NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Air Force

Baylor and Air Force will finish their respective seasons in the Armed Forces Bowl in a matchup flying a bit under the radar. While it's not one of the biggest bowl games on the annual schedule, the Armed Forces Bowl has been a sneaky banger in recent seasons.

Last year's game saw Army sneak past Missouri in a 24-22 affair. The year before, Mississippi State beat Tulsa 28-26 in a close game that ended in a brawl. If you look through the history of this game, you get either a blowout or a thriller, with very few games falling in between.

That bodes well for this one as Air Force looks to win 10 games in a season for the second consecutive season and third time in the last four (it went 3-3 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season). The Falcons enter the game on a four-game winning streak and face a Baylor team that's had a bit of a letdown season.

The Bears won the Big 12 last season but took a step backward this year, finishing 6-6 overall and only 4-5 in the Big 12. Now they have to play their bowl game in the home stadium of rival TCU. That's got to be awkward. This is only the fourth meeting between the teams and first since 1976. Baylor has won each of the first three.

How to watch Armed Forces Bowl live

Date: Thursday, Dec. 22 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium -- Fort Worth, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

Baylor vs. Air Force: Need to know

Air Force won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy: The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is given annualy to the winner of the series between the three service academies, and Air Force won it this season for the first time since 2016. The Falcons beat Navy 13-10 and Army 13-7, clinching the trophy before the Army-Navy Game. It's the 21st time Air Force has won the trophy, which is the most of the three academies. Navy is second with 16 while Army's a distant third with nine. It's been shared five times.

Baylor's defense took a big step backwards this season: Baylor went 12-2 last season, winning the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl thanks primarily to its defense. The Bears allowed only 18.3 points per game and 19.8 points against Big 12 opponents. They also finished in the top 20 nationally in more advanced metrics like success rate (62.7%) and points allowed per drive (1.57). That was not the case in 2022. The Bears allowed 26.6 points per game this season and 30.7 points per game in the Big 12. Their defensive success rate plummeted to 57.2% (101st), and they allowed 2.12 points per drive (79th). That's how you go from 12-2 and a Big 12 champion to 6-6 playing in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Both teams have performed well in recent bowls: While it's not scientific, it's no secret that some coaches and programs take different approaches to bowl games, which leads to varying results. Some teams are happy to take the extra practices but approach the game as more of a scrimmage and a look ahead to next season. Then, there are teams determined to end the year on a high note. Both these programs seem to fall in the latter category. Air Force is only 6-5 in 11 bowl appearances under coach Troy Calhoun, but it's won three straight and four of the last five. Meanwhile, Baylor has won four of its last five bowl games, too, and it's done so under four different coaches.

Armed Forces Bowl prediction, picks

Featured Game | Air Force Falcons vs. Baylor Bears

It's always a little tricky to figure out how to bet a bowl game with an option team like Air Force. What makes the option so effective against teams not used to facing it is you defend it in a way almost completely different than how you defend against other teams. So when you're facing one during the regular season, and only have a week to prepare, it's not easy. In a bowl game, however you get weeks to get ready for it, which negates the advantage a bit. Still, even with that being the case, it's hard for me to trust a Baylor defense that ranked 99th in defensive success rate against the run this season. The Bears don't give up a lot of big runs, but they don't stuff many, either. I fear this defense could become worn down as the game goes on. Prediction: Air Force +5.5

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