by Ralph Routon
Air Force not only will be playing in the Armed Forces Bowl for the third straight New Year's Eve, but the Falcons once again will have to face pass-crazy Houston on Dec. 31 at Fort Worth, Texas. And that's certainly a less than desirable matchup.
It'll be the third time the Falcons (7-5) and Cougars (10-3) have faced each other in two seasons. They played in September 2008, a game moved from Houston to Dallas because of Hurricane Ike, with Air Force jumping to a big lead and hanging on for a 31-28 win. Then they played in the Fort Worth bowl, with Houston earning revenge in a 34-28 victory.
Houston quarterback Case Keenum, the nation's total offense leader for the second straight year, runs exactly the kind of wild-and-crazy offense that often gives Air Force the most trouble. Nobody had projected the Cougars to play in the Armed Forces Bowl again, and UH had hoped to face Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl. But when Houston lost the Conference USA title game Saturday at East Carolina, 38-32, that put East Carolina in the Liberty and left Houston scrambling.
Air Force probably was expecting to face a different C-USA team, but Southern Methodist from nearby Dallas pushed hard to go to the Hawaii Bowl (SMU coach June Jones formerly was Hawaii's head coach), and Southern Mississippi probably wasn't as appealing to the Fort Worth organizers as a Texas team. Southern Miss would have provided an interesting matchup, because its head coach, Larry Fedora, was an offensive assistant at Air Force in 1997 and 1998, when the Falcons went 10-3 and 12-1, respectively.
Watch for Houston to be favored, though odds haven't been posted yet. Another potential factor is that Kevin Sumlin, Houston's second-year head coach, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for other jobs, most notably Kansas. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun also has come up in conjunction with the vacancy at Virginia, but he has indicated he plans to stay at the Academy.
Air Force has lost three straight bowls since beating Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Classic on Dec. 31, 2000, at San Jose, Calif.
ESPN will televise the Armed Forces Bowl nationally, starting at 11 a.m. MST on New Year's Eve.