California v. Air Force
Amon G. Carter Stadium — Fort Worth, TX
December 29, 2015 — 2:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
A surprise division champion takes on a resurgent Power Five school that is returning to the postseason for the first time in four years. Six editions of this bowl game in Fort Worth have been won by six points or fewer; the other six since its inception in 2003 have been pure blowouts, won by an average three-touchdown margin of victory. These two teams met in this same game eight years ago, with the Pac-12 school prevailing 42-36… which means we’re either in the running for a reprisal or a reversal. If you tune in, you’re bound to see either one of the closest games of the 2015-2016 postseason calendar — or one of the most lopsided.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
California Golden Bears
Through September and into the early part of October, it looked like Cal might have turned the corner from Pac-12 doormat to fully-fledged conference contender. Then a four-game slide put the Bears in danger of missing out on a bowl invite for the fourth straight year. Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense was driven by Jared Goff, who makes NFL scouts swoon with his 4200 passing yards, 37 touchdowns in 2015, and his prototype size. Unlike in years past, however, Cal has much less of a running game to complement the aerial assault. Likewise there is little to inspire confidence on defense, as the Bears ranked outside the top 100 in yardage allowed and finished 88th nationally in points conceded. California was at least relatively disciplined, finishing in the top 30 in penalties and penalty yards accrued per contest.
Air Force Falcons
Many of these players might eventually be taking to the air in military aircraft, but the Falcons aren’t that fond of taking to the skies on the football field. Air Force ranked second in the country in rushing offense, piling up more than 320 yards per game on the ground, but balanced that with the sixth-worst passing offense in all FBS. They scored around three fewer points per game than Cal, but they also had a far better defense as well. The Falcons were a top-40 unit in points and yards allowed, and they were equally solid against both the pass and the run. Troy Calhoun’s squad improbably knocked off both Boise State and Utah State to snag the MWC Mountain title, though they limped into bowl season after losing their regular-season finale against New Mexico as well as the MWC championship game to San Diego State. Either they will keep this contest close, or they are likely to get blown out.
What is Likely to Happen
This isn’t a situation where the mid-major team is likely to play Cinderella. Cal is favored by a touchdown in Vegas, and this is a situation where that line is likely spot on. Air Force was a solid if unspectacular Group of Five team, keeping games respectable against some tough competition — including against College Football Playoff contender Michigan State. But while the Falcons will chew up some yards on the ground and stifle Cal’s prolific offense to an extent, Goff will not be denied and the Bear Raid will manage to put some points on the scoreboard. Air Force might take an early lead in this one, but the Golden Bears should manage to pull away with the game in the second half. Look for Sonny Dykes’ squad to cover the spread and claim Cal’s first bowl win since 2008.
California 48, Air Force 35
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