Armed Forces Bowl Preview: Air Force vs. Cal

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 31, 9:30 a.m. PST
California (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
Fort Worth, Texas
Payout: $750,000
Spread: California – 3.5

If there’s a more difficult game to gauge I haven’t found it. Cal comes in reeling. They’ve inexplicably lost six of their last seven while their opponents from the Air Force academy have done the exact opposite, finishing the season winning six of their last seven. The Golden Bears had a similar collapse last season and rebounded to win their bowl game over a solid Texas A&M team. But this is a collapse of epic proportions. It’s up there with the New York Mets for worst finish of the year. Remember, if backup QB Kevin Riley had managed to spike the ball in the dieing seconds against Oregon State, California may have been ranked number one the following week. Now they sit at 6-6, one loss away from a record under .500.

Air Force comes in with a different mind set. While Cal is trying to salvage their season, the Falcons are happy to be bowling for the first time in five years. Notching their first bowl win since the 2000 season would put this program back on the map. First-year head coach Troy Calhoun has done a great job of adding more passing to the triple option scheme the school became known for running. The misdirection the offense brings is an equalizer. Since Air Force can’t recruit the same talent that a school like Cal can, this offense levels the playing field. Against Cal they should have plenty of success with it.

The Golden Bears’ defense is very average. There are a number of players with the potential to play at the next level but they just can’t seem to put it together. Preparation will be key on the defensive side of the ball. Air Force will run all over Cal if they don’t know what to expect, especially if they don’t identify Chad Hall on every snap. He’ll line up in multiple positions and is so versatile that he leads the team in rushing and receiving. The young man only became the primary ball carrier at midseason yet he finished with 1,415 rushing yards and 14 TD’s. Cal’s defense will have to be aware of him at all times or they’ll get beat soundly in this game.

An offense with as much firepower as Cal’s shouldn’t be this unproductive. Quarterback Nate Longshore has the size and the arm to play Sunday football one day but a series of injuries set him back this year. His most explosive wide receiver also struggled through a season marred by injuries. DeSean Jackson had many people talking about him winning the Heisman Trophy after he made Tennessee look slow. Unfortunately the year turned out to be a disappointment and he was overshadowed by fellow WR Lavelle Hawkins. Hawkins was consistent and made a case for the upcoming NFL draft by picking up the slack for Jackson. Running back Justin Forsett had a nice season with 1,406 yards and 13 TD’s, proving the skeptics wrong. At just 5’8 and 185 lbs some worried about his ability to carry the load but hint to you NFL scouts, don’t bet against him. Air Force will have a problem defending the speed of Cal if they come to play, that’s a big if, however.

I want to pick Air Force. Considering the seasons these two teams have had, the Falcons should win the game. But I went against Cal after their collapse last season only to have reinforced for me that bowl season is a separate entity from the regular season altogether. With the collection of talent they have, there’s no way they should lose this game. Then again, there’s no way they should’ve lost six games this year. Since Cal’s flakiness has me flustered I’m going the other way but very skeptically. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson last year.

Prediction:
Air Force 21 – Cal 20

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