Welcome back folks. In our last segment we took a look at the bowl games from Dec. 24th through Dec. 28th. In this segment we will take a look at the non-Big Ten games for December 29th. On that date we have 5 football games including the second Big Ten game involving the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans against the TCU Horned Frogs will be highlighted in the second Big Ten feature so look for that one on Saturday afternoon.
Our first game on Saturday Dec 29th is the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl involving the Rice Owls out of Conference USA and the Air Force Academy out of the Mountain West Conference. After that, we delve into the New Era Pinstripe Bowl featuring two of the best passers in college football, Geno Smith of West Virginia and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse. What would have been a Big East tilt last year now pairs these two teams representing the Big 12 and the Big East.
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will match the Navy Midshipmen against the Arizona State Sun Devils in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. At or near the conclusion of that game, we will take you deep in the heart of Texas to San Antonio as the Texas Longhorns will do battle against the upstart Oregon State Beavers in he Alamo Bowl. Finally, to conclude the evening, We will go West to Tempe, Arizona as the TCU Horned Frogs will duke it out against the Big Ten’s second bowl team, the Michigan State Spartans. As mentioned earlier, that game will be previewed in a separate posting.
Saturday is a day where you can grab your favorite beverage, perhaps order a pizza – or two, and sit back, relax, and rejoice at all the college football you will have to watch! Without further ado, we move on and look at the games for Saturday Dec. 29th.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
TEAMS: Rice Owls (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA) vs. Air Force Academy (6-6, 5-3 Mountain West Conference)
TIME: Saturday Dec 29th, 11:45 a.m. EST
LAS VEGAS LINES: Air Force -2; Over/Under 62 points
The Rice Owls enter the Armed Forces Bowl as one of the hottest team in the nation winning five of their last six games, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With the Owls’ backs up against the wall, Rice needed to win their remaining four games to become bowl-eligible, and that is just what they did! Rice defeated Southern Miss, Tulane, SMU, and UTEP to reach the six-win plateau. Now, they get a chance to earn their seventh win if they are able to beat the Air Force Academy and their triple-option offense.
Rice enters this contest as one of the nation’s best rushing teams averaging over 201 yards of rushing per game. That number ranks second in Conference USA behind Tulsa and 30th nationally. The Owls have also been able to put up points whether they win or not. Rice has averaged scoring 31.8 points per game this year. in fact, over their last four games, all wins, Rice scored no less than 33 points in any game.
The problem with Rice hasn’t been their ability to score, it has been their ability to keep the opposition from scoring more! Rice has averaged giving up 31.3 points per game. That stat places them 6th in Conference USA but 89th nationally. Teams have been able to both pass and run efficiently against Rice, and that could pose a problem since Air Force is the second most prolific rushing offense in the country. For Rice to win, the formula is simple, find a way to stop the Air Force rushing attack.
Air Force enters the Armed Forces Bowl on a bit of a skid. They have lost three of their last four games including their last game of the year at Fresno State. Early in the season it looked as if head coach Troy Calhoun’s teams was going to struggle in 2012. They had lost three of their first five games including a 31-25 defeat at Michigan, but then things turned around. The Falcons hit their stride and won 3 straight including an impressive win over Nevada. One of the biggest disappointments of the 2012 campaign was losing the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2009. To help put that disappointment behind them, the Air Force cadets will be looking to take their frustration out against the Rice Owls.
Those that have watched Air Force football games knows that they, along with Georgia Tech and Navy are some of the few teams in the FBS that exclusively employ the triple-option attack as their offensive style. As such, those teams will likely appear at or near the top of any rushing statistics, and, that is where you will find Air Force (ranked 2nd in FBS) averaging 328.8 yards rushing per game. On the other hand, the Falcon’s passing attack is one of the worst in the FBS ranking 122nd out of 124 teams. In fact, in Air Force’s game against Hawaii which they won 21-7, the Falcons did not even attempt a single pass in the game!
The Armed Forces Bowl features two teams, Rice and Air Force, that rank 2nd and 30th nationally respectively in average rushing yards per game. So, if you are a fan of running the football, Saturday’s game should be right up your alley. For those of you who like throwing the ball down the field, I think you may have to wait and watch another game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
With such a potent rushing attack, Air Force can feature a few running backs that can move the ball down the field. The Falcons best rushing weapon is senior Cody Getz. Getz has powered his way to a 1000 yards rushing season (1213 yards) and has muscled his way into the endzone 9 times. His low-to-the-ground rushing style makes him difficult for defenders to see and even harder for them to bring him down. Look for him to get plenty of work in this game as he should see somewhere between 15-25 carries in this game.
The other primary weapon for Air Force is their quarterback, senior Connor Dietz. Dietz enters this contest having thrown only 108 times all season for a tad over 1000 yards and 8 TDs. He is also the team’s second leading rusher going off for 658 yards and 5 scores. Look for him to carry the ball in the neighborhood of 10-15 times in the game. His ability to manage the game, make the right reads, and pitch the ball on the option will be crucial to Air Force winning their first bowl game since 2010.
On defense, Air Force has a bunch of senior linebackers that like to do nothing more than fly around the field making tackles. The Falcons were led by Austin Niklas who was 4th in the MWC with 114 tackles. He was followed closely by Alex Means who recorded 89 tackles good for 10th in the MWC. Not only were the linebackers key in making tackles, but so were the defensive backs. Christian Spears ranked 3rd among all defensive backs in the MWC in tackles with 86 and Brian Lindsay had 83. Making the tackle at the point of attack will be a significant factor for Air Force in trying to slow down and containing elusive Rice running back Charles Ross or QB Taylor McHargue.
Rice, much like Air Force, relies greatly upon their rushing attack to do most of their offensive damage. Charles Ross was the leading rusher for Rice during the 2012 regular season. He ripped off 743 yards and 4 TDs including a season-high 154 yard performance against UTEP in their regular season finale. His touches and yards are seemingly determined by the flow of the game. Times where Rice has been force to play catch up, he has had little involvement in the game. Times where the game has been closer or Rice has led, he will get 15-20 touches. Any time Ross has gotten 10 or more rushes in a game, the Rice Owls 2012 record is 4-3. While the numbers aren’t overwhleming, it bodes well for Rice if he can get more than 10 rushes.
Just like Air Force relies on their quarterback to make sound decisions, Rice also relies on their quarterback to make the right reads. Rice is led by junior Taylor McHargue. However, unlike Air Force, McHargue will drop back and throw the ball more often than Air Force will do. McHargue has thrown 317 times for 2178 yards and 11 TDs. He also has the ability to run the ball and keep the defenses honest. On the season, McHargue has 628 yards rushing and 11 scores. The balanced type of offense that Rice will employ will keep the linebackers and the secondary of Air Force on their toes the entire game.
For Rice and McHargue, the main receiving threats come in the form of four players, Jordan Taylor, Sam McGuffie, Vance McDonald, and Donte Moore. Taylor led the team in receiving yards with 673 while McGuffie led the team in receptions with 49 and TDs with 5. McDonald and Moore combined for 59 receptions and 737 yards receiving with 6 scores. All four of these receivers will keep the Air Force secondary busy throughout.
Rice – 30
Air Force – 33