Match-up: California (Pac- 12) vs. Air Force (Mountain West)
Spread: Cal (-7)
Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium. Fort Worth, TX
When: Tuesday, December 29th, 2:00 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
This season was a tale of two stories for the Cal Bears. They won their first five games to start the year and were ranked inside the AP Top 25. Tons of hype was surrounding this team, particularly quarterback Jared Goff who happens to be a top NFL prospect for the 2016 draft. But then, after a tough loss on the road at then #5 Utah 30-24 in week six, things immediately went south for this team. After a hot 5-0 start, the Bears preceded to lose five of their last seven games to end the season, finishing at a frustrating 7-5 record. Goff’s game started to dip a bit, and the defense gave up way too many points and big plays that were costly for Sonny Dykes’ team. Speaking of Sonny Dykes, it’s been reported that he’s in contract negotiations to remain with the Bears and is not looking at any other jobs elsewhere. Good news for this program.
Players to Watch
Jared Goff (QB): Aside from the Utah game in which he threw five picks, Goff had an outstanding year for the Bears in his junior season, throwing for north of 4,000 yards with a 64 percent completion rate, and 37 passing touchdowns. Goff is a tremendous talent in terms of his pure passing ability and feel for the position, as he has great footwork in the pocket and throws a pretty ball with a ton of velocity. This could be Goff’s last game as a Cal Bear, and he’ll want to ball out in this one to not only end his college career with a victory, but to prove to scouts that he should be the first quarterback selected in April.
Kenny Lawler (WR): Despite the speedy wideout being only third on the team in receiving yards, Lawler is Jared Goff’s favorite target, and has been over the past few years in Berkeley. It is expected that Lawler will also declare for the NFL Draft after this game, and he too will want to put on his best performances in front of many scouts and GM’s.
How Cal Can Win
Make explosive plays in the passing game. In all due respect, Air Force does not have the athletes in the back end of their defense to cover these Cal receivers one-on-one. Even with safety help, there’s too many playmakers in this Cal offense and Jared Goff is too good to be completely shut down by a less talented team. If Goff plays the way he’s capable of, this game should not be close.
Air Force Overview
The Falcons had an excellent season in which they won the Mountain Division in the Mountain West Conference. They boast the #2 rushing offense in the nation, as they rushed for over 4,000 total yards and 42 touchdowns at a 5.4 yards per carry clip. They did have two difficult losses to end the season, one of which was in the Mountain West Conference championship game to San Diego State 27-24. This Falcons team is tough, physical, and makes you earn every yard you can get. However, they just don’t have quite the athleticism and talent on both sides of the ball to really pose a threat to an explosive offensive team like Cal.
Players to Watch
Jacobi Owens (RB): Owens led the team in rushing with over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also averaged 5 yards per carry and is a bruising back at 6’1″ 201 pounds and is very tough to bring down. Against a weak Cal defense, this running game could be very effective and make this game close for four quarters. It all starts with Owens.
Jalen Robinette (WR): Despite only grabbing 21 catches on the season, Robinette had an astounding 572 yards (27.2 yards per catch, top 5 in the country) and is a tall receiver at 6’4″ which could be a matchup nightmare for the Bears secondary. Usually about once or twice per game, the Falcons will try to throw the ball deep down the field, and it’s usually to Robinette. Expect him to come down with one or two of these in this game.
How Air Force Can Win
Run the ball and keep the Cal offense off the field. I don’t think this Air Force defense will be able to stop the Cal offense, so running the ball, eating up clock, and dominating the time of possession will keep the Falcons hanging around in this game until the end.
Final Score Prediction: Cal wins 30-23
Photo Credits: http://www.hngn.com/articles/126969/20150907/nfl-rumors-jared-goff-top-qb-in-2016-nfl-draft.htm