The Armed Forces Bowl features an interesting contrast in styles in Air Force’s option attack against California’s Bear Raid offense. Despite the contrast in styles, a high-scoring game is anticipated in Fort Worth on Tuesday afternoon.
California started out this season 5-0, including victories in its first two Pac-12 Conference games. However, as soon as the Golden Bears entered the national rankings, they fell into a midseason slump and lost four straight. California managed to sandwich two wins at home around a loss to their Bay Area arch-rivals to close out the year.
Air Force struggled to a 3-3 start for the season. Then the Falcons went on a five game late-season winning streak. That included four victories over Mountain West Conference foes. A narrow loss against San Diego State cost the Falcons the conference title.
Both of these teams have experience in the Armed Forces Bowl. In fact, this year's pairing is a rematch of the 2007 game, won by Cal, 42-36. Air Force also played here in 2008, 2009 and 2012. The Falcons have only won one of their four appearances in the Armed Forces Bowl.
California and Air Force have faced each other eight times on the gridiron. The Golden Bears lead the series 6-2 dating back to 1961. The Falcons only wins against Cal took place in Berkeley in 1961 and 2002.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. California (Fort Worth, Texas)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Spread: Air Force +7
Three Things to Watch
1. Air Force Needs to Ground Bears' Offense
The Falcons' option attack, led by quarterback Karson Roberts, grinds down opponents as well as the game clock. However, it is not conducive to high-paced contests requiring high scores to offset defensive breakdowns. They lost five of seven games in which they allowed 24 or more points. When they gave up fewer than 200 passing yards, they finished 6-2.
The Bears have piled up the yards in every game, averaging 524 per contest. They were held under 400 yards on offense only once this season. In the nine games in which they exceeded 300 passing yards, they won six.
Cal's target number of points to score has been 30. They won all seven games when scoring that many or more. When they scored fewer, they lost all five.
Cal has had to rack up high scores, 36.5 points on average, and lots of yardage. The Bears' defense has allowed 24 or more points in all but two games. One of those two was against an FCS opponent.
2. Was Cal Able to Prepare for the Option Attack?
The Bears have won five of the seven games in which they held opponents under 200 yards rushing. When the Falcons have failed to gain at least 280 yards on the ground, they have lost four of those five contests. The Bears have not faced an option-based offense since their sole appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. Do they have a scout team capable of simulating the offense during bowl preparation? Did the three weeks of bowl preparation give them enough time to practice against it?
3. What Is at Stake for Each Team?
Air Force lost in the Mountain West Championship Game to San Diego State by three points. That is the same team Cal dominated in Berkeley by 28 in September. Does the huge difference in scoring versus one common opponent indicate a significant disparity between these two teams? It would be unwise to assume so.
What is the motivation for each team? Neither team figures to finish in the final polls regardless of the outcome of this game. Both are assured of finishing above .500, win or lose. Whatever team can find inspiration other than the typical "playing for pride" and "winning the seniors' last game" will be at an advantage.
No team has an advantage in terms of proximity to the game site. Both lack a distinctive goal as motivation. California needs to push the tempo and force the Falcons out of their element and ground attack. And the opposite can be said for Air Force, as coach Troy Calhoun's team needs to stay out of third-and-long situations, control the clock and limit the overall possessions by the Golden Bears. Air Force's unconventional option attack gives the Falcons the deciding edge in this even match-up.
Prediction: Air Force 34, California 30
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.