December 30th, 2010/12:00 pm Eastern
Dallas, TX - Gerald Ford Stadium
Army Black Knights (6-6/Independent)
SMU Mustangs (7-6/C-USA)
The casual college football fan likely hasn’t seen either of these teams play this season. The diehard college football fan like myself hasn’t seen much of either of these teams so far this season. This bowl matchup pits two traditionally proud football teams against one another. Neither Army nor SMU has enjoyed a whole lot of success the last few decades.
Army was a powerhouse back in the 40’s with three claimed National Championships, but this will be their first bowl game since an Independence Bowl loss to Auburn in 1996. The Cadets haven’t won a bowl game since they beat Illinois in the 1985 Peach Bowl. The Black Knights didn’t face a tough schedule this season with their biggest win coming against Duke. Army didn’t beat a team that is playing in a bowl game. They earned bowl eligibility in November with a win over Kent State.
Southern Methodist University enjoyed a lot of success back in the early 80’s with the Pony Express led by Eric Dickerson and Craig James. If you watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, you saw the program was hit with the death penalty for major violations. After the program was hit with the death penalty, they went through two decades of struggles before June Jones resurrected the program and led the Mustangs to their first bowl game in 25 years with a Hawaii Bowl victory over Nevada last season. The SMU program has returned, maybe not as powerful as it once was, but they will be making their second straight appearance in a bowl game.
- Army: The Black Knights’ sophomore QB Trent Steelman was a major reason Army ended their bowl drought. Army runs the triple option offense and Steelman has had a lot of success in it this season. Steelman only threw 126 passes this year, but carried the ball 187 times. Steelman passed for 965 yards with 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while rushing for 694 yards and punching it into the endzone 11 times. They’ll need Steelman at his best if they have a shot at winning this game.
- SMU: Kyle Padron will lead a fierce Mustangs passing attack, but SMU is at its best when RB Zach Line is able to get it going on the ground. SMU throws the ball a lot, but Zach Line will get a fair share of chances with the ball in his hands on the ground. Line rushed for 1391 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and punching in 11 touchdowns. The sophomore had six 100+ yard rushing performances this season and went over 200 yards in SMU’s win over Marshall that earned the Mustangs bowl eligibility.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
The key to this game will be how SMU’s 49th ranked rushing defense fares against Army’s 10th ranked rushing offense. The Black Knights average 256 yards per game on the ground and the Mustangs give up on average 140 yards per game. SMU faced the triple option once this season in a game against the Naval Academy, and the Midshipmen gashed SMU for 253 rushing yards and the Mustangs lost by a touchdown. SMU will have to defend Army’s option attack much better than they did against Navy if they want to win their second straight bowl game.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Turnovers: The only chance Army has of winning this game is if they can force SMU into turnovers. The turnover margin is significant between these two teams. Army ranks 7th in the nation in turnover margin while SMU ranks all the way down at 108th. The Mustangs have been prone to turning the ball over and Army has a defense that has forced some turnovers this season. The Black Knights take care of the ball offensively, so don’t expect them to give SMU any cheap scores or short fields. The Mustangs have the better team, but if Army has a significant edge in turnovers, don’t be surprised if the Cadets win the Armed Forces Bowl.
Like I said, SMU is the better team and played higher level competition this season. Army got into a bowl game mainly because of their wins over lesser teams. The Black Knights beat five FBS teams that combined for a total of 17 wins this season along with a win over FCS opponent VMI. Army’s biggest win this season came against a 5-7 Kent State. I think the Cadets will keep this game close for a while, but I expect Kyle Padron and the SMU offense to overwhelm Army and pull away in the second half.
PREDICTION: SMU 31, Army 17