Western Michigan Broncos (8-4 SU, 10-2 ATS) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Date and Time: Saturday, December 20, 2014, 5:45 pm EST
Where: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 713
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WMU -1/AF +1
Over/Under Total: 56.5
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Two college football teams that dont have a long and storied bowl tradition will be looking to add a successful new chapter to their tale when the Western Michigan Broncos travel West to tangle with the Air Force Falcons in the Idaho Potato Bowl played on the Smurf turf inside Albertsons Stadium in Boise.
Even though neither of these programs can boast a long list full of recent bowl memories, playing in the Idaho Potato Bowl has to be a little bit of a disappointment for both teams.
For Western Michigan, a program that is ironically still looking for their first bowl game victory ever in school history (0-5 lifetime), they came so close to playing in the Mid-American Conference Championship game that they could taste it. The Broncos had a chance to win the MAC-West title in a head-to-head game against Northern Illinois in their home stadium the day after Thanksgiving, but too much turkey and fixins, six turnovers and a sloppy second half cost them the title and the game and relegated them to the Potato Bowl instead of the MACs more prestigious bowl tie-in games. The loss also snapped a six-game win streak that the Broncos had built up to put themselves in the position for a title shot, and with three weeks off to lick the wounds and reflect on the what-ifs the Broncos cant help but think of what might have been rather than playing on the Smurf turf in Boise in December.
Air Force had one of the best seasons in the programs history, with coach Troy Calhoun taking last years two-win squad all the way to nine wins this season. On top of it, the Falcons earned the Commander-in-Chief trophy this season with a, 30-21, win over Navy in early October followed by a, 23-6, win over Army in early November. Air Force also scored one of college footballs biggest upsets of the season to finish the year, a 27-24, last-second victory over the then 21-ranked Colorado State despite playing without their starting quarterback and their top two running backs, an impressive feat for an option attack. So the Falcons strong season earns them a trip to Boise for the Potato Bowl? Instead of a trip to New Orleans (took Nevada, who the Falcons beat), or Las Vegas (took Colorado State, who they beat), or New Mexico or someplace warm in December. Falcon fans certainly feel jilted, and you cant help but wonder if the players and Calhoun feel a little disappointed that their hard work all season kind of goes unrewarded in some respects.
With little to go on as far as common opponents, school histories and the intra-conference matchups between these two schools, oddsmakers have been forced to set the opening point spread for this game with Western Michigan as 2-point favorites. But some early money has forced the line to move down to the point where its currently listed as Broncos minus -1 or even a pick at most sportsbooks on the Web.
As you would expect anytime Air Force plays these days, this game will also feature highly contrasting styles of offense. The Falcons still use a form of the old-school wishbone option attack, although its morphed over the years to be less wishbone and more of the read-option style that is so prevalent across todays college football landscape. When the Broncos have the ball, youll see them come out in a 4-wide spread attack to create gaps in the defense for both the run and passing attack.
Falcons quarterback Kale Pearson missed the Colorado game with a bum ankle, but hell command the Air Force attack as a dual threat on the ground (646 yards, 6 TD) as well as a little bit in the air (1,513 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT). Their top running back Jacobi Owens was lost for the season to a foot injury, and his top backup Jon Lee was suspended recently (cadet no longer in good standing), so the Falcons will be forced to lean heavily on fullbacks Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson in the run game. Western Michigans defense was decent against the run this season (allowed 143 ypg 37th in FBS) and faced quite a few option style offenses, but they certainly havent faced a team that will run it as often and continue to get after their blocks downfield as much as the Falcons do, as they finished 8th in the country with 272 rushing yards a game on offense.
Likewise, the Air Force defense will likely have not faced the type of passing game the Broncos will bring into the Potato Bowl, as sophomore Zach Terrell (3,146 yards, 23 TD) and receiver Corey Davis (1,232 yards, 12 TD) from a strong combo through the air. Just when you start to commit to stopping the Broncos passing game, they gouge you with freshman running back Jarvion Franklin (1,525 yards, 25 TD) in the gaps. Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer has been huge for the Falcons defense this season, and hell have to play another great game if Air Force hopes to keep the Broncos under their season average of 34.6 points per game, tackling Franklin in the open field and helping support in the passing game as well.
Western Michigan was one of the best wagers in college football all season, going 10-1 ATS at one point before failing to cover in their finale at home against Northern Illinois. However, most of those covers came as the underdog, something they may or may not be when the bowl game finally kicks off next weekend. Air Force is 4-1 ATS in their last five non-conference games, but only 3-7 ATS when they face a team will a winning record.
Finding a strong betting trend for the total will also be hard, as most of the trends with the Broncos favor the over, while most of the trends favoring the Falcons all point to the under. The over went 4-1 in Westerns last five non-conference game, and 6-1 against plus-.500 winning teams. The under is 10-2 for Air Force in their last 12 non-conference games, and 6-1 versus winning teams.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: With this game likely going to be a pick em, or a point in either direction at kickoff, picking a side essentially comes down to which conference you feel was stronger this season the Mountain West or the MAC. Personally, I think both teams are going to struggle to stop each other. Western should be able to throw it on Air Force, and the Falcons are going to be able to jam it down the Broncos throats with the option. With a slight lean to Air Force on the side bet, Ill likely play the over of 56, as I see this one as a 35-30 or 34-31 type of game when its all said and done.