The Cheez-It Bowl
The Cheez-It Bowl, in its second iteration under the Cheez-It name, has been played since 1989 in Arizona under several different names, most recently the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The game on December 27th takes place at Chase Field in Phoenix home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Always a fun bowl game with ties to the Pac-12 and Big-12 it’s rare to see a team like Air Force out of the Mountain West but the service academy has made one appearance before, losing to Texas Tech in 1995. Washington State is also making just their second appearance. They won the 1992 game beating Utah 31-28. This year’s match-up pits two offenses that could not be any more different. Washington State is the country’s top passing offense and Air Force is the 3rd best rushing attack.
Head coach Mike Leach is known for his high flying Air Raid offenses. He has consistently produced more passing yards than all of college football. That hasn’t changed any this season. The 6-6 Cougars lead the nation with 444 yards per game passing. The defense though has been one of the worst allowing 457 yards per game and just over 31 points a game. Against the run, their numbers aren’t statistically as bad only allowing 170 yards per game. But teams have abandoned the run early against the Cougars offense that scores 39 points a game.
Player to Watch
Anthony Gordon, a relatively unknown quarterback coming into this season replacing Heisman finalist Gardner Minshew led the NCAA in passing with 5,228 and was second with 45 passing touchdowns. Gordon even had some Heisman hype of his own early on in the season before the Cougars finished the season 3-6. Gordon, a fifth-year senior, came into the year with only five passing attempts, all coming last season. The NFL is likely the next stop for him and the Cheez-It bowl is his last opportunity to impress draft scouts in a competitive setting.
The service academy comes into the Cheez-It bowl after having a stellar season finishing 10-2 with their losses coming to a very good Boise State team and fellow service academy Navy. They are ranked 24th nationally in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls. The Falcons do one thing and they do it well, run the ball. Rushing for 3,510 yards this season with over five yards per attempt the Falcons have four players with more than 100 attempts on the season.
Surprisingly though not a 1,000-yard rusher. Throwing the ball is not something this team does, starting quarterback Donald Hammond III has 52 completions for the year, a stark contrast to Anthony Gordon who has six games with more than 40. The Falcons are the consummate team with excellent execution just how you want your service academies to be. Defensive coordinators have known all year what was coming and have not been able to stop it.
The Cheez-It Bowl Prediction
This game will likely come down to which team is able to impose their will and play their style of game. Air Force has faced another elite passing offense this season in San Jose State. The Falcons were able to hold Josh Love, the nation’s fourth-leading passer under 200 yards. Air Force will have to sustain long drives to keep the Cougar offense off the field if they want to win. Expect a high scoring affair with an over/under set at 68 points. Air Force wins 38-31.