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Air Force can't look past South Dakota

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)

Overlook South Dakota? The Air Force Falcons can hardly see over the Coyotes.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun didn't have to dig deep to find either motivation or caution for his Falcons, who open the season Saturday against the FCS school that sports big bodies and an impressive resume: a 41-38 stunner over Minnesota last year.

Focusing on the Coyotes, who return all but three starters, with No. 14 TCU up next shouldn't be hard, Calhoun suggested, because his players will have a hard enough time just seeing over South Dakota's big linemen.

The Coyotes' offensive tackle tandem consists of 6-foot-6 seniors Tom Compton (314 pounds) and R.J. Polley (320), who are among the biggest of the beefy South Dakota linemen who anchor the offense and defense.

''They are a mammoth group up front. I think the smallest guy is 290,'' Calhoun said. ''I think we had a 290-pounder once here when he had all his BDUs (battle dress uniforms) on, was holding his M-1 and had on a couple extra G-suits on with a flak jacket.''

Calhoun, who has guided Air Force to a bowl game in each of his first four seasons, said the Coyotes' size reminds him of former Mountain West foe BYU.

The Coyotes play another Big Ten team this month when they visit Wisconsin.

''That will be big-size bodies running into really, really big-size bodies,'' Calhoun said.

The big thing to Falcons senior quarterback Tim Jefferson isn't South Dakota's pounds but its pedigree.

''You look at the game film of that game and you see, first they put up 41 points on a Big Ten opponent. Second, they beat a Big Ten opponent. That's something that we weren't able to accomplish two years ago,'' Jefferson said. ''It opens up a spotlight that we have to be ready Week 1 to be ready to play or end up the same way Minnesota did.''

The Falcons lost at Minnesota in 2009 when Nate Triplett returned Jefferson's fumble for a 52-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that propelled the Golden Gophers to a 20-13 win.

South Dakota returns 19 starters, including senior quarterback Dante Warren, junior wide receiver Will Powell (47 catches for 933 yards and 10 TDs last year) and every front-line defender except linebacker Cory Kuehl.

After pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the Football Championship Subdivision last year, the Coyotes, who play in the Great West Conference, won't be fazed facing an FBS team.

''They are a decent team. They are really good,'' Falcons safety Jon Davis said. ''If we don't come out and play like we should play, then there's a chance that we could lose this game. ... It's not a team we can just walk over.''

Maybe they can run over them, though.

Air Force runs the option so well and the Coyotes didn't fare so well against option teams in 2010, when Cal Poly and North Dakota State combined for more than 700 yards rushing and 11 TDs against South Dakota.

The Falcons averaged 306.5 yards rushing last season, second-most in the nation.

Jefferson and fellow senior Asher Clark should get the bulk of the carries as the Falcons try to parlay last year's 9-4 record into this year's Mountain West title.

''We have quite a bit of players coming back on offense,'' Jefferson said. ''Most of the players who touched the ball last year are back. We have some unproven players, but I think we will be able to adapt to what we have on the field. We'll still run our offense the way we have in the past.''

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Connect with AP Sports Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton at http://twittere.com/arniestapleton

Tagged: Minnesota, Air Force, Tim Jefferson

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