Wednesday December 30th, 2009

Houston (10-3) vs. Air Force (7-5) Dec. 31, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

Reason to watch: Uh, duh? Case Keenum. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound fourth-year junior was a human JUGS machine in 2009, throwing for 5,449 yards and 43 touchdowns (and just nine interceptions). He and the high-flying Cougars offense -- which averaged 43.9 points per game -- seemed unstoppable at times this fall, notching a pair of wins against Big-12 foes Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. But they also suffered inexplicable lapses in defeats to UTEP and UCF. Keenum and Houston should be favored against the Falcons on Thursday, but who knows which Cougars squad will show up. Air Force is no pushover, and is sure to score points against a porous Houston defense.

Keep an eye on: The Falcons defense. Keenum will get his yards, but that's not what concerns Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who just wants to keep the prolific quarterback out of the end zone. If the Falcons can hold Houston to less than 30 points, they would seem to have a very real chance for victory. The Cougars' defense ranks 111th in Division I-A against the run, giving up 213.1 yards per game. Air Force and its triple-option ground game rushed for the third-most yards nationwide, averaging 273.6 per game. DeRuyter has the benefit of knowing his opponent well. He and the Falcons are preparing to face the Cougs for the third time since September of 2008. Though Air Force lost both prior meetings (including in last year's Armed Forces Bowl), it won't be intimidated by Keenum and the Cougars' offense.

Did you know: This is only the seventh bowl-game rematch in college football history.

Final analysis: Expect a lot of points from both teams. But while the Falcons can just about match Houston on the scoreboard, they come into this game with a smaller margin for error. Air Force will likely employ a "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy, and while that's fine in theory, it can make for a long afternoon. Nothing's impossible -- witness Navy's victory over a Notre Dame team that threw at will all afternoon but was unable to score when it mattered -- but expect a record-setting day from Keenum, and a Houston win.

The Pick: Houston 34, Air Force 31.

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