Western Michigan v. Air Force
Albertsons Stadium — Las Vegas, NV
December 20, 2014 — 5:45 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
It’s the penultimate game of the opening day of the college football postseason… and if you’ve come this far after sitting through games from New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, you shouldn’t let up now. Besides, it’s the last chance to go cross-eyed by Boise’s (in)famous Smurf Turf this season. The past two editions have been blowouts, with Utah State and San Diego State trouncing overmatched MAC competition. This game should be more like the 2009 or 2011 editions, which were both decided by a single point. A pair of teams with vastly divergent offensive philosophies but similar scoring statistics will battle for supremacy in Idaho’s capital city.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
It has been an amazing turnaround for Western Michigan, which rebounded from last year’s 1-11 debacle to finish third in the MAC West with an 8-4 record in P.J. Fleck’s second season as head coach. The Broncos lost both of their tests against Power Five competition, falling to Purdue and Virginia Tech, but they were stellar in their other matchups. The offense was well-balanced, with quarterback Zach Terrell throwing for over 3100 yards and 23 touchdowns and tailback Jarvion Franklin putting up 1525 rushing yards and two dozen scores on the ground. The defense was a top-40 unit, allowing less than 24 points per game. Only close defeats to Toledo and Northern Illinois prevented Western Michigan from winning its first divisional title since 2000.
Air Force was a Jekyll-and-Hyde team throughout the 2014 regular season. With over 270 rushing yards per game, the Falcons were ranked eighth nationally on the ground. The team spread the ball around in the backfield, with feature back Jacobi Owens the only player to go over 1000 yards rushing this season. As usual, the triple-option offense yielded few passing yards, though quarterback Kale Pearson did manage to throw for 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns. Air Force suffered a few inexplicable defeats to teams like Wyoming and San Diego State, but they also knocked off both Boise State and Colorado State. The defense is almost a mirror image of Western Michigan’s unit after allowing just 0.4 points more per game than the Broncos, with both teams playing schedules ranked outside the top 100.
What is Likely to Happen
Troy Calhoun and P.J. Fleck have both of their teams bowling again after missing the postseason last year. Their teams will be equally motivated to come out on top in this contest. Which means we are likely to have several lead changes in Boise. Air Force ended their regular-season finale against Colorado State with a late field goal to win as time expired, and it could come down to a similar situation against Western Michigan. After several straight years of mismatches in the Idaho Potato Bowl, look for the Falcons and Broncos to play a classic that comes down to the heroics of Will Conant at the end.
Air Force 31, Western Michigan 30