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Preview, How to Watch: Air Force opens its 2020 season with C.I.C. clash vs. Navy

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Air Force has never opened a season by playing Navy, but nothing is normal in 2020. On Saturday, the Falcons take the field for the first time.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In a year where nothing is normal, Air Force will begin its 2020 season with the first leg of the Commander-In-Chief’s series. After much uncertainty and delay, the Falcons are going to play football. And they’ll host Navy on Saturday in Colorado Springs.

Football will be played and that’s all we really know from the Air Force side of things.

It’s unclear who the Falcons’ starting quarterback will be, but it won’t be Donald Hammond III, who accounted for 26 touchdowns last season. Hammond was deemed a cadet “not in good standing” back in July, and head coach Troy Calhoun wasn’t exactly forthcoming about his status earlier this week. Hammond is not currently on the Falcons’ roster, but Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is still skeptical of his availability.

“Who knows, Hammond may show up,” Niumatalolo told the Capital Gazette. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Hammond comes trotting out there on game day.”

There are even more questions on the defensive side of the ball for Air Force. Starters Demonte Meeks, Jordan Jackson, Lakota Wills and Milton Bugg III are not at the academy currently, as they were among the many players who took turnbacks this season, according to the Gazette in Colorado Springs.

One strength for Air Force will be the left side of the offensive line, where standout Parker Ferguson and preseason All-American Nolan Laufenberg return. Expect to see Kadin Remsberg run behind them often.

For Navy, the 2020 season has been a mixed bag so far. After getting embarrassed on their home field by BYU, the Mids went down to Tulane. After a poor first half, Navy looked like a new squad after halftime, and a stout defense and the play of Dalen Morris led them to the biggest comeback in program history.

Because of Morris’ talents throwing the ball, the Navy attack this year might look a bit different. They’ll still run the option, of course, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Morris log double-digit passes on Saturday in an attempt to expose an Air Force defense that might not have a whole lot of chemistry yet.

Saturday could tell fans two things: How much of an impact turnbacks have had on the Falcons, and what type of team the Mids really are — the team that showed up in the second half vs. Tulane, or the one that sleep-walked through the first six quarters of the season.

The Basics

Kickoff: 6 p.m. EST

Where: Falcon Stadium, USAFA, Colorado Springs

Watch: CBS Sports Network. Carter Blackburn and Aaron Taylor will have the call while Jenny Dell reports from the sidelines.

Spread: Most sports books have Navy favored by a touchdown, with the over/under set at 46 points.

Last Meeting

Malcolm Perry passed for 144 yards and rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 34-25 win for the Midshipmen in Annapolis. Nelson Smith had a solid rushing day too, covering 82 yards and scoring twice on 19 carries. The turnover battle was an even 3-3 and Air Force actually had possession for four more minutes than Navy. Mids’ linebacker Tony Brown ended Air Force’s comeback bid by recovering a fumble and scoring in the closing moments of the game.

Air Force leads the all-time series against Navy 30-22. No team has won two straight against the other since the Mids won in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013.

Players to Watch

Air Force

Kadin Remsberg, Senior, Running Back

Remsberg is probably Air Force’s top returning offensive weapon. A year ago, he rushed for 1,050 yards on 181 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per-tote. His rushing total was third-best in the Mountain West and he also scored eight touchdowns. A 5-foot-9 native of Newton, Kansas, Remsberg always seemed to show up in big games for the Falcons last season. He covered 146 yards in a win over Colorado, and rushed for 178 yards in the Falcons’ bowl win over Washington State. He did, however, struggle a bit against Army and Navy last season, held to just 63 yards and no scores on 21 carries. For Air Force to win Saturday, Remsberg’s luck against the fellow Service Academies will have to change.

Navy

Mychal Cooper, Junior, Wide Receiver

It’s not often that a wideout is a *player to watch* for a triple-option-based team, but Navy is going to throw the ball a bit more often than usual this season, in part because Cooper and his fellow receivers are just that good, and the guy under center can really sling it. Cooper was a crucial part of Navy’s comeback efforts against Tulane, hauling three passes from Morris for 71 yards and a touchdown. In addition to a 32-yard touchdown reception, Cooper’s other two catches helped set up scores for the Mids. Cooper caught three passes for 90 yards against Air Force last season. It’s a safe bet that the 6-foot-5 product of San Antonio will at least match that total on Saturday.

They Said It

Air Force WR Ben Peterson: “Every time you play one of these Service Academy games, it’s a big game. Doesn’t matter how many wins any team has, both teams are going to be ready to play and I think we’ll see that Saturday.”

Navy safety Kevin Brennan: “Obviously, we haven’t seen them play a game this season. We really don’t know what they look like. They’ve been preparing for a while now, so I expect them to be ready for us.”