There's jone college football bowl game on Thursday night opposite the Jaguars at Jets NFL Week 16 opener as Baylor of the Big 12 takes on Air Force of the Mountain West in the Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of TCU. Baylor, whose campus is only about 90 miles from Fort Worth, opened as a 6.5-point favorite at Caesars Sportsbook but is down to -3.5. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Usually it's a huge advantage to face Army, Navy or Air Force in a bowl game instead of during the regular season because teams can use all that time off to prepare the one-dimensional rushing attack used by the service academies. Air Force ranks first in the nation in rushing at 330.9 yards per game on a whopping 735 carries. Led by running back Brad Roberts (1,612 yards rushing, 15 TDs), Air Force has rushed for 400-plus yards five times this season and is 5-0 when doing so.
The Falcons rank last in passing at 67.8 yards per game on just 80 attempts. Every other school in the FBS has at least 104. Yet despite the seeming advantage opposing defenses might have with all that preparation time, service academies are 13-3 against the spread and 5-1 ATS as an underdog with three outright wins in bowl games over the past 10 years. Air Force is 3-0 straight up and ATS in its past three bowl games.
The academies are unsurprisingly quite well-disciplined and rarely beat themselves with penalties or turnovers. Air Force is tied for seventh nationally in fewest penalties per game at 4.08. The Falcons are plus-3 in turnover margin, which is 48th.
For most bowl games these days, it's vital to check if either team lost players to the transfer portal or an opt-out to the NFL Draft, but that's obviously not a worry for Air Force.
Baylor had arguably the best season in school history in 2021 by claiming the Big 12 title and beating Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl to finish with a school-record 12 wins and a No. 5 ranking in the AP poll. It has been a disappointment for head coach Dave Aranda this year with the Bears at 6-6 despite opening at No. 10 in the preseason Top 25.
The Bears closed on a three-game losing streak in which they allowed an average of 32.7 points per game. That led Aranda, a defensive coach himself, to fire defensive coordinator Ron Roberts and safeties coach Ronnie Wheat, who also coached special teams. The Bears allowed nearly 27 PPG during the season and ranked 80th against the pass. The team was 119th nationally in special teams efficiency.
Safety Devin Neal entered the transfer portal and landed at Louisville. This year he made two starts and appeared in 11 of 12 games. In total he logged 41 tackles -- including 31 solo stops and two tackles for a loss -- one sack, two interceptions and three pass deflections. Offensive lineman Micah Mazzccua also departed.
It's the fourth all-time meeting between Air Force and Baylor and first since 1977. AFA is 6-16-1 all-time against teams in the Big 12, but hasn't played a team from the conference since a meeting with Oklahoma in 2010. The Falcons have won five straight games against Power 5 schools.
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