Louisville and Air Force will meet Tuesday in the First Responder Bowl at Dallas' Gerald Ford Stadium . The matchup between the Cardinals and Falcons provides quite an intriguing showdown between ACC and Mountain West opponents.
The Cardinals are coming off a disappointing 52-21 loss to rival Kentucky in their regular-season finale, which came after two dominant wins over Syracuse and Duke, respectively. The Falcons have won three straight including a 48-14 decision over UNLV to close out the regular season. They beat Navy but lost to Army this year, which earned them a share of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. It is the first time since 1993 that the three service academies have tied for the prestigious award.
Let's break down the matchup and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Louisville vs. Air Force: Need to know
Predictable but dangerous: Air Force leads the nation in rushing at 342 yards per game, and second place Army is a far cry from the Falcons at 281.08 yards per game. Simply put, the Air Force will not stray away from its true identity, which means that Louisville coach Scott Satterfield has had plenty of time to prepare his defense for what's coming. There's a problem, though. The Cardinals are 74th in the nation in rush defense after giving up 156.67 yards per game during their 12 regular season games, and are 94th in yards per attempt at 4.52. Teams generally do better against the service academy offenses with multiple weeks to prepare. We will see if that old adage rings true in this matchup.
Strength vs. strength: Louisville is at its best when quarterback Malik Cunningham makes an impact on the ground. The junior leads the Cardinals with 968 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this year, and is one of the most dangerous dual-threat weapons in the country. The Falcons rank seventh in the nation in rush defense at 95.33%. Cunningham might be forced to win the game with his arm against a salty defense with limited possessions considering the Falcons like to win the time of possession battle. That should be fun to watch.
Is the trend your friend?: Louisville is 6-5 (54%) against the spread this season, but Air Force is a whopping 7-3-1 (70%). The Falcons haven't lost against the spread since the first weekend of November and are 4-1-1 (80%) as the underdog. Those trends are too hard to ignore. They'll enter this one as 1.5-point underdogs, so consider a moneyline sprinkle if you are considering investing in this one.
How to watch First Responder Bowl live
Game: First Responder Bowl
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 28 | Time: 3:15 p.m. ET
Location: Gerald J. Ford Stadium -- Dallas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
First Responder Bowl prediction, picks
I'll take Louisville to win and cover the small spread. The time off will do wonders for the Cardinals defense, which got embarrassed the last time out. That'll keep this game relatively low-scoring and give Cunningham a few extra possessions to work his magic. He'll break the 100-yard mark on the ground and 200-yard mark through the air to lead his team into the postseason on a high note. Prediction: Louisville (-1.5)
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