- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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The nightcap of bowl season's opening day is in Boise, Idaho, a meeting between the MAC's Western Michigan (8-4) and the Mountain West's Air Force (9-3). Here's a brief primer of what you need to know about the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Turnaround Bowl: There will be no unhappy customers in Boise this weekend. Both teams are happy to be bowling anywhere. No teams made a bigger leap in the right direction in 2014 than Air Force and Western Michigan. Both programs won seven more games than they did when finishing last in their respective conferences last year.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, in his eighth year coaching the Falcons, rerouted his program by shifting his lineup to get more veteran leadership on the field. The Broncos' second-year coach, P.J. Fleck, took the opposite approach -- relying on fresh talent to spur better results. Fleck, 33, is the youngest coach in the FBS and has infused some of that youthful spirit and energy into his locker room. His "Row The Boat" mantra is catching on in Kalamazoo.
Meet RB Jarvion Franklin: Western Michigan's star freshman from Tinley Park, Illinois, has been a catalyst for the team's improvement. His 1,525 rushing yards this season put him among the top 10 backs in the country and second among rookies behind Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. Franklin provided 24 of Western's 29 rushing touchdowns. Only Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi reached the end zone more often this season. Franklin will have a chance to introduce himself to a larger audience Saturday evening against the Falcons.
Playing keep-away: Air Force's approach with the triple-option offense provides headaches for any defense not used to seeing it on a regular basis. The Falcons ran the ball more often than any other team in the country this season. Seven players on the roster had at least 30 carries, led by Jacobi Owens with 204. The deep and steady running game helps to limit opportunities for opponents. Meanwhile, Western Michigan plays defense with its offense at times. Fleck's team finished 10th nationally in time of possession (33:14) this season, which helped its defense give up fewer than 24 points per game.