Armed Forces Preview

California had hoped to put the disappointment of last year's finish behind it this season. Instead, it suffered an even greater letdown.

The Golden Bears (6-6) look to salvage the year and finish with their sixth consecutive winning season when they take on Air Force on New Year's Eve at the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made California –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for the Armed Forces Bowl (Game Matchup).

Saying Cal is disappointed with how the season has progressed is probably an understatement. On Oct. 13, the Golden Bears were ranked No. 2 in the AP poll following a 5-0 start and were in position to possibly move into the No. 1 spot after LSU was upset by Kentucky earlier in the day. Instead they were stunned 31-28 by Oregon State at home.

The loss began a frustrating decline for Cal, which began the year expecting to compete with Southern California for the Pac-10 title. The Bears finished the season with a 20-13 loss to rival Stanford on Dec. 1, dropping them into a tie for seventh place in the conference.

"This is definitely a new low for us," Cal safety Thomas DeCoud said after the loss. "It's kind of too late to salvage anything, but we just want to get to a bowl game and end on the right note so the younger guys can get this program back to where it was."

The Bears faced similar disappointment last year when they were in position to win the conference championship and earn a Rose Bowl berth until they lost two of their final three regular season games.

Finishing the year on a positive note depends largely on how quarterback Nate Longshore responds to the time off. Longshore missed the loss to Oregon State with an ankle injury, and threw 11 interceptions in six games after returning the next week.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford revealed after the season that Longshore had a chipped bone in the ankle that was limiting his mobility.

It hampered the Bears, who averaged 39.4 points and 426 yards of offense in their first five games, but only 20.3 points and 380 yards in their final seven.

While Longshore's ankle problems contributed to the slump, several other key players saw a notable decline. Leading rusher Justin Forsett ran for 1,406 yards and 13 touchdowns this year, but nine of his touchdowns came in the first five games.

DeSean Jackson had a disappointing junior season after finishing 2006 with 59 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 60 receptions for just 681 yards and five touchdowns this year. Jackson, who may declare himself eligible for the NFL draft at the end of the year, missed the season-ending loss to Stanford because of a bruised quadriceps.

"We've got to go back and look at a lot of things," Tedford said. "There's injuries, there's schedule, things like that. We had a chance to be in every game and had an opportunity to win every game we played. And that's probably the most frustrating thing."

Under Tedford, the Bears have won three of their last four bowls, including a 45-10 win over Texas A&M last year in the Holiday Bowl. They also won 35-28 over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2005.

While Cal is upset with how its season played out, Air Force (9-3) is feeling a lot better about itself.

After ending on a three-game winning streak, Air Force has its most wins in a season since 2000 when it went 8-3 and beat Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Bowl. The nine regular season wins are the Falcons' most since 1998 when the team had 11.

"These are the same people who will be the country's second lieutenants in the Air Force and they're also a pretty good football team," coach Troy Calhoun said as he accepted the invitation from Tom Starr, executive director of the Armed Forces Bowl.

Calhoun took over the Falcons this year following the retirement of Fisher DeBerry, who stepped down after 23 seasons at the academy. Calhoun, who was the Mountain West Conference's coach of the year, inherited a team that had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, including a 4-8 record in 2006.

The program made some significant improvements offensively, however, averaging 29.4 points and 418.9 yards per game - both second best in the conference.

Calhoun also found a better use for senior Chad Hall, who was named the conference's offensive player of the year. After initially struggling to find a role for Hall, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Calhoun decided to give him more carries later in the season. The tailback exploded in the final seven games, averaging 179.6 yards rushing and scoring 11 of his 14 rushing touchdowns in that stretch.

This is the Falcons' first bowl game since losing to Virginia Tech in the 2002 San Francisco Bowl. They are 8-8-1 in bowl games going back to the 1957 season.

Cal leads the all-time series against Air Force, 5-2. The Bears won the last meeting 56-14 in 2002.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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