Armed Forces Preview
Fort Worth, TX - The last time Houston won a bowl game, none of its players were born.
In order to end that lengthy postseason losing streak, the Cougars must overcome an Air Force team they already lost to this season as the two teams meet in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on New Year's Eve.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made Houston –2.5 point spread favorites for the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force. Current College Fooball Public Betting Information shows that 71% of more than 1,072 bets for this game have been placed on the Houston –2.5.
While the Cougars (7-5) are in their fourth consecutive bowl game, they have an eight-game losing streak in bowls since a 35-0 victory over Navy in the 1980 Garden State Bowl. It is the second-longest current bowl losing streak - trailing only Notre Dame's nine in a row - and first-year coach Kevin Sumlin has used the 28-year victory drought as motivation for his outgoing seniors.
"For us, none of our players were even born when UH had its last bowl win," he noted. "Our legacy is important and our seniors still have something to accomplish. If there is something for them to accomplish, and be known for, it is as a group to start a few things, like ending the bowl drought and going undefeated at home."
Houston's 31-28 loss to Air Force on Sept. 13 was part of a 1-3 start. The game was moved from Houston to SMU's Ford Stadium in Dallas due to Hurricane Ike, and the Cougars had no answer for the triple option of the Falcons, who gained all 380 of their yards on the ground.
"They say you can't beat a good team twice and you can't beat a really good team once, but I don't believe that," Sumlin said. "For us, things happened during the year, and we are a very different team that we were earlier in the year."
Air Force played a near-flawless game for almost three quarters as five rushers had at least 55 yards, led by quarterback Shea Smith's 93. He scored three touchdowns in helping the Falcons build a 31-7 lead with 4:25 to play in the third quarter.
But Case Keenum nearly rallied the Cougars, throwing three of his four TD passes in the final 18:19. He finished with 326 passing yards and 75 rushing yards for Houston, which finished with 534 total yards but committed two turnovers.
With Keenum and a new passing attack under Sumlin, Houston averaged a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 575.1 yards and ranked second at 41.2 points per game.
The Conference USA's offensive player of the year, Keenum has thrown for 4,768 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushed for another 225 yards to lead the country in total individual offense at 416.1 yards per contest. As a freshman, Keenum had 2,259 yards and 14 TDs.
Tight end Mark Hafner has a team-leading 85 receptions for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Tyron Carrier leads Houston with 977 yards on 75 catches. Nine players had at least 230 receiving yards and six had 30 or more receptions.
The Cougars' offense also benefited from the addition of running back Bryce Beall, who gained 1,112 yards and scored 12 touchdowns to earn C-USA freshman of the year honors.
Houston swept the C-USA's three major awards as senior defensive end Phillip Hunt was the defensive player of the year.
However, the Cougars defense had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone. Houston has given up 31.2 points per game, including 56 to Rice in a season-ending loss on Nov. 29. The Cougars rank 102nd out of the 119 FBS teams defensively, yielding 419.6 yards per game.
They also rank 90th against the run (169.5 ypg), something the Falcons likely will exploit with a rushing attack ranked fifth in the FBS (268.9 ypg).
Air Force enters the game with a balanced and deep backfield - seven players have at least 200 yards. Senior fullback Todd Newell's 594 leads the way, followed by Asher Clark's 531.
Clark was a quarterback in high school before moving to tailback, and Kyle Lumpkin was a defensive back last season before also making the move and adding 440 rushing yards.
Smith shares quarterbacking duties with Tim Jefferson, who has thrown for a team-leading 557 yards.
"The most important thing we need to do against Houston is to take care of the ball, not turn it over," Smith said. "We have to be able to run the ball and control the clock. That helped us last time."
Air Force's defense is ranked 45th - giving up 335.3 yards per game and 46th against the pass (195.6 ypg). The Falcons had limited teams to 17.3 points per game through their first 10 contests until consecutive defeats to ranked teams - 38-24 to BYU and 44-10 to TCU - inflated that to 21.3.
The Falcons are making their second straight appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl after losing 42-36 to California last year.
"I have no reservations at all (playing in the Armed Forces Bowl again)," Smith said. "I just want to play. I don't care who the opponent is. ... The bowl was great to us last year, and I look forward to doing it again."
Armed Forces Bowl Public Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
AIR FORCE is 1-0 against the spread versus HOUSTON since 1992
AIR FORCE is 1-0 straight up against HOUSTON since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
AIR FORCE is 1-0 against the spread versus HOUSTON over the last 3 seasons
AIR FORCE is 1-0 straight up against HOUSTON over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Armed Forces Key Player Injuries:
No significant injuries.
No significant injuries.
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Posted: 12/16/08 3:53PM ET