Ryan Mayer

The final week prior to the holidays is here, and as you get ready to celebrate, college football’s bowl season begins to ramp up in earnest. This Saturday, a United States Military Academy gets a rare second appearance in the national spotlight, when the Army Black Knights face the Houston Cougars in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. Jeff Monken’s team is looking to finish up the first 11-win season in the Academy’s history, but a game Cougars squad stands in the way.

While you wrap up holiday preparations, you can flip this game on. Allow us to get you up to speed ahead of game time.

Spread: Army -3

Over/Under: 60

The Black Knights are your typical service academy team only in the sense that they run the triple-option offense. They are going to grind away the clock and force defenses to be on the field for much longer than they want to be simply by virtue of the offensive system. Junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins has been a strong decision maker and consistent threat in the system, totaling the second-most rushing yards on the team, with 852, while adding 12 touchdowns. He hasn’t been bad through the air either, completing 48 of 90 passes for 956 yards and six touchdowns. Fullback Darnell Woolfolk is the leading rusher, as the battering ram up the middle, carrying 210 times for 885 yards and 14 touchdowns. The defense has benefited big-time from the offense’s ball-control approach, holding opponents to just 18 points per game. Their performance earned coordinator Jay Bateman the same job at North Carolina.

The Cougars will look to stop Army’s attack, but they’ll do it without their best defensive player, tackle Ed Oliver, who will be skipping the bowl game to prepare for the draft. That’s bad news for a defense that even with Oliver ranked 100th in S&P+. The good news for the Cougars? Their offense has been really good, checking in at 11th in those same S&P+ rankings. Quarterback D’Eriq King has been a threat through the air (2,982 yards 36 TDs) and on the ground (674 yards 14 TDs), thriving in his first full year as a starter. He has led the unit to a top-10 explosiveness rating in S&P+, which will certainly come in handy against an Army team that doesn’t give you much time to work with.

The downside, if you’re thinking of taking Army here, is that they have been just okay against the spread, with a 4-3-2 record in nine games as a favorite this season. Houston has played just one game as the underdog this year, and it was their final game against Memphis. They did not come close to covering the 9.5 points they needed to, losing by 21. Overall, the combination of no Oliver and a struggling Cougars defense leads me to believe Army is capable of picking up its 11th win. Army -3; Under 60