The amount of bowls after Jan. 1 seems to be increasing every year, just like the total number of bowl Games each year. The first of them is the Armed Forces Bowl between Houston and Pittsburgh, two teams that will be led by interim coaches. The Panthers are a -3 point favorite for the Game in Forth Worth, where TCU plays.
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will coach Pittsburgh and defensive coordinator David Gibbs will lead Houston.
Pittsburgh is getting a decent amount of the money, mainly because they are out of the ACC playing a team that went 5-3 in the AAC. Houston actually fired their coach if that says anything about the team’s expectations this season.
The Cougars went 7-5, but lost Four of those Games by one score. The problem is that they only had one win against a team that was any good when they improbably won 28-24 at Memphis, and that happened to be the Tigers’ only Conference loss. Houston was a 7.5-point underdog in that Game. It also can’t be forgotten that the Cougars lost to a poor Tulane team at home late in the season 31-24.
Pittsburgh wasn’t much better with a 6-6 record, but their competition was a little better. Then again, they did lose six of seven Games at one point in the middle of the season. The Panthers closed with wins over Syracuse and Miami (FL) to lock in a bowl bid. Their best wins came at Boston College, Miami and vs. Virginia Tech. They also have a weird 21-10 loss at home to Akron back in September.
Houston is led by a stout defense giving up 19.5 points per Game, but you can’t really trust that number all that much in the AAC. They gave up 28-plus points in three of their final Four Games. Pittsburgh doesn’t have an elite offense, but they won’t be easy to stop.
The Panthers will lean on the ACC Player of the Year and first-team All-American running back James Conner. The sophomore has been a complete monster with 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns. The interesting thing is that he wasn’t a major factor in the team’s final two Games totaling only 27 carries and 113 yards on the ground. Nevertheless, expect a heavy dosage for Conner after a month of rest. If he can get going, that will help the inconsistent Chad Voytik (15 TDs, 7 INTs) in the passing Game. He’ll look plenty to another sophomore Tyler Boyd (1,149 yards, 8 TDs), who has been huge for this team in his first two seasons. He also serves as a solid returner for the Panthers.
Pittsburgh’s defense had a bad stretch of Games against tough ACC teams at the end of October and beginning of November, but they pulled it together to close the season. They won’t stop Houston completely, but they can slow down an offense that scores less than 30 points per Game.
Houston has a balanced offense that is actually pretty consistent each week scoring in that 30-point range. since coming in as the quarterback in the team’s fifth Game, Greg Ward Jr. has brought a different dynamic to the team with his legs. He has rushed for 481 yards for 6 TDs through only seven starts. Kenneth Farrow (934 yards, 12 TDs) leads the backfield, but Ryan Jackson (597 yards, 5 TDs) will also get his touches. Even though Ward Jr. isn’t a great passer, Deontay Greenberry (756 yards, 4 TDs) is the guy he’ll be targeting the most.
The result of this Game may fall to the legs of James Conner. He has the ability to rush for 200 yards and win this Game. If he struggles, there’s no telling which team has the edge.
The Cougars are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 Games on grass, 5-2 ATS in their last seven neutral-site Games and 2-5 ATS in their last seven bowl Games. The Panthers don’t have many trends, but are 2-7 ATS in their last nine following a straight-up win. They went 5-6-1 ATS on the year.
Our Pick – Pittsburgh -3