2007 Armed Forces Bowl - Cal vs. Air Force
Air Force QB Shaun Carney
Air Force QB Shaun Carney
Posted Dec 20, 2007

2007 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl - California vs. Air Force

California (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)

Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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2007 Armed Forces Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

National Rankings
Air Force California
Total Offense
40th  120.42 ypg  59th  396.08 ypg
Total Defense
44th  357.17 ypg 53rd  374.67 ypg
Scoring Offense
49th  29.42 ppg  59th  28.25 ppg
Scoring Defense
18th  19.33 ppg 53rd  26 ppg
Run Offense
2nd  298.50 ypg 48th  162.42 ypg
Run Defense
37th  131 ypg 58th  151.92 ypg
Pass Offense
118th  120.42 ypg 51st  233.67 ypg
Pass Defense
57th  226.17 ypg 51st  222.75 ypg
Turnover Margin
20th  0.67 63rd  -0.08
Air Force
SCSU W 34-3
at Utah W 20-12
TCU W 20-17 OT
at BYU L 31-6
at Navy L 31-20
UNLV W 31-14
at Col St W 45-21
Wyoming W 20-12
at N Mexico
L 34-31
W 30-10
at N Dame W 41-24
SDSU W 55-23
Tennessee W 45-31
at Col St W 34-28
La Tech
W 42-12
 W 45-27
at Oregon W 31-24
Oregon St
L 31-28
at UCLA L 30-21
at Arizona St L 31-20
Wash St
W 20-17
USC L 24-17
at Wash L 37-23
at Stanford L 20-13
Position Ratings
relative to each other
AF 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 3.5
4.5 RBs 4
2 Receivers 5
3.5 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 3
3.5 Linebackers 3.5
3.5 Secondary 3.5
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 4

No bowl game this postseason is likely to feature two programs with more polar opposite mindsets.  Cal can’t believe it’s here.  For that matter, neither can Air Force.    

Any discussion involving the biggest disappointments of 2007 has to include Cal, which opened with a redemption win over Tennessee, and was on the cusp of a No. 1 ranking before poor clock management led to a late loss to Oregon State, paving the way to an unimaginable second-half collapse.  This talented Bear team, which was seemingly a lock to end the school’s half-century Rose Bowl drought, wound up finishing 1-6, capped by a listless loss to Stanford in The Big Game.  There had to be some cataclysmic, Dennis Dixon-like injury, right?  Nope.  Relatively healthy throughout the year, Cal just imploded, seemingly losing its bite on both sides of the line during the worst stretch of play in Jeff Tedford’s tenure.  The Bears are the more talented overall team in this game, but is the specter of a losing season enough to motivate a group of kids that had trouble getting up for the Pac-10 portion of the schedule?

In dire need of some kind of a spark, Cal could get it from its most incendiary player, WR/PR DeSean Jackson, who sat out the Stanford game with a thigh contusion.  The junior became a microcosm for the Bears’ season, failing to fulfill all of his potential, or play as well as he did in 2006.  Although injuries were certainly a factor, a month of rest should help the one player most capable of exploiting Air Force’s lack of blinding speed.

On the flip side, rather unexpectedly, Air Force has delivered one of the feel-good stories of 2007.  Pegged back in August as a second-division Mountain West team, the Falcons rose to second place in the conference in Troy Calhoun’s debut on the sidelines, earning their first bowl invitation in five years.  The Academy got humbled by BYU and Navy in September, but quickly regrouped to finish 6-1, highlighted by its first win over Notre Dame since 1963.  Getting to ten wins on the back of a Pac-10 opponent would be a huge accomplishment for a program that had minimal expectations in the first year after the retirement of Fisher DeBerry.               

Set aside the notion that Air Force remains rooted in DeBerry’s triple-option.  Yeah, the Falcons still overwhelmingly favor the run, but they also threw it more often with all-time leading passer Shaun Carney, and mixed in some no-huddle and zone running schemes.  The tweaks worked for an offense that’s second in the Mountain West in total and scoring offense.  The veteran defense is especially strong in the back seven, and is not afraid to take chances, an ideology that’s resulted in 26 takeaways.  Once they’ve completed 24 months of active duty, LBs Drew Fowler and John Rabold, who’ll be playing in January All-Star games, are talented enough to take a stab at pro careers.

Players to watch: Two of the constants all year for Cal have been RB Justin Forsett and the offensive line that’s paved the way for his most prolific season in Berkeley.  Considered by some to be too small to carry the load after Marshawn Lynch left school, he’s responded with 281 carries for 1,403 yards and 13 touchdowns, helping offset unanticipated problems with QB Nate Longshore and the passing game.

Forsett will do most of his work on the left side, running behind C Alex Mack, G Brian De La Puente, and T Mike Gibson.  Mack, in particular, is one of the best in the country at his position.  Facing the nation’s 118th-ranked passing game, Cal LB Zack Follett and FS Thomas DeCoud can press the action in an effort to slow down the Air Force running game.  Follett is a terrific all-around athlete with the range to make plays before they develop.  At 6-3 and 205 pounds, DeCoud is a defensive back with the sticking ability of a linebacker, and the instincts to lead the Bears with 105 tackles.

Pocket rocket Chad Hall has reached rock star status around the Academy.  And why not?  At only 5-8 and 180 pounds, he’s played his way into being named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, leading the league in all-purpose running and scoring 15 touchdowns.  Originally an option quarterback that got switched to receiver, Hall went ballistic in October when he started getting more handoffs, twice running for more than 200 yards.  He’s liable to run circles around a Cal defense that’s had problems all year in run defense. 

The Falcons’ best answer to the Bears’ talented receiving corps will be CB Carson Bird, who’s picked off six passes despite rarely seeing balls thrown his way.  The playmaker of the secondary, he also has three fumble recoveries, needing to cut off half the field on Longshore if Air Force is to avoid getting burned by the pass.

Cal will win if
... Longshore plays like he did in September.  With Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, Robert Jordan, and Craig Stevens running patterns, the Bears should exploit the Air Force secondary, but only if Longshore does an about-face from a horrible second half of the year.  The junior threw 11 interceptions over the final six games, a trend that has to change if Cal is going to capitalize on its biggest advantage over the Falcons.  If the Bears are able to pick up the Air Force blitzes, Longshore has no excuses not to make a number of big plays downfield.

Air Force will win if
... either Hall, Carney, or Jim Ollis rushes for 100 yards.  When that has happened this year, the Falcons are a spiffy 9-0.  Air Force will want to play keep-away with the Cal offense, controlling the tempo with at least 60 carries, while wearing out a gassed defense.  Although the Bears may have the better athletes, the Falcons are humming on offense, churning out almost 1,300 yards on the ground in three November games.  If they’re ripping off big chunks of yards on the ground in the first half, Cal won’t have the fortitude or desire to battle back in the second half.

What will happen
: While Cal has little desire to play in the Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force is pumped at the opportunity to cap a terrific season in Fort Worth.  The divergent emotions will be evident throughout the game, with the Falcons outhustling the Bears on every play.  Cal will have no answers for Hall or the Air Force ground game, finishing below .500 for the first time since 2001, and raising concerns that Tedford has hit a wall with the program.

Cal -4 ... CFN Prediction: Air Force 30 ... Cal 23

2007 Armed Forces Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More