- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rice (6-6, 4-4 C-USA) vs. Air Force (6-6, 5-3 MWC)
Who to watch: Air Force senior running back Cody Getz. Air Force enters the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl with the No. 2 rushing offense in the country, averaging 328.8 yards per game. The main reason for the Falcons' ground success has been the play of Getz. He has 1,213 rushing yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games this year because of an ankle injury. Getz became the first player in school history with three 200-yard rushing games in a season and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He must be licking his chops at the thought of playing against a Rice defense that is tied for 91st nationally in run defense, giving up 192.8 yards per game.
What to watch: Can Rice put pressure on Air Force's backfield? The Falcons have been very good at protecting quarterback Connor Dietz this season. Through the first nine games of the season, Air Force's offensive line didn't allow a single sack. What might have been more impressive about that is that the Falcons' line did it without starting center Michael Husar, who went down in the season opener. Air Force is tied for second nationally in sacks allowed (seven). Rice ranks 47th nationally in sacks this season with 26 on the year. The Owls are averaging 2.17 sacks a game, and defensive linemen Cody Bauer and Hosam Shahin have combined for 10.5 sacks on the year.
Why watch: Who doesn't like culture clashes when it comes to offense? Air Force has that challenging triple option, but Rice owns a much more balanced offense. The Owls are averaging 201 rushing yards and 219 passing yards per game. Although Air Force has been very deadly running the ball, the Falcons really struggled down the stretch because of costly turnovers. Air Force finished the season with a 1-3 run, turning the ball over 14 times in the process after turning it over just 12 times in the first eight games. Rice comes in red hot, winning five of its last six games, including its last four. In the final six games of the season, the Owls allowed an average of only 116.2 rushing yards. Watching this Rice defense try to contain Air Force's potent rushing attack should be fun.
Prediction: Air Force 31, Rice 27. Rice might have all the momentum on its side after such a good end to the season, but Air Force finally got a substantial break and thus got some much-needed rest. The Falcons played for 10 consecutive weeks, and you could tell this team was hurting for a break. That break has come, and, although the Owls have been very good against the run lately, Air Force's triple-option attack will be just too much for Rice in the second half.