When the Colonels have the ball
Throughout the preseason, those who follow Air Force football have been excited to get a look at this season's defense, which many feel has the talent to be one of the best in Academy history. Sophomore Free Safety Jon Davis joins All MWC Strong Safety Chris Thomas to form what should be a lethal duo. Sophomore Anthony Wright is a returning starting corner along with junior Reggie Rembert. If Rembert, who has been suspended for an unspecified length of time, is not in the line-up, junior Elliott Battle will get his first career start. The Colonels have zero experience at quarterback and will have difficulty dealing with the veteran Air Force secondary. Under center for the Colonels, will be either Laquinton Caston or Jacob Witt. Both are redshirt freshmen, and will be taking their first collegiate snaps against Air Force. The good news for the Nicholls State signal callers is that Antonio Robinson, a 6' 3'' wide receiver who led the Colonels in receiving last year, returns for his senior year. As a junior, Robinson caught 20 balls for 502 yards, and his size could create one on one match-up problems for the smaller Air Force corners. Robinson will have to work to get open and provide an outlet for his young QBs as the other receivers on the team consist mostly of freshman and JUCO transfers. Further adding to the woes of the Colonel quarterbacks is the fact that they only return one starter on the offensive line. This also spells big problems for the Colonel running backs. Though the Colonels are deep at the running back position and return some experienced, talented backs (Corey Buchanan, 353 yards last season and Marlin Meeks, 241 yards last season), they will struggle to find room running behind an offensive line that will be tested by Tim DeRuyter's creative blitz packages and a relatively seasoned front seven from Air Force led by last season's leading tackler Ken Lamendola (118 tackles). Last year, the Colonels averaged just over 300 yards of offense per game, and I expect this very young group to be considerably less productive, especially early in the season.
When the Falcons have the ball
The 2008 Falcons struggled to find their offensive identity until after the Navy game in the first week of October. This offseason, questions about sophomore QB Tim Jefferson's (MWC freshman of the year) academic eligibility sparked a quarterback battle between fellow sophomores Asher Clark and Connor Deitz. Fortunately for the Falcons, Jefferson was able to get squared away academically and apparently has locked up the starting QB position. As a freshman, Jefferson went 5-3 as a starter and achieved a quarterback rating of 136.9. Asher Clark, returns to start at tailback after averaging 4.5 yards/carry as a freshman. He has added strength and speed this offseason after recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee, and he is poised for a breakout season. He will be running behind a solid offensive line which returns three starters. One area of concern for the Falcons will be the depth at the Z receiver. Junior big play threat Kyle Halderman is out until October with a collarbone injury. Thus, the future is here today for sophomore Jonathan Warzeka and freshman Cody Getz. Warzeka has great speed and has shown flashes of big play potential. He may also be returning punts and kicks, so he will need to adjust to a much heavier workload than he did as a freshman. Last season, Nicholls State allowed a relatively porous 4.4 yards per rushing attempt, and it stands to reason that the Air Force backs should see similar or greater success against the Colonels. Much of the onus for stopping the Air Force rushing attack will fall on senior linebacker Garrick Spain. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing a mere 205 pounds, he is undersized even by Air Force Academy standards. Nevertheless he led the Colonels with 60 tackles during his junior season. The young Nicholls State secondary will rely heavily on a pair of senior safeties who have very little game experience. Safety Tyson Andrus is a journeyman who has attended Ole Miss, earned a championship ring playing special teams for the LSU Tigers, and has now found his way to Nicholls State for his final season of eligibility. He has all the athletic tools, but must adjust quickly to the speed and stress of an actual game. Senior Jordan Nevells will most likely get the nod at the other safety position after serving as a reserve last season. The Colonels have a young defense filled with transfer players and first time starters, and it will be up for the few returning starters to bring this group together. However, I think it is unlikely that they will be a solid enough unit in the first game of the season to consistently stop Air Force's offense.
Prediction: Too many Falcon weapons and too much returning experience for Nicholls State to pull the upset. Nicholls State's offense may not see the red zone against the Falcons and I expect the Colonels defense to be worn down by midway thru the 2nd quarter.
Air Force wins 38-0.