Air Force Football: First Look At The Colorado Buffaloes

·6 min read

Air Force Football: First Look At The Colorado Buffaloes

The Falcons will work once again to stay a few steps ahead of in-state rival Colorado in non-conference action.

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Are the Buffs truly down?

The Air Force Falcons will close out a two-game homestand to open the 2022 season against the Colorado Buffaloes.

Since the last time these two teams clashed in 2019, they’ve moved along very different paths. The Falcons, of course, finished that year as a top-25 team and then won ten games again in 2021, while the Buffaloes have scuffled to two losing campaigns in the last three years. Will this fall be more of the same on both sides?

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Conference: Pac-12

Series History: Colorado leads the all-time series, 12-5.

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)

Head Coach: Karl Dorrell (third year at Colorado; 8-10 with Buffaloes, 43-37 overall). After surpassing expectations during the abbreviated COVID season in 2020, the Buffs fell on hard times last year. Most of that is owed to an offense that was one of the most anemic in the country, though the defense had its own fair share of struggles, too, outside of a pair of close wins against Oregon State and Washington.

Key Players

Daniel Arias, WR

Arias might be the de facto WR1 in this year’s offense after Brendan Rice left the program through the transfer portal. His numbers from last season, 19 receptions for 237 yards and one touchdown, reflect last year’s larger offensive struggles than anything, and at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds will make for an enticing target on Saturdays.

Brady Russell, TE

Whoever wins the quarterback job will be able to rely upon the steady Russell, who set career highs in 2021 with 25 catches and 307 receiving yards. Though he didn’t find the end zone, he has picked up his yards per catch average over the past two seasons and didn’t seem affected by the injury that wiped out nearly all of his 2020 campaign.

Robert Barnes, LB

With Nate Landman and Carson Wells having moved on, more will be expected of Barnes, the former Oklahoma transfer who saw action in 11 games, starting three, and picked up 41 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and an interception. He picked up more reps down the stretch in 2021, making at least six tackles in each of Colorado’s last four games, so he’ll be prepared to clean up near the line of scrimmage.

Josh Chandler-Semedo, LB

The Buffaloes needed defensive reinforcements and got at least one impact player from the transfer portal in Chandler-Semedo. He previously made 31 career starts at West Virginia and had by far the best season of his collegiate tenure in 2021 with 110 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

Brendon Lewis, QB

It’s not a given that Lewis will hold on to the starting quarterback job after being penciled in for every game as a freshman last season, but you could argue he made the most of a tough situation. In 12 games, Lewis posted a 58% completion rate and averaged six yards per attempt, and while he had just ten passing touchdowns, he also had an interception rate of just 1.1%.

Overview:

Offense

This side of the ball was an absolute anchor in 2021, no matter what statistics you look at. The Buffaloes were 122nd among FBS teams in points per drive, 127th in available yards percentage earned, and 125th by old-fashioned yards per play, which led to the firing of former offensive coordinator Darren Chiaverini and the hiring of Mike Sanford Jr., formerly of UNLV, Boise State, and Utah State.

He’ll have plenty of questions to answer. Lewis and JT Shrout seem to be the frontrunners for the QB1 role, while Alex Fontenot (96 carries, 327 rushing yards, five touchdowns) is one of the few experienced hands who could lead a committee at running back.

The situation among the pass catchers and offensive line is a little roster, however. Arias, Russell, Montana Lemonious-Craig, and Baylor transfer R.J. Sneed make for a seasoned group, though someone will have to step up and proce they can stretch the field after only Syracuse had fewer passing plays (21) of 20 or more yards among Power 5 offenses last season.

Up front, Colorado returns three starters including tackle Frank Filip, a recent preseason honorable mention at Pac-12 media days. They also brought in Alabama transfer Tommy Brown, who appeared in 29 games over the past three years with the Crimson Tide, and it’ll take a group effort to improve on finishing in the triple digits nationally by sack rate allowed, stuff rate allowed, and opportunity rate.

Defense

The offense often doomed the Buffaloes, but the defense did what it could given the circumstances. It was very much like New Mexico in that regard, finishing 103rd in yards per play, 97th in available yards percentage allowed, and 86th in points per drive allowed.

Can they be better in 2022? That depends on who steps up to improve what was one of the nation’s weakest pass rushes (2.9% sack rate, 127th) and who can get more hands on footballs in the passing game (31 passes defended, tied for 102nd). Defensive end Terrance Lang could be worth watching for the first concern after he was picked as a preseason honorable mention.

By contrast, the linebacker unit could be pretty good between Barnes, Chandler-Semedo, Quinn Perry (65 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss), and Guy Thomas (30 tackles, four tackles for loss in six games).

The secondary, however, could take some lumps across a unit that might feature as many as four sophomore starters. Safety Isaiah Lewis (68 tackles, two interceptions) might be the lone veteran with others like Kylin Moore, Nikko Reed, and Trevor Woods stepping up from their previous part-time roles.

Early Predictions

On paper, the Falcons are a more experienced and talented team on both sides of the ball, which makes this something of a potential statement game. Taking care of business against an in-state Power 5 rival will put the rest of the Mountain West on notice and there isn’t much reason to think Air Force can’t keep the Buffs at arm’s length.

Air Force 35, Colorado 20

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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire