Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force and Rice square off in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, December 29th. Air Force is currently favored by -1.5 points at 5 Dimes and Sportsbook.ag, with a total of 61. Both teams come in with matching 6-6 records, looking for that last win to give them a winning record for 2012.
At first look, sitting as 1-point favorites, Air Force looks like the logical squad to go with. The only problem is that they have lost three of their last four games. Two of those were against the MWC’s top teams, but one of those was a 20-point beating against a 2-10 Army team. That’s not what you want to see. Also scattered in there is an unexciting 21-7 win over Hawaii. On a good note, they do have some games that look better. In the second week of the season they gave a scare to Michigan in Ann Arbor, losing 31-25. Before their rough patch to finish the season, they put 48 points on Nevada, which is the only school they beat with a winning record. Something that stands out in their schedule is that they had 10 straight games without a bye week which explains why they had trouble toward the end of the season. This extended break should only help them out.
The good news for Rice is that they are going in another direction, winning their last four games of the season. Some of those wins weren’t very great, but they beat fellow bowl team SMU by 22 points in that stretch which was huge for them. Early in the season they won at Kansas, which may not look impressive, but any time you beat a big conference school, you have to give them props. The Owls had to win their last game of the season at UTEP (they won 33-24) to be considered bowl eligible.
Each of these teams can do the same things: run the ball, score points and not play very much defense. In their win against Hawaii, the Falcons did not have a pass attempt if that says anything about what they want to do. They are the second best rushing team in the nation with 328.8 rushing yards per game.
Quarterback Connor Dietz leads the triple-option attack and has the second most rushing yards on Air Force. Again, he has only attempted 108 passes all season. As a team, they have 37 rushing TDs and five rushers with over 400 yards. Cody Getz is the main figure out of the backfield even though he’s only 5’7”. He has 1,213 yards and nine TDs on the year including a 130-yard, three TD performance against Michigan. Running backs Wes Cobb and Jon Lee are also in the mix to get some carries.
The Rice defense has allowed 28 rushing TDs, 5.05 yards per carry and 193 yards per game on the ground this season. Air Force is right in line with that at 26 TDs, 4.56 YPC and 198 yards per game. To sum things up, each thing will be able to move the ball.
The difference between these teams is that the Owls have somewhat of a passing agme, led by Taylor McHargue. While he doesn’t have a ton of passing touchdowns (11), he has attempted 317 passes for 2,178 yards. Basically, they aren’t as one-sided of an offense as the Falcons. No matter, they like running the ball with three rushers over 500 yards on the ground. McHargue has 628 yards and leads the team with 11 rushing TDs. Charles Ross and Turner Petersen fill out the rest of the ground game with a combined 1,253 yards and nine TDs.
As was said earlier, there’s not much separating these teams. We have to assume Rice is the more happy of the two to be playing in this game. This was a down year for Air Force which has seen higher quality opponents in higher profile bowls, in years past.
All of the numbers we like to look at suggest that Rice can win this one. It's close, for sure, either way. Our model likes Rice by anywhere from 1 to 4 points. Take note of the turnover differential here. Air Force is -13 on the year while Rice is +5. In a close game likely to be decided by turnovers, we'll side with the team less likely to turn the ball over. Rice +1.5