The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2021 schedule. Next up are the Air Force Falcons.
LARAMIE — When Wyoming opens Mountain West play against Air Force this fall, the Cowboys will do so against a vastly different Falcons squad.
Sure, the Falcons have the usual defections just like every college football team moving on from one season to the next, but Air Force will welcome back a number of significant contributors that skipped out on the 2020 season. When the Mountain West initially canceled last season, some of the Falcons’ players took a redshirt (or a “turnback” in Air Force lingo). By the time the league decided to reinstate the season, it was too late for those players to return.
Some of them are back now, including many key players on a defense that lost 10 of its 11 projected starters to all of the attrition last fall. UW will see the Falcons back closer to full strength when the Cowboys travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Oct. 9 for the teams’ first meeting since 2019.
Air Force didn’t take much of a step back defensively during its abbreviated season last fall (Air Force played just six games), finishing in the top 6 nationally in yards and points allowed. Adding all-conference defensive end Jordan Jackson, linebackers Demonte Meeks and Lakota Wills and cornerback Milton Bugg III — all multi-year starters — back to the mix after a year off should help keep the Falcons stingy on that side of the ball.
Offensively, Air Force has some holes to fill. Running back Kadin Remsburg is gone as are two of the Mountain West’s best offensive linemen, Parker Ferguson and Nolan Laufenberg, who will soon be starting their rookie seasons in the NFL.
But Brad Roberts (461 yards, 5 TDs) was actually the Falcons’ leading rusher last fall and will be back. So will Tim Jackson, who’s rushed for more than 900 yards the last two seasons. Most importantly, though, the Falcons need to settle on a quarterback to operate their option offense, which averaged 24 points a game last season.
Haaziq Daniels got the first crack at replacing all-league signal caller Donald Hammond III last season and did an adequate job, completing 55% of his passes while finishing as the team’s second-leading rusher. But Daniels will likely have to hold off a deep group of competitors during fall camp if he wants to retain the starting job.
Warren Bryan, Ben Brittain, Chance Stevenson (who’s played running back and quarterback) and Jake Smith, a freshman who got playing time in 2019 before being one of last season’s turnbacks, will all get their chance to unseat Daniels as the starter. Whoever ultimately wins the job, Brandon Lewis should be a security blanket. A receiver by trade, the 5-foot-9 Lewis is a versatile player whose speed can be utilized in the run game as well as when the Falcons decide to put the ball in the air.
The last time Air Force had the bulk of its roster intact, the Falcons finished the 2019 season as a top-25 team after winning 11 games for the first time in more than two decades. Sorting out the quarterback situation and having to replace all five starters along the offensive line are no small tasks, but Air Force enters the 2021 season as one of the Mountain West’s more intriguing teams now that they’re close to whole again.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.