Air Force Falcons (8-5 SU, 9-4 ATS) vs. California Golden Bears (7-5 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at 2PM EST
Where: Amon C. Carter, Fort Worth, Texas
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: AFA +7/CAL -7
Over/Under Total: 65.5
The Air Force Falcons face the California Golden Bears in the Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force had a good season, winning the MWC Mountain division, before losing to San Diego, 27-24 in the conference title game. They dont exactly hit this game with great momentum, ending the season with two straight losses, but they covered 9 of 13 spreads this season and should be a dangerous opponent for Cal. The Golden Bears were looking good at 5-0 and ranked, before the wheels came off a bit. They lost 5 of 7 to come into this spot. But to end the season, they notched a 48-46 win against Arizona State.
Cal certainly didnt follow through on a promising start this season, but lets face it, Air Force wouldnt have made it through that schedule unscathed, either. Cal may have lost 5 of 7, but they lost to teams like Utah, UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Stanford. It would have been nice to see them win one of those games, but those are tough opponents in what was really a deep conference in 2015. They still managed to beat some good teams this season like a San Diego State team that ended up winning ten games and their conference, Texas, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, and Arizona State.
Air Force doesnt exactly whoosh into this spot with a head of steam, either. They covered the spread against SDSU in the MWC title game, but missed a chance to win the game with the Aztecs not at their best and missing their starting QB. And the week before that, they lost as 11-point favorites to New Mexico by 12 points, with their run-defense gashed for 377 yards on the ground. Other than the losses to SDSU and NM, Air Force lost to Michigan State, Navy, and Colorado State on the road. Their best triumphs of the season were 7-point wins over Utah State and Boise State, where they won both games as underdogs. At the end of the day, they covered 5 of their last 6 spreads and should be tough competition for Cal.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff had a few rough games, but has been in good form lately, entering this matchup with 1381 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just one pick in his last three games. On the season, he was over 4200 yards with 37 touchdowns. They have a nice 4-pack of runners, with Khalfani Muhammad, Vic Enwere, Tre Watson, and Daniel Lasco (questionable) combining to give the offense a different dimension, but the heavy lifting is done with by the aerial attack. Goff has half-a-dozen ball-catchers with at least 460 yards receiving. Ball-catchers Kenny Lawler, Bryce Treggs, and Trevor Davis are legit playmakers and there are a lot of guys on this offense that can produce. Its the 5th-ranked passing offense in the country and they average 36.5 points per game.
The Cal defense is a major roadblock to victory, especially with the better offenses they play. They are the 110th-ranked defense in the country, giving up an average of 455 yards of offense a game, while being ranked poorly both against the run and the pass. Five times this season, theyve given up over 35 points. But thats in the context of a difficult Pac-12 schedule where they faced a lot of high-flying offenses. If they were in the Mountain West, it would likely be a different story. Still, watching them suffer against the run creates a lot of worry heading into this game against the Air Force ground attack, which is ranked second in the country.
The Air Force offense is led by Karson Roberts, who is a major threat, especially with his legs. He has 9 rushing touchdowns and 9 through the air. The Air Force offense is very run-heavy, though Roberts had some decent throwing performances heading down the stretch, working well with dangerous receivers Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown. But with Roberts having nearly 700 yards on the ground with 1000-yard rusher Jacobi Owens and productive Timothy McVey, this group can do a lot of damage on the ground and Cal will really be up against it.
The Air Force defense has been serviceable, ranked as the 23rd-ranked unit in college ball, giving up an average of just over 23 points per game. They have allowed a respectable 190 yards of passing yardage per game, but will be facing the toughest aerial offense they have played all season in this game. With 36 sacks, they can rush the passer well, though their run-defense has been suffering in recent weeks. If their pass-defense can curb the Cal offense to some degree and avoid a Cal free-for-all, this defense has a chance to keep Air Force in this game.
There are things to like from both teams. Air Force losing two straight entering this game sort of ruins any advantage they have in the momentum category, with Cal ending the season with 5 losses in their last 7 games. Other than a lack of a substantive aerial game, the Falcons might be a better-rounded team, especially on defense. But again, those defensive stats would be a lot worse off if playing the teams Cal played this season. Cal is infinitely more-explosive with better overall talent and their defense, while porous, can also make plays from time to time. I see Air Force playing competently in spots, before the higher-octane and more diversified Cal offense pulls away for the win and the cover.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the California Golden Bears minus 7 points.
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