“We’ll be missing you”
A season beyond the CIC?
No Fall Season for the Mountain West
Like a handful of other major college football conferences, the Mountain West announced they would be cancelling their fall season a few weeks ago citing the COVID-19 Pandemic as the cause. Discussions around a spring season are supposedly in the works, but that does little to fill that empty pit in your stomach as a fan of one of the conferences’ schools. There is nearly eight months of build up to the start of the college football season, and no lack of storylines to excite you, no matter who you cheer for.
I’m going to highlight a few of the story lines that I was excited to see unfurl for Air Force in 2020. There is still optimism for the round-robin series with Army and Navy to compete for the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy, but Air Force otherwise has no fall season to speak of. Lets hope the battle for the CiC comes to fruition, and in advance of a spring season. Until there is clarify on those games, I’m only left to pine over these things that I longed to see in 2020……
Who will be the new QB1?
Coming into 2020, Air Force was poised to have one of, if not the most potent offenses in the conference. That was with Donald Hammond III at the yoke, though. Unfortunately, official statement from the Academy has since been issued stating that Hammond III is no longer a cadet in good standing, and thus not eligible to represent the Air Force Academy.
I have no information or means on the cause, and therefore likelihood of his return to the team in the event there is a Spring Football season. To say anything to the contrary would be dishonest and unfair to both Hammond III and the Academy. Because of that, we’re operating under the assumption that Air Force will feature someone new at quarterback if they play Army and Navy this fall, and then hopefully a Spring season. One thing that is for sure, as the MW Wire’s Choice for Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, Hammond III’s talent and contributions on the field were undeniable, and leaves a massive chasm which the Falcons must try to fill.
As disappointing as this news was, the battle to the top of the depth chart is one I was very excited to see. There are no returning players with any game snaps of significance under center, but there is talent. Junior to be, Warren Bryan appeared to be the front runner as the start of the season drew nearer. A duel threat recruit who drew a lot of praise from his teammates, Bryan fits the mold for what Air Force likes to do.
Chance Stevenson would be the primary competition to Bryan. Stevenson is also a junior, but unlike his counterpart, he has completed passes, and they came in moments of consequence. That said, these were also completions he made on trick plays, which Stevenson was lined up at slot-back, his position last season. A quarterback recruit out of high school, Stevenson was moved to running back with a glut of experience under center in 2019, and equal parts because of his ability as a ball carrier. His skill-set rushing the ball figured heavily in the move last year, according to head coach, Troy Calhoun. As any Air Force fan knows, there would be no lack of opportunities to showcase his athleticism in the ground game, even if he was to play quarterback.
The churn of a roster is one my favorite things about college football. Its not quite speed dating at the Academies, with only four years of eligibility, so you don’t get too attached, but there is a lot of turnover year after year. So while Bryan and Stevenson would be the presumptive favorites to take over at quarterback, there are other players that want to change that narrative.
Similar to Warren Bryan, Zach Larrier and Max Massingale are two-star recruits, but both sophomores. For the purpose of fully exploring the competitive landscape other fellow sophomores Haaziq Daniels and Jake Smith round out the existing roster of players who were already at the Academy coming into spring practice this year.
Perhaps this could have been the year we saw a freshman under center? Its an absolute rarity, but we saw Nate Romine play as a freshman in 2013 due to injuries and suspensions. And while that proved a season to forget, Romine had a nice career with Air Force. And who could forget Tim Jefferson, whose name is all over Falcon record books, as he was a four-year starter from 2008 through 2011.
For a freshman to get under center this year, you would think they had to be spectacular in camp, or the more likely scenario of significant attrition at the position. Either way, if it were to happen, the likely candidates would be Jameson Wang or Cannon Turner. If you read my piece on the 2020 freshman class, you know I am a big fan of Mason Bugg, the record setting high school quarterback out of Arizona. You can read it here if you missed it. However, if the younger brother of all conference performer, Tre Bugg is going to have an impact, it will be at safety, as he has made the transition to the secondary. With all the turnover at the back-end of the defense, that could become a narrative.
My guy @trey_taylor007 has been consistent for months now.!! Hit 225 for 15 reps today. Personal best was 11 before that. Great upright row spot by @bigmoore00 as well..! 💪😂💯 @AF_Falcons #trainhard #wineasy #crullfitness pic.twitter.com/Xgp7I8J928
— Nathan Daugherty (@NateDaug) June 17, 2020
What Will The Secondary Look Like
One of the areas hit the hardest by graduation this year was the secondary. Cornerback Zane Lewis is gone and now finds himself in the NFL. Three year starter and All-Conference performer Jeremy Fejedelem has graduated, and gone with him are Garrett Kauppila and Grant Thiel. These were all key players for the Falcons in 2019, and at safety in particular take a lions share of the experience with them.
The only player to squeeze in any experience of substance at safety in between the previously mentioned trio, was Corvan Taylor. Just a sophomore, Taylor got playing time because of injuries as well as situational snaps last year, which could prove invaluable. Another Taylor, Trey Taylor is now a sophomore and former 3-star recruit, who looked poise to break into a starting role among the safeties with a very strong showing in spring camp.
Cornerback is the only place in the secondary that features an established commodity coming into the season. Tre Bugg returns for the Falcons to hold down one of the cornerback spots, and the importance of that can’t be understated. Bugg’s ‘play of the year’ 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Hawai’i, made headlines all over the football world. But as spectacular as that was, his steady presence and consistent play all year long will need to be replicated to allow the rest of the secondary to set in. If you only have one returning starter, as he Falcons do in secondary, you couldn’t ask for much more than a player like Bugg.
The other player with experience returning would be James Jones IV, who has played all over in the secondary. Jones IV never did regain a regular starting position on the depth chart since suffering an ACL injury that ended his season a few years back. But this is another guy who started as a sophomore before getting injured, and has been in and out of the lineup. He could be a real wildcard for the secondary.
There is so much intrigue when you look at all the spots up for grabs on the defense, but in the secondary especially. Tre Bugg is an entrenched starter, but beyond that there is a lot room for debate and speculation. All fun things when your looking forward to a college football season.
Just How Good Can This Running Game Be?
There were a lot of first team spots to fill on the depth chart coming into 2020, but running back was not one of them. The Falcons backfield could have featured one of the best one-two punches in the country, in Kadin Remsberg and Timothy “Duval” Jackson. Either Remsberg or Jackson could lead the conference in rushing yards if they were the bell-cow of a more conventional offense. However, there is a significant division of labor as it relates to carries between running backs in the triple-option offense. This is only magnified by the fact that the quarterback is also a primary ball carrier.
Either way, these two looked to be a nightmare for opposing defenses to have to prepare for. Jackson is not your conventional fullback in frame or running style. He can run over you and he is fast enough to run away from you. Remsberg is well-documented for having elite speed, and its for good reason. However, he has excellent vision and is rarely going to be brought down by the first defender. Remsberg is one of the most exciting players in the country, but because of the offense he plays in, and the timezone his team plays, he doesn’t get that due recognition.
Its also worth mentioning, these guys would be running behind two of the best linemen in the country. That’s right, in the country.
Nolan Laufenberg was recently recognized by being named to the pre-season All-American team. His teammate in the trenches, Parker Ferguson is an All-Conference performer in his own right. Both players were named to the Outland Trophy Watch List for 2020, and are NFL Draft Prospects. These road graders could have been paving the way for a sensational running game. I was looking forward to watching this rushing attack wreak havok on the opposition.
Highest-graded returning Group of Five OL:
1. Parker Ferguson, Air Force – 85.7
2. Jake Stetz, Boise St – 83.0
3. Nolan Laufenberg, Air Force – 82.3
4. Max Mitchell, Louisiana – 81.8
4. Cole Spencer, WKU – 81.8 pic.twitter.com/VKxFHwrcWk
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 28, 2020
The New Faces To Make An Impact
With all of the starting vacancies left by graduation, there would be a lot of new faces filling key roles. I’m not going to be able to go into detail for each position that would be up for grabs, but there are a handful of positions and players that had my attention.
Kyle Patterson arrived at Colorado Springs last years as a freshman with more fanfare than the average cadet. Patterson was a prize commit that had suitors to the likes of Alabama pursuing him. He earned a jersey as a freshman getting to travel with the team, and has already turned heads in spring camp. With so much three seniors exiting the tight end room, I was excited to see what Patterson could do with the opportunity. Rhett Harms would have to figure in to the new tight end calculation as well.
In the secondary, I mentioned Trey Taylor as a player to look out for. With a strong spring and significant evacuation of experience at the safety spot in particular, the sophomore from Frisco looked poise to see the field. With all the turnover and recent history of standouts at safety, I had high hopes for Taylor.
The Falcon defense has a stud in the middle of the field in Demonte Meeks. The all-conference linebacker is looking for partner on the inside though, to replace Spaceforce’s own, Kyle Johnson. Johnson leaves big shoes to fill, and one of the players I would have expected to surface in succession is T.D. Blackmon. The junior is another one of the 3-star prospect variety for Air Force, and without a lot of strongholds at the position, there is an opportunity for impact there.
The last person on this list is more of a re-acquaintance, than a new face. Brandon Lewis saw action at receiver as a freshman and was poised for a breakout sophomore year in 2019. Unfortunately Lewis was not able to play last year, but as a junior he’s back to torment defensive backs. As a sort of Swiss-Army-Knife mold, Lewis could be a spark-plug to the offense and contribute in multiple ways. Don’t sleep on Brandon Lewis.
Spring’s Eternal Hope?
“Hope spring’s eternal” but only if there is Mountain West football in the spring, right? Poet Alexander Pope would probably disagree with my manipulating of verse, but it rings true to me. I think we all will be happy if we do in fact see a spring season, but the reality is, there is something about college football every fall. Let’s hope with Air Force we get a little taste of both.