It’s never too early to talk football.
And with Air Force’s 2010 schedule out, we’ll start to take some peeks at the Falcons’ opponents with our “First Look” series. Expect one opponent each week.
We start today with the Falcons’ opponent in their opener – Northwestern State of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). Northwestern State is located in Natchitoches, La., and has an enrollment of 9,247.
Coach: Bradley Dale Peveto (2nd year; 0-11)
2009 Record: 0-11 (0-7 in Southland Conference)
Off/Def Starters Back: 7/3
Last Year vs. AF: Did not play
Roster Report: The Demons lost eight starters from their 2009 defense, including all three starting linebackers (they run a 4-3 scheme). Northwestern State has only two linebackers with game experience – and their experience is minimal.
The Demons also must replace three starting defensive backs, but Peveto said in a release from the school that his secondary will be “very athletic and have speed and we will play a physical brand.”
On offense, Northwestern State must find replacements for tailback William Griffin, who gained a team-high 575 yards last season, and receiver Darius Duffy, who caught a team-high 54 passes (27 more than the Demons’ second-leading receiver) for a team-high 486 yards.
The Demons do have experience at quarterback with sophomore Paul Harris and senior Tyler Wolfe, both of whom started games last season, vying for the starting spot. Last season Harris completed 81-of-144 passes (56.2 percent) for 978 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions and ran for 537 yards and three touchdowns on 98 carries (5.5 yards-per-carry). Wolfe completed 59-of-106 passes (55.7 percent) for 583 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions and ran for 13 yards on 11 carries.
Northwestern State’s strength might be its offensive line, which should include six veterans who have started games along with some redshirt freshmen and two junior college transfers. The line has been hampered by injuries, however, in spring practices.
Fast Fact: Northwestern State has a pretty good football alumni group. Demons who went on to play in the pros include: Former Chiefs running back Joe Delaney; Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith; current Bills cornerback Terrence McGee; and a group of players who made All-Pro or the Pro Bowl, including receiver Charlie Hennigan, running back Charlie Tolar, quarterback Bobby Hebert, receiver Mark Duper and running back John Stephens.
What Caught My Eye: Northwestern State lost last season to Nicholls State, 28-21. That’s the same Nicholls State team that Air Force bludgeoned, 72-0, in both teams’ season opener.
Northwestern State also played Houston last season and lost, 55-7. Air Force defeated Houston, 47-20, in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl.
Two other things that caught my eye:
Northwestern State had a minus-19 turnover ratio last season (Air Force, meanwhile, ranked No. 1 among Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a plus-22 turnover ratio). And the Demons were out-scored, 401-158, despite losing four games by a touchdown or less.
Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: This one could be off the board in Vegas. Air Force should win by seven touchdowns. At least.
Final Thought: Since Troy Calhoun took over at Air Force following the 2006 season, the Falcons have been a bowl team that has won at least eight games each year. So there has been little about which fans could complain – save for the 0-3 mark against Navy and the team’s opponent in its openers.
Calhoun’s desire to face a FCS school in the season opener has been arguably the most polarizing issue (for fans) during his tenure at the academy.
Some think that even with an FCS opponent scheduled for the opener, the Falcons’ slate is plenty difficult. The Falcons have their annual eight games against foes from the steadily improving Mountain West Conference. And on top of that they play a pair of grueling service academy games and one challenging nonconference opponent (this year’ it’s Oklahoma).
Others believe the Falcons should not waste their time with inferior opponents in the opener and instead should play nationally recognized programs. They note that some of the program’s finest moments have come when they’ve upset big-name teams (Texas, Notre Dame, etc.) or taken them to the wire (Tennessee in 2006). They argue that by facing a poor FCS team the academy wastes an opportunity to take a shot at watershed victory.
But there’s an obvious compromise that some readers of the blog have suggested with which I agree:
While the Falcons’ schedule is hard enough with the MWC slate, the Army and Navy contests and one other challenging nonconference, they shouldn’t face a team from near the cellar of the FCS in their opener. Go ahead and play an FCS team, but make sure it’s a team that at least makes you play a bit to beat them – a team that helps you get better.
A philosophy I’ve heard several coaches tout, which I like: If you have four nonconference games, you find one that you should win, two where you’re evenly matched and another that’s a bit of a stretch.
But there’s a different between “should win” and “win by 72.”