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Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 10:45 CST (16:45 GMT)
Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Rice Owls vs. Air Force Falcons


The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl was inaugurated in 2003 as the Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl reflecting the sponsorship of Plains Capital Bank. In 2005, the game was without corporate sponsorship. In 2006, Fort Worth based Bell Helicopter Textron took over sponsorship, and thus it became officially known as the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl; and if you visit the Bell website, you can purchase all kinds of late Christmas presents, though unfortunately, no helicopters. Armed Forces Insurance is the official Insurance Partner of the Armed Forces Bowl and has sponsored the Great American Patriot Award, presented at half-time at the Bowl since 2008. The game is traditionally played in Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, featuring a team from Mountain West Conference (MWC) and a team from Conference USA (C-USA). In addition, both of the independent military academies (Army and Navy) are eligible to participate if either the MWC or C-USA cannot provide a bowl-eligible team. This year's appearance by Air Force is due to their membership of the MWC and it makes it their 4th appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl, the most of any school. Last year's game was held at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium due to the renovation works at TCU, and suitably enough none of the three forces academies could make it, so BYU beat Tulsa 24-21.

Rice finished the season 6-6 meaning they reach their first Bowl game since 2008, that looked very unlikely after the Owls lost five of their first six games, but they rebounded and won their final four games, including wins over SMU and three teams from the bottom of the C-USA with a combined record of 5-31. They became bowl eligible with a 33-24 victory over the mighty 3-9 UTEP in the season finale. The Owls boast the second-youngest team in the FBS and despite the fact they were playing against garbage, they showed improvement in the latter half of the year. Three of their six losses were by four points or fewer, including a double-overtime defeat to Marshall, the best passing attack in the country and a 56-37 loss at Louisiana Tech, the 4th best passing team in the nation. They will have no such trouble with the passing game of Air Force. Rice's balanced offense has paced their four game winning streak, averaging 40.5 points and 432.0 yards. Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue completed over 65% of his passes for 843 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception during that run. The Owls' have piled up 381 points and 5,053 yards of total offense this season, 2,415 of those on the ground which will be useful in this game. Senior tailback Charles Ross should see plenty of touches in this game as he tries to build off a career-high 154-yard, effort in the regular-season finale.

Air Force also racked up a 6-6 record, based on the strength of their running game. The Falcons aren't shy about being one-dimensional with the ball, becoming the first FBS team in three years to have no pass attempts in a game during a 21-7 win over Hawaii. The main cog in the Falcons' dynamic ground game is Cody Getz, who rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns this season despite missing two games with an ankle injury. The 5'7” senior, the first player in school history with three 200-yard rushing games in a season,could be in for a big performance against a Rice run defense that allowed 193.2 yards per game to rank 94th in the nation. Quarterback Connor Dietz isn't usually asked to do more than run the triple-option attack, but the fifth-year senior can be effective when called upon to throw. He's passed for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns with only three interceptions.

FOR RICE TO WIN
They have to run the ball well and pick their spots to open it up and make the big throw. The Air Force defense is poor, giving up nearly 200 yards a game, but their pass defense is much better, ranked 28th nationally, giving up just 203.6 yards a game. They need to squeeze every single yard out of those stats and try to limit Air Force's rushing game. That responsibility lies with the defensive line, and Cody Bauer needs a few more of his team-leading 12 tackles for losses that he produced during the regular season.

FOR AIR FORCE TO WIN
Run, run, run, run, run. Then run some more. How tired do you think the Rice defensive line will be after 50+ rushing attempts in this game? For Air Force's sake, almost to the point of requiring intravenous fluids. They have to run the ball effectively, and that's what they'll do. The key to winning the game is getting Getz to the outside, if the offensive line can set the edge, Air Force will rack up plenty of yards and time of possession.

VERDICT
This game on the face of it looks like a battle between two potent rushing attacks. Rice ended the season with four straight wins to secure a bowl berth. Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue has 11 touchdown passes and 11 rushing scores. Air Force is playing its sixth straight bowl game and is led by senior running back Cody Getz, who has rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Air Force has won five of six meetings with Rice, taking the most recent match-up in 1998. Three of those contests were played as conference games when both teams were members of the WAC in the late 1990s.

The Falcons are playing in their fourth Armed Forces Bowl, the most of any team. They lost to California in 2007 and split two games against Houston the next two seasons.

Rice has split two bowl games since a post-season drought from 1962 to 2005.

ADVICE
Air Force -3
Under 61.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any mention of Rice running the ball like Baltimore, a la Ray Rice.
2 drinks: Any Air Force alumni admits to flying a Bell Helicopter.
Finish it: Air Force throw the ball on three consecutive plays.

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