Rice vs. Air Force
Dec 29, 11:45am (ET), ESPN
Amon Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, TX)
Line: Air Force -3
If you love old school rushing football between two teams that are mediocre at best then this game is for you my friend. Rice is making their first bowl game since 2008 thanks to reeling off wins in 5 of their final 6 games while their counterparts from Air Force feel apart down the stretch, losing 3 of their final 4 games following a 4-1 start to the season. They also don't own the Commander in Chief trophy, something the owned more often than not over the past decade. Either way we have two teams very similar, yet on opposite sides of the momentum meter. So, on Saturday afternoon we'll find out if momentum that's a month old can still hold true or not.
Sexiness: This game screams all sorts of old school fun and what's more old school than the first female breakthrough "sports star"? I'm speaking of Mia Hamm, or as some of you may know her – Nomar Garciapara's wife. Either way she was one of the first female athletes to be known for her prowess on the field and also for being beautiful in the classic sense off of it. Air Force and Rice scream sexy in the classic football sense, so we have the perfect marriage of sporty and sexy in this one
A word about our sponsor…: Bell Helicopter is about as perfect a sponsor as you could find for a bowl game like this. It's world headquarters are in Fort Worth and they build a lot of helicopters for the armed forces too. Could you find a more perfect sponsor of any bowl game in the country? Doubtful at best and while it makes for one of the longest bowl game names it's well worth it for the company that lives off of their military contracts. However, I bet you didn't know they also make a ton of commercial helicopters as well.
Aces: The Owls are seen as a very big rushing team, but if you sleep on their passing game it will kill you as well. That's their biggest strength – being a balanced offense. Rice averages just over 200 yards a game rushing and they average nearly 220 yards passing a game. Hard to imagine a more balanced approach to the game to say the least. Leading the way in the balanced attack is Taylor McHargue who is 2nd in rushing (628yds), 1st in rushing TD's with 11, and passed for 2,178 yards with 11TD's and 5INT's.
Deuces: As balanced as their offense has been, the Owls' defense has been killing them, at least when you take a look at the season as a whole. Admittedly outside of the Tulane game they have been much better of late, but we all know you can throw out recent results when bowl season hits. They give up an average of 31.3 points a game, just .5 points less than the offense scores and that's never a good thing. Add in the fact that they are 95th nationally in total defense and 91st against the run and you have a major issue against a team like Air Force.
Wildcard: The special teams often don't get a big enough look, but Rice's punters could be a big time X-Factor, in the bad way, because they average a whole 37 yards a game and in a game where field position and time of possession could be huge that average really doesn't bode well for the Owls.
Aces: It's a service academy team, so you know they are going to run the ball right at you and dare you to stop it. Air Force did it about as well as anyone this year as they ranked 2nd in the nation rushing for an average of 328.8 yards a game. The Falcons have five players rushing for more than 400 yards this season, but are led by Cody Getz and his 1,213 yards and 9 touchdowns. QB Connor Dietz is 2nd with 658 yards and 5 touchdowns as well.
Deuces: I'm going to sound like a broken record, but this team also struggles bad against the run, giving up just over 198 yards a game on the ground to their opponents. What's even more troubling is that the defense gives up exactly as many yards per play as their offense gives them (5.8 yards per play). That's never a good thing in terms of being able to rely on your defense to win you football games and a big time reason they had issues down the stretch.
Wildcard: Earlier I mentioned QB Connor Dietz in terms of rushing, but he can throw the football a bit as well, completing 62% of his passes and has 8 touchdowns to 3 interceptions on the season. If they need him to Dietz can win you a football game with his arm too.
So you don’t forget…: Air Force has owned Rice, going 5-1 against the Owls in their history. Most of those games did come as members of the WAC back in the late 90's. The Falcons also have the most experience of any team in the Armed Forces Bowl, playing in their fourth contest in Fort Worth.
Crystal Ball: Air Force could be in trouble against a team that can run and throw the football pretty well, but so could Rice's defense. Looking at the teams and how bad they are against the run I'm going with the Falcons because they can at least control the clock with their offense a bit more than Rice can. In the end I see the Owls defense making enough mistakes against the triple option that there will be a big play or two given up that will cost them the game. This actually should be another close football game if you ask me.
Score: Air Force 34, Rice 28