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Preview, How to Watch: Air Force opens its season against Lafayette

The Falcons have one chance to tune things up for the 2021 season, and their game against the Leopards should offer a taste of what’s to come.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Air Force Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This time last year, we had no idea what the football season would look like for the Air Force Falcons. Now, we have a pretty good idea. Troy Calhoun and his team have a full slate ahead of them with just one get-right game to start things off.

A stiff test against Navy looms large for Week Two, so Air Force will have to answer a few questions without giving away all of its tricks. We can expect the Falcons to iron out a few kinks on Saturday with the Lafayette Leopards coming to town, but what exactly should we look for?

The Falcons have finally given us the best preseason gift we could have hoped for — an official depth chart. We now know how Air Force will line up to kick things off, with plenty of familiar faces taking the field for the first time in months.

Lafayette, however, is a bit more of a mystery. The Leopards played just three games in a unique spring season, finishing with a 2-1 record. How much of that record will matter when they trot into Falcon Stadium on Saturday? None of it.

What will matter is how both teams have adjusted for a return to normalcy in college football. Here’s what you need to know.

Air Force offense vs Lafayette defense

NCAA Football: Air Force at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons had quite a few mysteries heading into the season opener, though most have now been solved. One position that came free of any doubt was the quarterback, as Haaziq Daniels is back under center as we all expected him to be.

However, the offensive line ahead of him has been rife with questions since the end of last season. We now know that Ryan Booth, Hawk Wimmer, Jason Medeiros, Isaac Cochran, and Everett Smalley will be tasked with setting the trenches. Booth, Wimmer, and Cochran are all seniors, while Medeiros is a junior and Smalley is the lone sophomore.

As for the skill positions, Brad Roberts will start at fullback (and also kickoff returner, a rare combination, to be sure) with Jordan Gidrey taking the top tailback spot. Kyle Patterson starts at tight end for the Falcons after leading the team last year.

We also already know how Air Force plans to play — run, run, and then run some more. Such is the glory of the triple option. However, this is a Leopards team that allowed just 63 rushing yards per game throughout the spring. It’s not a large sample size, and the teams they faced were not up to the Falcons’ level, but it does suggest that Lafayette will come ready to do battle.

Veteran linebackers Major Jordan and Marco Olivas will look to cause chaos in the Air Force backfield, hoping to dampen the run game at all costs.

Air Force defense vs Lafayette offense

NCAA Football: Boise State at Air Force Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons lost eight defensive starters from the 2020 season. In any normal case, that might be a terrifying mountain for a team to climb. In Air Force’s case, they have the benefit of turnbacks on their side. While those former starters are off to a career beyond the academy, familiar faces like Demonte Meeks, Jordan Jackson, and Milton Bugg III are back in their place.

Jackson is joined by Elijah Brockman and Christopher Herrera on the defensive line, with Demonte Meeks and Lakota Wills at the heart of the linebacking corps behind them. Tre Bugg is back at his rightful starting cornerback slot with Corvan Taylor filling the starting free safety role.

Overall, the Falcons may not return as much 2020 talent, but there are hundreds of combined tackles from 2019 back in the fold. This balance of new and old will have to find its sweet spot quickly against the Leopards, but Lafayette has quite a few of its own questions to answer.

The Leopards are currently without a clear starting quarterback after the transfer of their 2019 star in Keegan Shoemaker, and 2020 starter Cole Northrup has graduated. One player to watch for Lafayette is freshman Nahjee Adams, a Lehigh Valley native. He was originally slated to join Louisiana-Monroe before deciding to stay and play for his hometown Leopards. Adams is currently listed as the starting kick returner, though he may see some reps at running back if Air Force builds up a lead.

How to Watch

Kickoff: Saturday, September 4, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Falcon Stadium — Colorado Springs, Colorado

Watch: Stadium — Chris Hassel is on play-by-play with Sed Bonner as the analyst.

Spread: Air Force is favored by 41 to 42 points, though most books do not have an official line.