Two of what should be more of the entertaining non-BCS Bowl games should be played this afternoon. They'll be entertaining because of the teams involved and because of similarities among all four teams. Both games feature teams that don't want to be playing that game and have chips on their shoulders. Both games are taking place in Texas, and they'll be airing back-to-back on ESPN starting at 11 a.m..
The opener -- the Armed Forces Bowl -- features a rematch of last year's game between the high-octane spread offense of the Houston Cougars (10-3) and the triple-option running game of the Air Force Falcons (7-5). The Texas Bowl will feature the high-octane spread offense of the Missouri Tigers (8-4) going up against the triple-option run offense of the Navy Midshipmen (9-4) at 2:30 p.m..
Back when the bowl pairings were announced, Missouri made it known that they were rather upset at being relegated to the rather minor-league Texas Bowl, seeing as they had the Big 12's fourth-best record but ended up watching mediocre Texas A&M, Iowa State, and Oklahoma teams get selected for higher-profile games and leaving Missouri for the lowest bowl game on the Big 12 bowl commitment list. And the Cougars went from the prospect of a New Years' Day game in Memphis to having to play once again in Fort Worth. So the Tigers and Cougars could come out attempting to prove the detractors wrong, or they could just go through the motions and lose games they should be able to win.
The Cougars are saying the right things about the game. But they've said the right things before games with UTEP and UCF, and as those games showed, saying the right thing doesn't equal to doing the right thing.
"We're approaching this game like it's the first game of next season" Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Our guys have earned it to play in a bowl game, but it's an honor to play a team like this. I have tremendous respect for (head coach) Troy Calhoun. He does as good of a job as there is in the country. This is a team that's 10th nationally in total defense. It doesn't take much to get your attention."
And QB Case Keenum thinks a win would be another important part of changing the mentality of the Cougars and the fans.
"It means a lot," he says. "There's a lot of proud Cougar fans and a sense of pride around here. It's cool to think that we're changing history and doing something special. We all want to say we contributed. We have lot of young guys working hard and contributing. It's great to see the change of mentality over the past few years."
Air Force should get the Cougars' attention. Not only do the Falcons have an exceptional defense, but they also has a quality running game. And anybody who has watched the Cougars this season knows that they have problem with teams that can run the ball. The Falcons were the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the country while the Cougars finished with the 112th-ranked rushing defense.
The Texas Bowl features the same dynamic as the Tigers were a top offensive team, scoring 30.3 points a game compared to Navy's 27.2 points per game.
"I got real nervous watching the tape," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Navy's offense. "It's a real contrast in offenses. I think what's a little bit more difficult from our side is I think a lot of people run spread offenses now and everybody's got their versions of their spread offenses, but we have not played anybody with this offense. This is the option and all that they do with their system and their scheme, and it's very, very impressive."
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And not only is it an impressive offense. It's one that he feels is about to leap into some prominence.
"And I think you're going to see, trend-wise, I think you're going to see more people go to it," Pinkel said. "People will always kind of jump on, and with Georgia Tech and Navy, people that are running this great offense, there are trends and I think the trend is going to shift that way a little bit, personally."
Navy knows that they're the underdogs, and it's a role they accept. "Our guys, to their credit, have brought into a team concept which allows us to survive on this level," says Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. "Because like I said, physically, one-on-one, we can't match up with anybody, but hopefully, collectively as a group we can have a chance to compete."
The competition starts at 11 a.m. this morning in Fort Worth and on ESPN. And if you keep on ESPN, you should be in for a fun afternoon of college football.