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Armed Forces Bowl prediction: Take Air Force as underdog against Baylor

Bet on the Falcons’ triple-option offense to run all over defensively challenged Baylor

Air Force Falcons fullback Brad Roberts plunges into the end zone during a game against UNLV in October. Roberts heads into Thursday's Armed Forces Bowl ranked third in the nation with 1,612 rushing yards and tied for 11th with 15 rushing touchdowns. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Air Force Falcons fullback Brad Roberts plunges into the end zone during a game against UNLV in October. Roberts heads into Thursday's Armed Forces Bowl ranked third in the nation with 1,612 rushing yards and tied for 11th with 15 rushing touchdowns. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)Read moreEthan Miller / Getty Images

The Big 12 has often waved the “No respect” flag in recent years, with only Oklahoma getting put on a pedestal with college football’s powerhouse programs.

This year, though, TCU received an invite to the College Football Playoff — the first Big 12 team other than the Sooners to nab a ticket to the party — despite losing the conference championship game.

That’s pretty good respect. So is this: Baylor lost its final three regular season games, gave up 98 points in the process, fired two defensive coaches (including the coordinator) and yet … the Bears are favored in Thursday’s Armed Forces Bowl.

The opponent: Air Force, which allowed a total of 25 points during a season-ending four-game winning streak; which led the nation in rushing; and which will notch a second straight 10-win season if it can upset a .500 Baylor outfit.

Smells like a trap, doesn’t it? If so, we’re falling right into it with our Armed Forces Bowl prediction.

Odds updated as of 11 a.m. ET on Dec. 21.

Baylor vs. Air Force Prediction

Air Force +3.5 (at at BetMGM)

Baylor vs. Air Force Prediction: Analysis

There’s no comparing the conferences in which these two programs reside. Heck, just look at the November gauntlet Baylor went through: Oklahoma (road), Big 12 champion Kansas State (home), Big 12 runner-up TCU (home) and eight-win/third-place Texas (road).

Meanwhile, Air Force’s season-ending four-game winning streak started against fellow service academy Army. Then came two Mountain West Conference opponents (Colorado State and New Mexico) that won a combined five of 24 games.

Finally, the Falcons beat another Mountain West foe (San Diego State) that fields one of the most inept offenses in FBS.

So this is a case where Air Force’s 9-3 record and Baylor’s 6-6 mark are much more equal than the raw numbers suggest.

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That explains why the Bears opened as high as a 6.5-point favorite in this bowl game. And why we would be backing those Bears (especially at what is now a much lower number) … if they were playing any other Mountain West team.

The fact is, few opponents are tougher to prepare for than Air Force. Besides running a triple-option offense that has gashed opponents for 335.3 rushing yards per game, the Falcons are one of college football’s most disciplined and well-coached squads.

And despite being consistently outmanned against most schools not named Army or Navy, Air Force is a consistent winner.

Take out the 2020 pandemic season when they went 3-3, and the Falcons are 20-8 since 2019. And if Air Force takes down Baylor, it will finish with double-digit victories for the fifth time since 2014.

Sure, much of that damage was done against Army, Navy and a bunch of Mountain West stiffs. But the Falcons also are 4-1 in bowl games since 2014. That includes a 31-28 victory over ACC foe Louisville last season and a 31-21 rout of Pac-12 member Washington State in 2019.

Proving the point that Air Force’s offense is no picnic to defend: The Falcons averaged 36.2 points in those five bowl games, scoring at least 31 in each.

Which brings us to this particular matchup and the fact that Baylor’s defense flat-out stinks.

Since Oct. 1, the Bears have allowed 29 or more points to six of eight opponents. Together, those eight squads averaged 31.2 points and went 5-3.

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What about Baylor’s offense? Aside from a 31-3 home loss to Kansas State, it was fairly explosive, averaging just under 30 points in Big 12 play. However, the Bears haven’t seen a defense as stingy as Air Force’s.

Granted, facing a lot of crappy Mountain West offenses — plus Navy and Army — will do wonders for a team’s defensive stat sheet. Still, it’s tough to poke holes in these rankings and numbers for the Falcons:

  1. First in all of FBS in total defense (255.4 yards per game)

  2. First in passing defense (155 ypg)

  3. Eighth in rushing defense (100.4 ypg)

  4. Third in scoring defense (13.3 points per game)

As to the latter stat, only three teams scored more than 17 points against Air Force this year: Boise State (19), Nevada (20) and Utah State (34).

Also, because the Falcons run the ball so effectively and efficiently, they chew up a ton of clock, which limits their opponents’ possessions. Such a philosophy makes Air Force a difficult team to blow out.

Sure enough, the Falcons have eight losses since November 2020. Their margins of defeat: 3, 4, 6, 7 (overtime), 2 (overtime), 3, 7 and 5.

Honestly, we think Air Force wins this game outright — making the moneyline a tempting play. Rather than get greedy, though, we’ll take the points BetMGM is offering and look for the Falcons’ offense to light up the scoreboard in a bowl game once again.

Baylor vs. Air Force Odds: (via BetMGM)

  1. Point spread: Baylor (-3.5) @ Air Force (+3.5)

  2. Moneyline: Baylor (-185) @ Air Force (+150)

  3. Total: 43 points

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