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Cal vs. Air Force: Armed Forces Bowl preview

Armed Forces Bowl preview: Air Force and Cal face off in a matchup between two teams with different styles.

Air Force (8-5) vs. Cal (7-5)

Dec. 29, 2:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch 

Bowl games are supposed to pit two unlikely opponents against one another, and the Armed Forces Bowl is a prime example of matching up two teams with two vastly different styles. Cal was one of the nation’s early-season surprises, racing out to a 5–0 start behind the arm of Jared Goff and one of the nation’s most versatile receiving corps before stumbling to a 7–5 finish. Air Force is known primarily for its triple-option offense but improved its defensive efficiency this season and seldom allows big plays. Cal pairs a big-play offense with a leaky defense, and Air Force complements its efficient offense with a high-bend, low-break defense. It’s as fun a clash as any college football fan can imagine outside of the marquee bowl games.

Keep an eye on

Complete 2015–16 college football bowl game schedule

When Air Force QB Karson Roberts throws the ball. Goff had completed his 70th pass of the season by the first quarter of the Bears’ game against Washington on Sept. 26th. Roberts completed 70 passes all season but averaged almost 21 yards per completion. The lesson? When Air Force decides to throw the ball, it usually means the Falcons have discovered a seam in the opposing defense—though Roberts has been far from perfect, finishing with 9 TDs and 10 INTs in only 134 attempts. Cal’s defense struggled with mobile quarterbacks and multi-faceted offenses this season; Air Force could use the occasional long pass play to exploit a unit that finished 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (203.2 yards per game).

Did you know...?

The last time Cal played Air Force was … in the Armed Forces Bowl on December 31, 2007. The Falcons raced out to a 21–0 lead before the Bears leaned on current NFL notables DeSean Jackson (five catches, 81 yards, one TD) and Justin Forsett (23 carries, 140 yards, two TDs) to come back for a 42–36 victory. Cal began that season 5–0 and was ranked as high as No. 2 before stumbling to a 7–6 finish.

Final analysis

Bowl Picks: Staff predictions for each game, the College Football Playoff

Air Force has long maintained one of the nation’s multi-dimensional triple-option attacks. Cal has a future first-round pick in Goff playing what should be his final collegiate game after throwing for 37 TDs and over 4,200 yards. If the Falcons find the right players to attack on Cal’s defense (and there are a few), the Bears may be forced into a sprint with Goff leading the charge. It has the potential to be a fun one.

The pick: Cal 48, Air Force 42