We could be in store for some offensive fireworks on Friday night in the second edition of the Cheez-It Bowl as Washington State takes on Air Force. Mike Leach and the Cougars once again had one of the more prolific offenses in the country at times, though they weren't able to stay within contention in the Pac-12 North. They will look to enter 2020 on a high note with a victory in the Cheez-It Bowl inside Chase Field in Phoenix.
Air Force, on the other hand, enters the bowl season nationally ranked (No. 24 in both polls) for the first time since 1998. The Falcons' 10-win season matches the previous best in 13 seasons under Troy Calhoun, pairing with 10-3 finishes in both 2014 and 2016. With a bowl win, Air Force can cap a memorable year as the winningest team of the Calhoun era.
So who wins this showdown in Phoenix? Let's take a closer look at the matchup and storylines to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread.
Washington State: The Cougars looked lost and headed towards a postseason at home in early November after their fifth loss in a six-game stretch. That start of that slide included Leach's tirade on the mental state of his team, calling them soft and lazy in the wake of 2018's success. More weeks passed and there was no obvious turning point save for a win against Colorado, but this group was able to find something late in the year wins over Stanford and Oregon State -- the latter being a 54-53 shootout with the Beavers -- to maintain the Cougars' run of bowl appearances. Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon racked up a nation's-best 5,228 passing yards in the wins and losses, and his 45 touchdown passes was second only to Joe Burrow. If Thursday night's game turns into a back-and-forth affair, we know that Gordon and the Cougars offense is built to run up the score.
Air Force: Calhoun is 2-7 against Power Five teams as Air Force's coach, and with the Falcons entering the game as a narrow favorite, it sets up for the 2019 team to hang their hat on the success against Power Five foes. One of those two wins against Power Five teams under Calhoun came earlier this season against Colorado, and if Air Force could add another Pac-12 victory to the ledger, it would be a strong statement to the strength of the potential 11-win campaign. In a year where the Mountain West division title was lost by just 11 points to Boise State and the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy was lost to Navy by just nine, ending the season with a bowl win against a Pac-12 team would be a satisfying conclusion to a banner year for Air Force.
Event: Cheez-It Bowl
Date: Friday, Dec. 27 | Time: 10:15 p.m. ET
Location: Chase Field -- Phoenix, Arizona
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Cheez-It Bowl prediction, picks
Since the start of the decade, service academy teams are 12-5 against the spread in bowl games. No team enjoys defending the option over four quarters in an exhibition, and I think as long as the Falcons can hold their own against the Cougars' passing attack they will wear down Washington State and pull away for the win. Pick: Air Force (-2.5)
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