Air Force is possibly on the brink of cracking into the top three of the Mountain West this year well at least according to me. The preseason polls gave zero love to Air Force even though they are returning 98.21 percent of an offense that was 4th in the nation in rushing yards. The defense was not to shabby either as they were 11th in the nation which returns one of the best secondaries in the nation. Now compare that to BYU who is the most likely team Air F orce can overtake. They received enough votes to be 28th in the coaches polls even though they lost their all-time leading rusher in Harvey Unga, all-time winningest quarterback Max Hall is gone, and Dennis Pitta of the best tight ends in school history is also gone.
These five players will be the key to Air Force in taking the next step:
5. Reggie Rembert, DB
Rembert is just one part of the Falcon secondary that picked off Houston's Case Keenum six times in the Armed Forces Bowl. The key to Rembert is his ability to stop big plays from happening down field as well as stuffing receivers if the catch the ball. Rembert is a versatile player who returned punts, kicks, and was used in all aspects of the defense in blitzing and helping stop runners behind the line of scrimmage.
His biggest non-defensive asset was in the kick return game where Rembert averaged nearly 30 yards per return. While that is an added bonus for any team his skills as a defensive back are more key to shutting down receivers such as BYU's McKay Jacobson and San Diego State's Vincent Brown.
4.Anthony Wright, DB
Wright was one of the leaders for a secondary that was top five in the nation in pass defense where Wright was a heavy contributor with seven interceptions and four pass defenders. He also is a play maker once Wright touches the ball he makes things happens which is why he scored three touchdowns from his punt return and interceptions. In 2009 Wright ended up gaining 22 yards per interception and 16 yards per punt return. Those average return yards ended up putting Wright as one of the best return men in the game.
In addition to his playmaking abilities Wright is nominated to the Lott Watch List which is awarded to the Defensive player that has the most impact for their team. His impact must be utilized in a pass happy Mountain West that has BYU, TCU, San Diego State, and Wyoming who run a spread offense and will pass the ball down the field. The secondary of Air Force will be tested all year.
3. Jared Tew, FB
It is rare in today's game for a fullback to be considered a key player in a teams offense, but in a triple option offense the full back is sometimes more key then the quarterback. Tew was the teams leading rusher last year at just under 1,000 yards he is best used when he does not touch the ball. In the offense that Air Force runs the fullback dive is a critical play which helps set up a plethora or other plays. Plus, the fullback dive can catch defenders off guard since it takes barely any time to develop, and that quick developing play can cause defenses to over pursue that play. Once defenses crowd the middle is when the offense fakes the dive and then goes wide with a running play and can lead to big games.
Tew is not your typical fullback as he is a former running back and is not a large bruising back since he is six feet and two hundred pounds. He is just big enough to take the beating with the short dive plays, but one thing about Tew is that his speed combined with the quick dive play is that he can sneak right pass the defensive line and get into the second level without getting touched.
2. Tim Jefferson, QB
The orchestrator of a very complex offense is Tim Jefferson who for the first time in his career at Air Force is healthy and was able to compete in a spring practice. In the spring of 2008 Jefferson had some academic issues and a lingering injury which caused him to only participate part time that spring. Jefferson is more of a distributor in the Falcon offense as he only had 254 yards on the ground which is less then his freshman campaign where he had nearly 500 yards on the ground and in less playing time. His decision making to pitch the ball at the exact time is key to getting players like Jared Tew and running back Asher Clark optimal running space to make big plays.
The difference between this quarterback and other Falcon quarterbacks is that Jefferson has more of an arm then previous Falcon quarterbacks. This makes the play action even more effective with a quarterback that can throw the ball downfield. Jefferson still rarely throws the ball but averages nearly a first down per attempt, and sixteen yards per completion. His arm is capable of hurting secondaries that will eventually cheat in a run option based offense due to being bored and not having any plays come near them, and that is when the deep ball is called and usually succeeds.
1. Offensive line
This may be a cop out to list them all under one grouping, but when the entire offensive line needs to replaced it is a big deal. The line is a huge component in the complex run option offense that the Falcons run, and the line needs to gel to help make this offense run as a well oiled machine. The group does get a tune up game against Northwestern State before they take on BYU. This position for Air Force is very complex where each player is assigned a certain defender to take on plus the triple option requires them to make adjustments on the fly with the decisions that quarterback Tim Jefferson makes. The discipline and smarts that Cadets have by being accepted to the Academy should make this new group effective in the run heavy offense.
Each of these players have the skill set to help the Falcons become a player in the Mountain West, but they now need to prove it on the scoreboard against the big three in TCU, BYU, and Utah.