Bowls: always worth it 

End Zone

As the late Col. John Clune, long-time Air Force athletic director, liked to say, "There's no such thing as a bad beer or a bad bowl."

That was Clune's favorite way to make the point that playing in any football bowl game, no matter when or where, beats the heck out of sitting at home.

Those words came to mind after Air Force, giddy from its 9-3 regular season, learned that its postseason reward would be a Dec. 20 trip to Boise, Idaho, for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan, kicking off at 3:45 p.m. MST Saturday on ESPN. Many AFA fans felt shortchanged, wondering why the Falcons weren't chosen for one of the warmer bowls affiliated with the Mountain West Conference, such as the New Orleans Bowl (Nevada), Hawaii Bowl (Fresno State), Las Vegas Bowl (Colorado State), Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego State, on its home field) or New Mexico Bowl (Utah State).

The truth is, if not for Oklahoma's inexplicable meltdown and loss to rival Oklahoma State, making OSU bowl-eligible at 6-6, Air Force would have filled the Big 12's spot in the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2 at Tempe, Arizona, against Washington. Nobody would have complained.

It'll be colder in Boise, with early forecasts suggesting temperatures in the 30s or 40s and a chance of snow. But though many fans hoped for a different destination, this one isn't a punishment by any means. Don't forget that the folks in Boise respect the Falcons because of Air Force's convincing 28-14 upset win over Boise State in September.

Boise hasn't lost since and now is headed for the Fiesta Bowl to face Arizona, a deserving reward for winning the Mountain West Conference, finishing 11-2 and cracking into the national rankings.

But this will be no cakewalk for Air Force, a slight underdog. With a balanced offense and a superlative runner in freshman Jarvion Franklin (1,525 yards and 24 touchdowns), Western Michigan will provide a difficult test.

Of course, the Falcons have offensive weapons of their own, as senior quarterback Kale Pearson tries to wrap up a storybook year. It looks to be a high-scoring drama reminiscent of Air Force's last game against a Mid-American Conference opponent. That was the 2011 Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., when Toledo held on for a 42-41 victory after Air Force misfired on a late two-point conversion.

Regardless, if the Falcons win, they and their fans will remember finishing 10-3 and little else. With that, here's a synopsis with predictions for the Mountain West's bowls:

New Orleans Bowl, Saturday: Louisiana-Lafayette 41, Nevada 38. Basically a home game for the Ragin' Cajuns, and Nevada has struggled against high-speed offenses.

New Mexico Bowl, Saturday: Utah State 44, Texas-El Paso 24. Utah State is heavily favored and should cruise unless overconfidence comes into play.

Las Vegas Bowl, Saturday: Utah 30, Colorado State 23. Tough match-up for CSU, which was 10-1 a few weekas ago until losing at Air Force and then losing coach Jim McElwain to Florida.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Saturday: Air Force 34, Western Michigan 30. Just a hunch, based on the Falcons not being satisfied just to reach a bowl, wanting to finish on a high note.

Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 23: San Diego State 33, Navy 22. SDSU coach Rocky Long has been very successful against Air Force's option and the Aztecs frustrated the Falcons last month. Plus, the game's on SDSU's home turf.

Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24: Rice 26, Fresno State 17. The bowls in Honolulu are hard to predict, but Fresno has been up and down while the Owls have been hard to stop.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 31: Boise State 37, Arizona 31. Getting spanked by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game was a tough blow to Arizona, and this game means a lot more to Boise State.

That would be a 4-3 bowl record for the Mountain West, and four teams (in the same division) including Air Force with at least 10 wins. Not bad. Not bad at all.


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