A Pair of Under-The-Radar Bowl Games
Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington St (6-6) Cheez-It Bowl (Dec 27th) Phoenix, AZ
The name value of this bowl alone piques my interest along with the infamous 2018 version of the Cheez-It Bowl, a barnburner that featured TCU defeating Cal 10-7 where there were nine combined interceptions. I would like to guess that this year’s game will be a lot different with both teams bringing two of the most explosive offenses in the country, but each doing so in drastically different ways.
Air Force Falcons
The Cadets from Colorado Springs will roll into Phoenix off a 10-2 campaign with their only losses coming to Mountain West champion Boise State and possible Commander-In-Chief Trophy winner Navy. Since head coach Troy Calhoun took the helm in 2007, this is his third 10-win season and the first time he has won seven conference games.
What makes this matchup so intriguing is the fact Air Force runs the triple option and Washington State runs the Air Raid. Air Force ranks 3rd in the country in rushing yards per game only behind Army and Navy. Led by Junior QB Donald Hammond III and the three headed monster of Kadin Remsberg, Timothy Jackson and Taven Birdow, the Falcons have no shortage of weapons out of the backfield. What makes this offense so hard to defend is that all the backs are utilized with regularity as all of them have over 100 carries this season. They will match up against a porous Cougar defense that ranks 113th in the country in total defense. Air Force is also the least penalized team in the country averaging under 4 per game.
Washington State Cougars
Mike Leach’s squad has disappointed this year falling to 6-6 after a very successful 11-2 season last year, capped with a victory in the Alamo Bowl. This will be a fifth straight bowl appearance for the Cougars and they’re looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history. This is also the first time the cougars have won fewer than 8 games since 2014.
As long as Mike Leach is the head coach you know the team will throw the ball, and throw the ball a lot. The Washington State passing game is as potent as ever with Senior QB Anthony Gordon shattering the PAC 12 passing record set in 2018 by his predecessor Gardner Minshew. Gordon’s ability to throw the ball was on display all season but never more than the September 21st meltdown loss to UCLA. Gordon threw for 570 yards and record 9 touchdown. The Cougars also feature a multi-purpose back in Max Borghi who has over 1,300 total yards and 15 touchdowns. They will be matched up against an Air Force Pass defense that ranks 40th nationally.
Key to the Game
This game will come down to the Air Force offense and their ability to chew clock and punch it into the end zone. Both teams will run up the score and if Air Force is able to limit the amount of possessions Anthony Gordon has they will be in good shape to take this game.
#15 Notre Dame (10-2) vs Iowa State (7-5) Camping World Bowl (Dec 28th) Orlando, FL
The Camping World Bowl will feature two teams falling short of 2019 expectations. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish came into the season with CFP expectations or worst case a NY6 appearance. Having their third 10-win season in a row, I would still call it a very successful season in South Bend. Iowa State came off 2018 with an Alamo Bowl appearance and tied for third in the Big 12. Many expected them to make the jump and play Oklahoma in Arlington, TX for the conference title and end up in the Sugar Bowl. Losing 5 games by one or two points makes it very difficult to move up that ladder and instead Baylor is in New Orleans.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Even though Notre Dame plays on NBC every weekend it seems like they have flown under the radar this season as far as the national spotlight. They fell in their two biggest games of the year and after they were embarrassed in Ann Arbor on October 26th, everyone put them on the back burner. Don’t be fooled though, this is still a very good team. The Irish come into this game having won five in a row and are 6-2 against bowl-bound teams in 2019.
The Fighting Irish boast one of the better dual threat QB’s in the country in Ian Book. His 33 passing touchdowns are tied for sixth in the country and adds four more on the ground. His favorite target is senior WR Chase Claypool who has 891 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Overall the Irish offense is above average and they rely on their 21st ranked defense to step up and generate turnovers. They are tied for 3rd nationally with a +15 turnover margin and their ability to protect the football has propelled them to their 10-2 record.
Iowa State Cyclones
Matt Campbell has done one of the most impressive jobs as far as building a competitive program. He has taken a perennial big 12 doormat to three straight winning seasons and as many bowl games. Since the Big 12 moved to 10 teams in 2012, Iowa State had never had a recruiting class finish higher than 8th in the conference according to 247sports class rankings. Counting 2017 as his first full year of recruiting, he as finished 7th, 7th , 6th and currently is ranked 4th for the recruiting cycle of 2020. He is building a winning culture in Ames and it is starting to show.
The MVP of this Iowa State team has to be Brock Purdy. As only a sophomore, he is closing in on 4,000 passing yards this season with 27 touchdowns. He was described as a pocket passer out of Gilbert, AZ but he has 8 rushing touchdowns this year as well. With a team that ranks 9th in the country in passing offense the Cyclones will need Purdy to drive this offense if they are to compete with a fundamentally sound Notre Dame squad.
Key to the Game
The winner of the game will be the winner of Brock Purdy and the Cyclones pass offense vs. The Notre Dame pass defense. Checking in as the 3rd best in the country, Purdy will have his hands full against Kyle Hamilton and the ball-hawking Notre Dame secondary. If Purdy is able to play like he has this season it would not shock me to see Iowa State pull off the upset.