WHO: Houston (8-4) vs. Army (10-2)
WHAT: The 16th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
WHERE: Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
THE SKINNY: These teams were once siblings in Conference USA, and now meet in a bowl game for the first time — though it’s neither program’s firs trip to Fort Worth. In fact, Houston will be in the Armed Forces Bowl for the fifth time, and first since the end of the 2014 season. Army is back for the third time and the second straight year, following last year’s 42-35 thriller over San Diego State.
Army rolls into Fort Worth on the cusp of the best season in the academy’s modern football history. Jeff Monken‘s Black Knights, winners of the last two Commander-in-Chief trophies, have triumphed in eight straight games. A win gives them 11 victories for the first time in program history and would guarantee a year-end AP poll ranking for the first time since Army closed the 1996 season at No. 25.
In fact, a win secures Army’s best season since 1958, when, in College Football Hall of Fame coach Earl Blaik‘s final season, the Black Knights went 8-0-1 and concluded the year at No. 3.
In a place as steeped in history as West Point, this game matters.
And then there’s Houston. The Cougars seemed legitimate challengers to UCF at midseason, but that was before they dropped three of their final four games, while allowing 52 points per game in those three setbacks. Ed Oliver has not been much of a factor this year and has officially left the team for the NFL draft, so he won’t factor today, either.
More importantly, Houston will also be without quarterback D’Eriq King, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns while rushing for 674 yards and 14 more scores until suffering a season-ending torn meniscus. Freshman Clayton Tune will have to make the most out of the limited opportunities Army’s offense provides him.
It’s quite a coincidence Houston sits exactly at eight wins entering its bowl game, too. The school confidently proclaimed it had real expectations after firing Tony Levine for the sin of going 8-5 and 7-5, and a loss here would see Major Applewhite finish his two seasons at…. 7-5 and 8-5.
THE PICK: Army 31, Houston 24