its teams to play scholarship football in 2013, and those players made their debut at Air Force. Will things go differently for the Raiders in their second trip to Colorado Springs?

X-Factor

Typically, we could say its Air Force’s quarterback. But we don’t know who that is. Thanks, Coach Calhoun.

Instead, let’s talk about defensive lineman Mosese Fifita.

A 6-foot-1 beast from Everett, Washington, Fifita broke out against Boise State last year, posting six tackles and a sack. He has 45 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in his Air Force career, and could be set for a stellar senior campaign.

Villanova had eight tackles for loss and four sacks last week against Colgate. If the Raiders’ front line is shaky again, Fifita could have an eventful day.

Who Air Force Should Worry About

Junior quarterback Grant Breneman and senior defensive lineman Nick Wheeler were tabbed as preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year by the Patriot League.

Breneman, a 6-foot-1 native of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, led the Patriot League with a 61.8 completion percentage and 133.64 pass efficiency rating last season while also leading the conference in yards per pass attempt (7.9) and yards per completion (12.7). In all, he passed for 1,605 yards and six touchdowns — which is to say that the Colgate offense doesn’t call for him to pass a ton, but Breneman can get the job done when called upon.. He also rushed for seven touchdowns last season. Last week vs. Villanova, he threw for 211 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score.

Colgate has won 14 of Breneman’s last 16 starts. He was invited to the Manning Passing Academy this off-season.

Wheeler, a 6-foot-2 native of St. Louis, Missouri, was an FCS All-American and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award last year. He had 51 tackles in 2018 and was second in the league in sacks and tackles for loss with nine and 17, respectively. He also had 2.5 sacks in the FCS playoffs.

They Said It

Air Force defensive coordinator John Rudzinski on Colgate’s Breneman: “He doesn’t make mistakes and he doesn’t put them behind the sticks. He does a great job of getting rid of the ball and does a tremendous job as far as reading coverages. It’s a huge challenge for us with such an experienced guy.” (The Gazette)

Threads

Prediction

Calhoun is 12-0 in openers. Air Force, in 23 games, has never lost to an FCS team. The Falcons make it 24-0 on Sunday, winning 32-13.