Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMI
Houston (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-4)
Dec. 31, Noon ET, ESPN
Reason To Watch: It's your patriotic duty. The game -- which gives away free tickets to military personnel and offers half-price tickets to veterans -- is sponsored by Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter. Bell officials obviously didn't buy the sponsorship because they think watching a service academy play a quality opponent will convince aspiring whirlybird owners to choose the Bell over the Sikorsky. But in the competition for military contracts, any edge helps. Unfortunately for Bell, the Department of Defense recently canceled a $2.2 billion contract with Bell to build armed reconnaissance helicopters.
Keep An Eye On: Houston's motivation the second time around. Typically, a rematch in a second-tier bowl wouldn't exactly stir the blood, but the circumstances surrounding the teams' Sept. 13 meeting make this an interesting matchup. With Hurricane Ike bearing down on Galveston and Houston, the Cougars agreed to move the game to SMU's Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas. In a driving rain spawned by Ike, Air Force raced to a 31-7 lead and held on for a 31-28 win. Now, in another part of the Metroplex, Houston will have a chance to make up for that loss.
Final Analysis: Air Force chewed up the clock in the first meeting with diminutive quarterback Shea Smith leading the option attack. If the Falcons, who didn't complete a pass in the first meeting, can keep the ball out of the hands of Houston quarterback Case Keenum (FBS-best 4,768 passing yards), they can beat the Cougars a second time. But if Keenum gets into a groove like he did during a 402-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 70-30 win against Tulsa on Nov. 15, that may not matter.
The Pick: Houston 38, Air Force 28