- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are three keys to today's Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl between Rice and Air Force (11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN):
1. Keep that momentum going: Rice enters today's game on a four-game winning streak and having won five of its past six games. Remember, this was a team that started the season 1-5 and was just getting eaten up by opposing rushing attacks. From that low point, the Owls completely transformed when it came to stopping the run, allowing teams to average a measly 116.2 yards over the final six games and giving up just nine total rushing touchdowns. The Owls outscored opponents by 80 points during their final five victories and averaged 432 yards of offense during their four-game winning streak. How well that rushing defense plays will be crucial against Air Force, which ranks second nationally in rushing offense (328.8 yards per game) and has 37 rushing touchdowns on the season. If the Owls can contain that triple-option rushing attack, they'll have a good chance to get a win in their first bowl game since 2008.
2. Hold on to the ball: The Falcons might be able to run the ball down other teams' throats, but they have really struggled in the turnover department of late. During its first eight games of the season, Air Force turned the ball over just 12 times. But during the Falcons' 1-3 finish, they handed the ball to opponents 14 times. With how well Rice is playing right now, and with how efficient the Owls have been on offense, Air Force can't afford to turn the ball over and expect to win. With the way the Falcons can run the ball, and given how much Rice struggled earlier in the season to stop the run, it could be a major advantage for the Falcons if they can just keep feeding running back Cody Getz, who became the first player in school history to register three 200-yard rushing games in a single season, and have quarterback Connor Dietz make plays with his feet to keep that option attack going. Grinding it out will wear Rice down.
3. Act like you've been there before: This is Air Force's sixth consecutive bowl game, while Rice is making its first trip to the postseason since 2008. That year, the Owls throttled Western Michigan 38-14 in the Texas Bowl. For the Owls, it's all about not getting cold feet and letting the nerves take hold. They had to work extremely hard to get six wins after the 1-5 start, so it's not the time to let the bright bowl lights intimidate them. As for Air Force, the Falcons have a ton of bowl experience, but the confidence might be lacking after such a bad end to the season. This team has to realize that it has been here before. It knows how to handle the magnitude of the final game of the season. Rice hasn't been in this situation in a while, so the Falcons will have the advantage when it comes to nerves today.