A pair of 6-6 teams in Rice and Air Force will square-off in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, December 29 at 11:45 A.M. from Amon G. Carter Stadium on the TCU campus in Fort Worth.
Both teams will wear special helmets in the official bowl game that honors all branches of the United States armed forces. For Rice, the “R” logo will still adorn the side of the helmet, but it will be colored with the red-white-and-blue look of the American flag, complete with stars in the upper-left corner. There will be red-white-and-blue trimming running along the crown of the helmet, and the word “Rice” will be on the front-center of the helmet, also with the stars-and-stripes design.
Air Force will sport a black uniform jersey with either "B-2 SPIRIT" or "F-22 RAPTOR" positioned across the shoulder pads on the back where the player’s last name generally goes. The pattern on the helmet and down the uniform is actually a series of stealth bombers arranged to create a unique and eye-catching effect. The Air Force helmet features the traditional Falcon Blue lightning bolt with silver accents atop the repeating pattern of bombers. The black jersey also takes advantage of blue numerals, outlining them with silver piping.
Air Force was one of the first teams to clinch a bowl spot, accepting its automatic qualifying bid on December 16 when it chalked up its 6th win of the season by defeating Hawaii 21-7.
Rice received and accepted an invitation on December 1, a week after its regular season ended as the committee had to see how the availability of Conference USA teams would shake-out.
Riding a four-game winning streak, Rice will be competing in the postseason for the third-time in the last seven years after a 44-season bowl-drought that lasted from 1961 to 2006. It also marks the second time Rice has earned three postseason berths in a similar time frame with the first being a five-year stretch from 1957-1961 when the Owls played in the Cotton, Sugar and Bluebonnet Bowls.
The 2012 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl will also mark the 10th postseason game for Rice and second under current coach David Bailiff. The Owls defeated Western Michigan 38-14 in the 2008 Texas Bowl as Rice finished the season posting the school’s second 10-win season in Bailiff’s second year with the Houston-based school.
Rice, which has posted a 5-4 bowl record with four Cotton Bowl appearances (1938, 1950, 1954 and 1958), will be playing Air Force for the seventh time with the Falcons winning five of the previous six games. Three of the six games were played as conference contests when Rice and Air Force were members of the Western Athletic Conference in the late 1990s.
After graduating 25 seniors in 2011, the Owls are the second youngest team in the 2012 Football Bowl Subdivision with only seven seniors currently on the Rice roster, including starting wide receivers Sam McGuffie, Vance McDonald and Luke Willson, and defensive lineman Jared Williams.
Three of Rice’s six defeats this season were by four points or less as the Owls dropped a double overtime decision to Marshall (54-51) and a 28-24 setback to eventual Conference USA Champion Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Owls held 7-0, 14-7, 21-14 and 24-21 leads against the Golden Hurricane, who scored the winning touchdown with 91 seconds left in the game.
While Air Force features the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense (328.8 yards per game), Rice has a balanced attack featuring the play of junior quarterback Taylor McHargue (Mick-Harg). By scoring 31.8 points per game, the Owls are averaging 421.1 yards per game on offense, including 201.3 yards rushing and 219.8 yards passing.
A product of Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Ridge, Texas, the 6-1 McHargue has played in 11 of the Owls 12 games this season as he was sidelined with a shoulder injury for Rice’s game against cross-town rival Houston in late September. McHargue has compiled 628 yards rushing this season with 11 touchdowns while completing 188 of 317 passes for 2,178 yards and 11 scores.
Defensively, Rice is led by a trio of juniors in safety Paul Porras, defensive end Cody Bauer and cornerback Phillip Gaines. Porras leads the team in total tackles (86) while Bauer is tops in sacks (5.5) and tackles for losses (12). Gaines is the national leader in pass deflections with 18.
In the Owl’s bowl-clinching win last week in El Paso, Rice junior kick returner Jeremy Eddington became the first Rice player in 28 years to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Eddington gouged the nation’s top kickoff return defense for 210 yards on four returns and broke the nation’s longest drought without a kickoff return for a touchdown by taking a fourth quarter kickoff against UTEP 97 yards for a score. His touchdown return was the first for the Owls since Antonio Brinkley returned one for 90 yards vs. Baylor at Rice Stadium November 17, 1984.
Eddington averaged 52 yards per return against a team that came into the game holding opponents to 13.7 yards. His 210 yards are the second-best total in school history and he added 59 yards on the ground and caught one pass for a total of 279 all-purpose yards which was just 16 yards shy of Trevor Cobb’s school mark of 295 set vs. Iowa State in 1991.
The 2007, 2008 and 2009 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowls featured the Falcons. Air Force split a pair of games with the University of Houston from Conference USA in 2008 and 2009 after facing Cal of the then-Pac-10 Conference in their initial Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl appearance in 2007.
Air Force will be playing in the NCAA postseason for the sixth-straight year under Coach Troy Calhoun. The Colorado-based institution south of Denver will be looking to even their bowl record at 11-11-1. The Falcons‘ first bowl appearance resulted in a 0-0 tie with TCU at the 1958 Cotton Bowl. Four of Calhoun’s previous five Air Force bowl appearances have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The current string of bowl appearances started in 2007 with a 42-36 loss to Cal in the Falcons’ first of three-straight Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl appearances. After dropping a 34-28 decision to Houston in the 2008 Amon G. Carter Stadium postseason game, Air Force rebounded the next December by upsetting the Cougars 47-20. Air Force defeated Georgia Tech 14-7 in the 2010 Independence Bowl followed by a 42-41 setback to Toledo last December.
Replacing 2012 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Fisher DeBerry, after the 2006 season, Calhoun has led the Air Force resurgence where the Falcons have posted a 47-29 record in five-plus seasons. Calhoun has built upon DeBerry’s legacy of developing one of the nation’s top rushing attacks annually. Entering Friday’s game against Hawaii at home, the 2012 Falcons were ranked second nationally in rushing with 335.3 yards per game. Senior running back Cody Getz is ranked 18th nationally in rushing with 1,006 yards with a healthy 6.7 yards per carry average each game.
Despite losing starting center Michael Husar, Jr., in the season opener and having just two returning starters on the offensive line, Air Force went the first nine games of the season without allowing a sack. The last team in the nation to allow a sack (first sack in Game No. 10), the Falcons lead the nation in allowing only three sacks this season.
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com project Rice to win by 4.11 points.