Updated: July 24, 2012 at 12:00 am
LAS VEGAS • Last preseason was a bit unusual for Air Force.
With a group of household names returning, the Falcons were a trendy team in the preseason and picked to finish third in the Mountain West, the highest predicted finish for Air Force in Troy Calhoun’s first five seasons. Of course, Air Force finished fifth, going 3-4 in the league.
This year, Air Force has none of those pesky expectations. The Falcons, who have just five returning starters, were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West in the preseason poll, which was released at the conference’s media days. The only time Air Force was picked lower under Calhoun was his first season as head coach in 2007.
Calhoun likes to point out Air Force was picked seventh but finished second that season.
“We’ve had other years we’ve been picked down there,” Calhoun said. “One year we were picked in that vicinity and didn’t end up finishing in that vicinity. So you kind of realize, what’s picked doesn’t necessarily mean fact.”
However, there was good reason to move Air Force down a few spots in the preseason poll. Included in the losses are the school’s all-time leader in wins for a quarterback (Tim Jefferson), the academy’s second all-time leading rusher (Asher Clark) and others who played at an all-conference level (safety Jon Davis, cornerback Anthony Wright, receiver Jonathan Warzeka, guard A.J. Wallerstein, linebacker Brady Amack among them). The Falcons have just two members on the all-conference preseason team this year: outside linebacker Alex Means and kicker Parker Herrington.
Perhaps Air Force will be better off without the hype. Left guard Jordan Eason, one of the team’s three returning starters on offense, smiled wide when asked if he enjoys being viewed as an underdog.
“It feeds me a little bit,” Eason said. “I like it.”
Despite the senior stars moving on, there’s plenty of optimism that the Falcons’ bowl streak, which is at five in a row, will continue.
“I don’t see any reason we should slip at all,” Eason said. “Even though we lost key players, that hunger for the new spots, the competition, might make us better.”
Even though training camp will be relatively short — it will consist of only 23 practices, because Air Force’s summer programs end a week later than normal — it should be intense. The Falcons had grueling spring practices, with more hitting and live tackling than previous seasons, which should be a preview for camp next month, when the team figures out who its new starters will be.
“We’re on this theme, everyone is hungry,” Herrington said. “Everybody is fighting for a position, and that will make everyone better. That raises the bar every practice.”
Calhoun said he is excited for this year’s training camp. He enjoys the challenge of replacing so many starters, and he liked what he saw out of this team in spring.
“What I feel really good about is the spark and the hustle of this group,” Calhoun said. “I remember we were in about the 11th or 12th practice of spring when I said ‘These guys have a vibe about them that you like being around them day in and day out.’”
Predicted order of finish (first place votes in parentheses):
1. Boise State (27)
3. Fresno State (2)
5. San Diego (1)
6. Air Force
8. Colorado State
10. New Mexico
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