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Armed Forces Bowl preview: Air Force vs. Rice

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6)
Dec. 29, 11:45 a.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Falcons: Air Force is in a bowl game for the sixth straight time, but barely. The Falcons suffered some odd losses (UNLV and a 20-point loss to Army, most notably) but squeezed out six wins. Air Force benefited from the time between games, getting a little healthier. Quarterback Connor Dietz and tailback Cody Getz, who rushed for 658 and 1,213 yards respectively, battled injuries through the second half of the season, but should be fresher for the bowl game. Air Force lost three of its last four games to finish the regular season, showing the wear and tear of a tough season.

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Rice QB Taylor McHargue (USA Today Sports Images)

About the Owls: Rice was 1-5 after a 14-10 loss to lowly Memphis on Oct. 6. But the Owls rallied down the stretch, winning five of six to get to .500 and become bowl eligible. Rice is solid running and throwing the ball, and 230-pound back Charles Ross will be a tough matchup for an undersized Falcons defense. Ross had three 100-yard games this year including 154 yards in the regular season finale. Quarterback Tyler McHargue is also capable, with 2,178 passing yards this season.

Key number: 91
In Air Force's only win in November, a 21-7 victory against Hawaii, the Falcons ran the ball 68 times and did not pass once. From the fourth quarter of its previous game against San Diego State, through the Hawaii game to the second quarter of its next game against Fresno State, Air Force attempted 91 straight rushes without a pass.

The breakdown: Air Force is at a bit of a disadvantage at bowl season because opponents have weeks to prepare for its unique offense, which is often classified as a triple option attack but uses just as much of its zone blocking scheme to put defenses in a difficult spot. Rice wasn't very good this season, but neither was Air Force. These two .500 teams are trying to avoid finishing the year with a losing record.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Rice 23, Air Force 20

This game could go either way. If Air Force is healthy and clicking in the running game, the Falcons are certainly capable of winning. But Rice was the stronger team late in the year, and that matters during bowl season.

Graham Watson: Rice 33, Air Force 24
Rice comes into this game on a bit of a roll after winning five of its final six games to get bowl eligible. On the flip side, Air Force lost three of its last four. Both of these teams have great running games, and Air Force’s triple option can be tough to stop, but Rice’s rush defense has been tough in the second half. I like Rice and the momentum.

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