Air Force and its ground attack bruised its way through the season to grab the Falcons’ sixth consecutive bowl berth.
Saturday, the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl announced Air Force (6-6) will square off against the Rice Owls (6-6), in what’s being called the “Revenge of the Nerds Bowl,” in relation to the two schools’ soaring academic requirements.
“If it goes to overtime I might tell (Air Force) coach (Troy) Calhoun we should do a spelling bee or a debate,” Rice coach David Bailiff joked Saturday on a teleconference.
Rice will come into the Dec. 29 showdown at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, blazing hot. The Owls won five of their past six, including four-straight elimination games down the stretch.
Air Force on the other hand, limped to the finish line losing three of its past four. The inexperienced core that returned only five starters from a year ago will be led by senior quarterback Connor Dietz, who will be playing his final game as a Falcon.
Dietz threw for more than 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns, and added another five TDs on the ground on his 701 rushing yards.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun brought out his thesaurus when talking about the QB, who will be a second lieutenant by kickoff.
Calhoun started with the word “leader.”
“He’s probably as natural of a leader that you’ll ever have,” Calhoun said. “He’s sharp, passionate, cares immensely, is unselfish and is a pretty tough kid. … He’s going to play really well in the bowl game, and we’ll need him to.”
Just don’t expect Dietz to play it cautious.
“(Our coaching staff) knew it back in the summer and wondered ‘How long can he hold up,’” Calhoun said. “He’s going to get as much as he can instead of going out of bounds. He always has his shoulders lowered. … I learned sometimes about these academy kids, you yearn a little bit for collision. You’re not going to change him when he has four quarters left.”
Calhoun said he’s seen Rice play four times this season on video, and he’ll start from there when prepping. On the other side, Bailiff joked the Owls would have to concentrate of the Falcons’ passing game — before he got serious again.
“It will be challenging on what they do offensively. You know that’s tough. It makes you stay focused on every snap,” Bailiff said. “You can’t blitz it because usually they hit their heads on the goal post going the other way. We’ll have to work on some techniques.”
The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Falcons are 5-1 against the Owls, but the two haven’t played since ’98. Instead, the strongest link between the two will be former Rice and Air Force coach Ken Hatfield, who arguably revived both football programs. He led the Falcons to two bowl victories in his four-year stint in the early ‘80s, and led the Owls to three winning seasons during his stint there (1996-2004).
Now the question is, “Whose sideline will he be on?”