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The Air Force football spring scrimmage at Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

The prospect of losing quarterback Donald Hammond III was enough to drop Air Force one spot in the preseason Mountain West football poll.

The Falcons were picked third in the Mountain Division, behind predicted champion Boise State and runner-up Wyoming. Utah State, Colorado State and New Mexico rounded out the picks behind Air Force in the poll released Tuesday.

San Diego State is favored to win the West Division, followed by Nevada, Hawaii, Fresno State, San Jose State and UNLV.

The vote was due Monday early afternoon and news that Hammond is no longer a cadet in good standing — throwing his prospects of playing this year into question — broke Saturday evening, giving voting media two days to rethink the Falcons’ outlook.

At least four voters told The Gazette they dropped Air Force in their ballots, two doing so by two spots. Given that Wyoming finished four points ahead (90-86) in the poll, those voters swayed by the Hammond development were enough to alter the results.

“Hammond was my preseason Player of the Year, so the reason I was so high on the Falcons was largely because of him and there's uncertainty at the position if he isn't playing,” said one Mountain West reporter who dropped Air Force from No. 2 to 4 on his ballot.

“Air Force and Wyoming were sort of nip and tuck for me for that No. 2 spot, but I likely would've given AF the edge had that not happened,” another said in response to an informal poll conducted by The Gazette.

The Gazette’s ballot also dropped the Falcons two spots after initially slating them as the Mountain Division favorite.

One Mountain West reporter said the Hammond situation did not impact his vote, which was instead swayed by coach Troy Calhoun’s comments on the lack of returning experience. Another also said his vote remained unchanged, though he noted he had planned to vote Hammond as the preseason all-Mountain West first-team quarterback (he was not nominated for any preseason conference awards). Another said he had Air Force at No. 2 and kept them there despite the Hammond news.

Air Force went 11-2 last year, with the division essentially being decided with an early loss at Boise State. The Falcons trailed the game by four points midway through the fourth quarter before a failed fourth-down attempt by Air Force and a converted fourth down from Boise State turned the game and the Broncos won 30-19.

The Falcons then swept their remaining seven Mountain West games by an average of 20.4 points, with each victory coming by at least two touchdowns. With Hammond returning along with leading rusher Kade Remsberg, Outland Trophy watch list linemen Parker Ferguson and Nolan Laufenberg and standout defenders like linebacker Demonte Meeks, defensive end Jordan Jackson and cornerback Milton Bugg III, it seemed the Falcons might have an advantage on the league this year since Boise State must visit Falcon Stadium.

That may still be the case regardless of who plays at quarterback, but Hammond’s murky future brings far more uncertainty to those prospects.

Of course, preseason predictions are infrequently accurate. In the lone season since moving to the division format that Air Force advanced to the championship game it was picked fourth in the division. Also, there is no certainty when or if Hammond might return.

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

Rank    Team (first-place votes) Points

1.         Boise State (20)            125

2.         Wyoming (1)                 90

3.         Air Force                      86

4.         Utah State                    60

5.         Colorado State              59

6.         New Mexico                  21

 

WEST DIVISION

Rank    Team (first-place votes) Points

1.         San Diego State (19)     122

2.         Nevada (2)                    100

3.     Hawaii                74

4.         Fresno State                 73

5.         San José State              43

6.         UNLV                            29

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