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Service Academy Spotlight on Air Force

Air Force Falcons
© Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

In the U.S. Constitution, rule No. 1 is that you must never disrespect the troops, especially those who also play college football. Don't look it up, I promise it's there. In all seriousness, the service academies are of great importance to our sport and this country.

Over the next several weeks, we will take a deeper dive into some of the history and traditions of each of the major service academy teams: Air Force, Army and Navy. We will also preview the upcoming season for each of these squads. During the season, be sure to check back in to see how the service academies are doing, along with where they stand for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Air Force
© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Air Force Falcons, Mountain West Conference

First up in our series is the Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of the MWC since 1999. The Falcons have been led by coach Troy Calhoun since 2007, making him one of the longest-tenured coaches in FBS. The Falcons have made a bowl game in 13 of 17 seasons with Calhoun at the helm. More importantly, the Falcons have held the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy five times during that span.


Air Force began playing football in 1957, as an independent. The following season, the Falcons went 9-0-2, finishing No. 4 in the country, and playing to a 0-0 tie with TCU in the Cotton Bowl. To date, 1958 is still their only unbeaten season in program history. The following season, the Falcons played Army for the first time, tying the Black Knights 13-13. In 1960, Air Force lost 35-3 to Navy in their first-ever meeting. From 1959 to 1971, Air Force played Army in odd-number years and Navy in even-number years, except for 1961, 1962 and 1964 when they did not play either team. From 1972 on, all three teams have played one another in every single season. Air Force has won the CIC Trophy 21 times, the most of the three academies.

Commander in Chief's trophy
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports


Air Force has several unique game day traditions at Falcon Stadium. The official game ball is delivered near midfield before kick-off by the Wings of Blue, the Academy's parachute team. Before the cadet squadrons march onto the field, they collect dollar bills tossed at them by fans while walking through the tunnel. Air Force also has a live falcon that performs on game day. The newest bird is a gyrfalcon named Nova.

Air Force Falcon
© Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports


Air Force's colors are blue and silver, and the traditional uniforms are sharp. In recent years, Air Force, much like the other two major service academies, has honored specific units from its history by donning uniforms highlighting the units' significance. For example, in 2020, they honored the Tuskegee Airmen, aka the Red Tail Angels, by playing in red tail-themed threads against Navy, a game they won 40-7.

Notable Alumni

Air Force has produced some great players in its history, including 10 NFL Draft picks. No one had a more successful career than Chad Hennings, who played on both the offensive and defensive lines. After being named a unanimous All-American and winning the Outland Trophy in 1987 as the nation's best interior lineman, Hennings was drafted in the 11th round by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1988 NFL Draft.

Chad Hennings Dallas Cowboys
© The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

Hennings spent the next four years fulfilling his service obligation as an Air Force pilot, with multiple deployments during the Gulf War. He returned to the Cowboys in 1992 at age 26, and over the next nine seasons helped the team win three Super Bowl championships.

Hennings is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

2023 Season Review

Air Force started the 2023 season strong, winning their first eight games, including a 17-6 win against Navy. However, the wheels fell off several weeks later, when the 25th-ranked Falcons suffered a blowout loss in Mile High Stadium against Army. In that game, Air Force outgained Army but turned the ball over six times, including four lost fumbles.

Reeling after this disappointing effort against the Black Knights, the Falcons lost their next three games. They finished 5-3 in the MWC and missed out on the conference championship game. After defeating James Madison 31-21 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Falcons finished 9-4.

2024 Season Outlook

Calhoun has built a consistent winner over the years at Air Force, going 43-15 with four bowl victories over the past five seasons, even including the 2020 COVID year. The Falcons have just five returning starters from the 2023 team, three of whom are defensive players. The secondary will be the most veteran-laden unit on the team, with Jamari Bellamy and Jerome Gaillard Jr. manning the cornerback spots.

Jamari Bellamy
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Like most service academies, Air Force runs a triple-option offense. Last season, the Falcons were second in the nation in rushing, averaging over 280 yards per game. Expect more of the same, even with a new quarterback in John Busha and new featured running backs Dylan Carson and Aiden Calvert. Calhoun has led Air Force to be a top-four rushing offense every year since 2015.

2024 Schedule

The Falcons will look to keep up their winning ways in 2024 despite some challenging games on the schedule. Air Force will likely have to endure extreme heat and humidity when they travel to Waco, Texas in early September to play the Baylor Bears. The Falcons will be at home against Navy on Oct. 5 and will get a bye week before facing Army on the road Nov. 2. They will be looking for revenge against the Black Knights for a chance to win back the Commander-in-Chief Trophy.

Other games of note include a home matchup on Nov. 16 against the Oregon State Beavers, who have a scheduling agreement this season with the MWC after the mass exodus from the Pac-12 Conference. The game against the Beavers will wrap up the home slate, as Air Force will play Nevada and San Diego State on the road to close out the regular season.

Stay tuned to College Football Dawgs for further reporting on the gridiron heroics of the service academies.


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