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Air Force impressed last year en route to the MWC Mountain title game with a 6-2 conference record, beating out four teams that were 5-3. Still, the Falcons were just 8-6 overall after closing the season with three straight losses. With plenty of returning talent on both sides of the ball, getting a better record and competing with Boise State for the conference title will once again be in the cards.
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Quarterback Nate Romine is returning from injury and needs to stay healthy for this offense to be as good as a year ago when they scored 33.8 points per game. Romine has a better arm than usual triple-option quarterbacks and if he can stay healthy, would be a welcome sight for top receiver Jalen Robinette (641 yards, 5 TDs). A couple games stood out for Robinette last year, none more than a seven-catch, 210-yard, one-touchdown performance against Utah State. With the passing game likely better with Romine, the rushing attack shouldn't step back much even with only two returning starters on the line, both at guard. There are still plenty of upperclassmen with every player in the two-deep a junior or senior.
Running back will be just fine with Jacobi Owens (1,092 yards, 7 TDs) once again leading the triple-option. But it doesn't end there. Timothy McVey exploded at the end of last season, finishing with 10 touchdowns in the final four games. Then there's still more experience with D.J. Johnson (425 yards, 6 TDs) and Shayne Davern (323 yards, 4 TDs).
The defense is loaded as well, or as much as it could be returning from one of the better groups in the MWC last season. All of the starters are listed as seniors with nine of them previous starters. That said, the defense really struggled when the competition stepped up. For example, they gave up 55 points in the bowl loss to California.
They lose their best defensive end and Ryan Watson is expected to step into that role, but he only has 6.5 career sacks. Linebacker is in good hands with Jacob Onyechi and D.J. Dunn, while the secondary needs to improve after being in the bottom half in the MWC last year. Safety Weston Steelhammer and corner Roland Ladipo are two of the best in the conference, but more help is needed around them. Air Force is a smaller team and that often cost them against bigger ones.
The Falcons are primed to better than last year's eight wins, and with their schedule, it's in play. In addition to a friendly non-conference slate that doesn't include traveling to Michigan State (like in 2015), they get three weaker teams out of the MWC West in Fresno State, San Jose State and Hawaii. Their biggest challenge in conference play may be the opener when they travel to Utah State. Other than that, their road games are against mostly mediocre teams with Navy, Colorado State and Boise State all traveling to Colorado Springs.
If Romine can finally stay healthy, the offense can be even better and the defense should still be one of the better ones in the conference. Their over/under is at 8.5 at 5Dimes with postseason play included, and they could reach that total in the regular season.
2016 Air Force Falcons Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Abilene Christian
Sept. 10 vs. Georgia State
Sept. 24 at Utah State
Oct. 1 vs. Navy
Oct. 8 at Wyoming
Oct. 15 vs. New Mexico (Cotton Bowl Stadium)
Oct. 22 vs. Hawaii
Oct. 28 at Fresno State
Nov. 5 at Army
Nov. 12 vs. Colorado State
Nov. 19 at San Jose State
Nov. 26 vs. Boise State
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