2009 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Preview
Houston (10-3, 6-2; C-USA) vs. Air Force (7-5, 5-3; MWC)
December 31st, 2009 @ Noon (EST) – ESPN – Fort Worth, Texas
The Armed Forces Bowl was originated in 2003 as the Fort Worth Bowl before adapting its current name in 2005. Air Force is becoming a semi-permanent fixture at this point as this will be their 3rd consecutive appearance. Furthermore, this game is a rematch of last year’s Armed Forces Bowl as Houston and Air Force meet for the 3rd time in two seasons.
Houston had a hugely successful season, winning the Conference USA West division and beating three BCS conference teams, highlighted by their victory at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys were ranked fifth in the country. The Cougars only disappointment was their loss in the C-USA Championship at East Carolina. Houston is coached by Kevin Sumlin, who has a record of 18-8 with a 1-0 postseason record in his two years in charge.
The overwhelming strength of Houston’s team is their amazing offense, which was the 2nd best in the country at 43.9 points per game. Quarterback Case Keenum (5,400 yards & 43 TDs) was the nation’s number one passer and as a team Houston threw for over 1,300 yards more than the country’s second best passing offense! Despite such a high-flying offense, Houston only turned the ball over 20 times and they are an absolute juggernaut on offense.
However, the Cougars weren’t so stellar defensively, finishing 87th in the country at 28.8 points per game. Houston was abysmal against the run at 112th in the country and their pass defense really wasn’t much better, finishing 87th. On the plus side, Houston was extremely opportunistic, finishing 12th in the country in takeaways at 28.
Air Force continued their solid performance under head coach Troy Calhoun, who has presided over winning teams in each of his three years and has a career record of 24-13 with an 0-2 bowl mark as the Falcons’ head man. Air Force’s season was rather formulaic: They lost all five games that they played against teams heading to bowl games but defeated all seven teams that are sitting home for the postseason.
The Falcon offense is built around the triple option attack and it produced the country’s 53rd ranked scoring attack at 28.3 points per game. However, their ground game was the country’s 3rd most productive and ran up nearly 275 yards per outing! The Falcon passing attack was literally an afterthought at 119th but they did an excellent job protecting the football, finishing 4th in the country with only 11 turnovers.
Air Force very quietly put together a top 10 scoring defense, allowing only 15.3 points per game. They were exceptional at forcing takeaways, finishing 12th in the country with 28 turnovers. They were also quite balanced, fielding the 45th best run defense and the country’s #1 rated pass defense. How dominant have the Falcons been? Only one team scored more than 20 points against them in regulation all season! This is going to be a major challenge for Houston’s air raid attack.
So I bet most readers didn’t realize that this game was going to match up the country’s best pass offense and pass defense, eh? However, this is a somewhat misleading statistic: Air Force only faced one top 30 passing offense (BYU) and they gave up 38 points against the Cougars in the season finale. That seems to indicate that they’ve built their reputation against the pass thanks to a rather weak set of challengers and Air Force seems ripe to be exploited.
That matchup is going to be the decisive factor in this game. Houston’s Case Keenum was by far the country’s most productive quarterback this season and he is going to have a very big game for the 2nd straight year in the Armed Forces Bowl. However, do not discount Air Force’s mismatch against Houston’s porous run defense because Air Force will score some points in this matchup.
One final statistic: Air Force has not scored more than 21 points against a winning team this season while Houston’s worst output of any kind all year was 29 points against Texas Tech, who finished 8-4. Despite Air Force’s attempts to control the ball and play keep away, Houston’s Air Raid attack will be simply too much for Falcons to handle and the Cougars will win their second consecutive Armed Forces Bowl.
Armed Forces Bowl Pick: Houston 35 - Air Force 24
by Matt Baxendell
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