COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Air Force's offensive line was not supposed to be a strength this season.

On paper, a case could certainly be made.

Football, as you know, isn't played on paper.

Sure, the Falcons' front five -- or any mix they've used through the first five games -- had just two combined starts entering the year. Injuries have also played a major role in shaping this unit.

"Just, golly, I mean, you have so many different, really, new guys -- I don't have the exact number -- but I can't believe there was anybody in the sport that had less returning starts coming into this season than what we had," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said. "... and then, it hasn't been the same five guys each week."

Despite the lack of experience and youth on the line, the beat goes on for the cadets. Air Force leads the nation in rushing, averaging 367 yards per game on the ground. That equates to roughly 5.5 yards per carry.

Is it just plug-and-play in the Falcons' triple-option attack? Like, say, the Denver Broncos offensive lines of the late mid-to-late 90's?

It's probably not that simple.

Something that might be aiding is in the height and weight department.

In year's past, Calhoun's linemen hovered around just 250-260 pounds, meeting the strict guidelines of the academy. Now, one glance at the roster tells a much different tale. Here's the likely starting five for the Falcons when the Cowboys (4-0) come to town Saturday:

OT - Ryan Booth, 6-5, 280, senior
OG - Hawk Wimmer, 6-4, 330, senior
C - Luke Hallstrom, 6-2, 290, sophomore
OG - Isaac Cochran, 6-5, 320, junior
OT - Everett Smalley, 6-3, 265, sophomore

That's an average of 297 pounds up front. The back-ups average 287.

For comparison sake, the median of Wyoming's veteran-laden offensive front is 314 pounds.

Academy admissions, standards and medical requirements state that a cadet who is 6-foot-8 -- the height maximum -- can weight just 227 pounds. So, how do the players get around this standard?

Body fat. For men, the max is 18%.

Wimmer said he's packed on 30 pounds since he came to the academy in 2018. Rule changes and lack of in-season endurance tests, he said, have been beneficial to playing at his current weight. However, when football season comes to an end, Wimmer said cutting pounds and graduating become the priority.

For now, though, what does that extra bulk mean for this group?

"I guess when it comes to pounding the rock up the middle I can see that definitely because we are bigger we're a lot stronger and we can kind of like displace people more," the senior guard said. "But, I mean, we're still doing a lot of our outside runs where you need to show your speed a lot and I think we're still doing well at that.

"I mean, there's never margin for error when you're out there blocking a corner one on one with the whole world watching you."

 

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The Falcons (4-1, 1-1) have proven that the added pounds and length have done nothing to slow down the machine that is Air Force's traditional offense. They threw the ball just twice last week and rolled up 408 yards on the ground in a 38-10 victory in Albuquerque.

That was the third consecutive game the Falcons have eclipsed the 400-yard mark on the ground.

Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl did see a difference on tape. He didn't mention size, but said there's definitely an added element to the Falcons -- in all three phases -- this fall.

"I think this is probably the most physical football team at Air Force that I've coached against," he said. "I know coach Calhoun and those cadets pride themselves on being a really physical football team. They certainly are as I've watched all the game tape on both sides of the ball on on special teams, as well."

Wyoming and Air Force will kickoff Saturday at 5 p.m. MST from Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.

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