Armed Forces Bowl Primer: Air Force vs. Rice
Air Force and Rice meet up in Fort Worth looking for a seventh win.
Air Force Falcons (6-6 overall; 5-3 in Mountain West)
The Falcons are playing in their sixth straight bowl game but come into the matchup on a bit of a low after losing three of their last four. Air Force showed a lot of life in the first half of the season, battling Michigan close in Ann Arbor and easily dispatching Nevada while breaking out to a 5-3 record. But the Falcons seemed to fade a bit down the stretch and were easily beaten by Army, San Diego State and Fresno State. Only a victory over lowly Hawaii kept Air Force bowl eligible. Sixth-year coach Troy Calhoun has done a good job at the Academy and he'll try to even up his 2-3 bowl record with a win over the Owls.
At their best: The Falcons piled up 600 yards of offense, including 491 on the ground, in their 48-31 victory over a 6-2 Nevada team. They also held the nation's leading rusher at the time, Stefphon Jefferson, to just 93 yards. It was Air Force's most complete game of the season on both sides of the ball.
At their worst: The Falcons closed out the season by getting blown out, 48-15, at Fresno State. Air Force managed a season-low 317 yards of offense while giving up a season-worst 603 yards to the Bulldogs, including 479 in the air. Fresno State jumped out to a 48-7 lead and could've scored a lot more, but took its foot off the gas pedal.
Headliner: Tailback Cody Getz was in contention to lead the nation in rushing, piling up three 200-yard games in his first five outings. But a sprained ankle caused him to miss two games and it took him a while to round back into shape. He still rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Think he's not legit? He ran for 130 yards and three scores against Michigan. If he's running well against Rice, Air Force will be tough to beat.
Rice Owls (6-6 overall; 4-4 in Conference USA)
The Owls enter this contest on a bit of a high after winning four in a row and five of their last six. Sixth-year coach Dave Bailiff has Rice in its first bowl since 2008. Things didn't look good early on as the Owls started out 1-5, but they averaged almost 41 points per game down the stretch to achieve the bowl bid. Overall, Rice was the epitome of an average team, allowing just about as many points as it scored and giving up about as many yards as it gained. But if it can maintain its late-seaon form, it has a chance to notch the sixth bowl win in its history.
At their best: It's always a feather in the cap to beat a team from a BCS conference, even if that team is Kansas. The Owls bounced back from a slaughter at the hands of UCLA in the opener to edge the Jayhawks, 25-24, thanks to a field goal by Chris Boswell as time expired. Rice overcame a 24-13 second-half deficit and took advantage of two key interceptions by Bryce Callahan to pull it out.
At their worst: The annual inter-city rivalry with Houston did not end well, as the Cougars romped over the Owls, 35-14. It was the third victory in three tries by Houston over Rice. The Cougars were actually winless entering the game, but Houston accumulated 608 yards of offense and 30 first downs to key the rout. Rice managed just 69 yards rushing.
Headliner: Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue got better as the season progressed and he finished with 2,178 yards passing and 628 yards rushing. He threw 11 touchdown passes and also rushed for 11 touchdowns. His best game came against Marshall, when he threw for 314 yards and rushed for 153 and accounted for four touchdowns.
What: Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN
Where: Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Line: Air Force -2.5
Prediction: While Rice is on a bit of a roll to finish the season, it doesn't have the defense to stop the Air Force ground game. The Owls are just 92nd nationally against the run. Look for a healthy Getz to run wild and for the Falcons to control the clock on their way to the win.
Air Force 38, Rice 17
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