The NCAA post-season kicks off Dec. 19, with 33 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwards. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:00 PM, Fort Worth, TX
Air Force Academy (7-5) vs. Houston Cougars (10-3)
About Air Force
The Falcons started their season off flying high, winning three of their first four games. Two losses by a combined six points dropped the Falcons to 3-3, but they bounced back, winning four of six to finish 7-5.
Though one might expect a team of Air Force cadets would pass the ball, that is not the case when they are 118th out of 120 in passing offense (82.33 yards per game).
Instead, the Air Force grinds it out using the triple option. Those options breed success, as the Air Force is third in NCAA FBS for rushing yards (273.58 yards a game).
The Falcons boast four players with over 300 yards rushing on the season, led by Junior FB Jared Tew, who has 797 yards and seven touchdowns as the first option. Sophomore RB Asher Clark is right behind him with 736 yards and five touchdowns.
When Clark needs a break, he is spelled by equally quick and shifty sophomore RB Savier Stephens, who has 417 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons do have speed, and it is a big reason for their defensive prowess. Tenth in NCAA FBS in overall defense (284.75 yards per game), Air Force is ninth in scoring defense (15.33 points per game), and first in passing defense (148.67 yards).
Sophomore DB Anthony Wright leads the team with four interceptions (two for touchdowns). He is a big reason Air Force is third in turnover margin (+1.42 per game). Senior LB John Falgout leads the undersized defense with 96 tackles and a sack.
Three straight wins, including an upset over then No. 5 Oklahoma State, had the Cougars thinking big. An upset loss to UTEP ended those thoughts, but Houston bounced back to win five in a row.
They went 2-2 over their final four games, including a loss in the C-USA Championship, to sit at 10-3 on the year.
The nation’s number one offensive team (581.23 yards per game), they are also second in scoring offense (43.92 points per game).
Where does it all come from? A number one passing attack (450 yards per game). Despite critics calling him a “system QB” Junior Case Keenum made some hype for himself, with 5,410 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Three WRs all have over 900 receiving yards, with the potential for all three to be over 1,000 following the bowl game. Junior WR James Cleveland (1182 yards, 14 touchdowns),
Sophomore WR Patrick Edwards (990 yards, five touchdowns), and Sophomore WR Tyron Carrier (985 yards, seven touchdowns), give defense’s a number of fits when figuring out who to cover.
Houston’s defense doesn’t quite live up to the hype of the offense, ranking 108th in total defense (442.69 yards a game). Their rushing defense in itself is horrific, ranking 111th with 213.08 yards a game.
Three players on the defense have over 100 tackles, led by sophomore LB Marcus McGraw (133 tackles, four sacks). Following him is senior LB C.J. Cavness (126 tackles, 2.5 sacks), and sophomore DB Nick Saenz (101 tackles).
The Air Force is 8-10-1 in bowl games. They are currently on a three-game losing streak, after becoming bowl eligible the last two seasons.
Houston is 8-10-1 as well. This is their fifth straight bowl game, and they have lost four of their last five.
In a game worthy of a redux, these two teams met in the Armed Forces Bowl last season, with Houston squeaking by 34-28. This game is the first bowl game rematch since the Outback Bowl, which featured South Carolina and Ohio State in 2001 and 2002.
Undoubtedly, the big matchup in this game is the nation’s number one passing offense in Houston against the number one pass defense from Air Force.
However, Air Force’s rushing attack will gain huge chunks of yards using their option against Houston’s spotty rush defense. Last year, Air Force had 38 minutes of possession, and as long as the offense is on the field, Keenum can’t be a factor.
The Falcons will look to do the same. Of course, if Houston gets a few scores up early, Air Force could be in trouble, as a run-oriented attack will not do well playing from behind.
Air Force’s pass defense plays better than the 50th ranked team of last season, and the rushing attack eats minutes up from Keenum and the Cougar Offense. Air Force wins the rematch, 35-28.
By Ryan of The Sportmeisters