Another day, another bowl game on tap for us college football enthusiasts. While many are still reeling from the madness that ensued around National Signing Day, we get to relax with a matchup between two teams that look to control the pace of the game with the run game. Both teams possess strong stables of running backs, so expect this one to be won in the trenches.
Here are the prospects you should be monitoring on today’s bowl game slate.
Armed Forces Bowl: Baylor vs Air Force
Baylor heads less than 100 miles north to Fort Worth having dealt with some struggles down the stretch. The Bears have lost the last three games, and their defense has been particularly bothersome, allowing over 30 points in three of the last four. Air Force, led by veteran head coach Troy Calhoun, enters Amon G. Carter Stadium riding a different wave of momentum. The Falcons have won four consecutive games and look to win their third straight bowl victory over a Power Five team.
Baylor Bears (6-6)
- Quarterback Blake Shapen: The Evangel Christian Academy product’s season is a tale of two tapes. In the first six weeks of the season, Shapen passed for over two touchdowns in four of the six games and threw for over 325 yards twice. Then he suffered a head injury against West Virginia, which appeared to be more costly than initially opined. In the final six games, the 6’0” 200-pounder threw less than two touchdowns in all but one game, the finale against Texas, and averaged less than 6.5 yards per attempt. Projecting forward, I don’t think Shapen, an All-Big 12 honorable mention honoree, is an NFL talent at this stage of his development, which is fine. It will be interesting to see how he performs against a team that looks to control the pace. If Baylor’s run game can’t get it going against a very solid Falcon defense up front, will Shapen be able to do enough to win the game with his arm?
- Running Back Richard Reese: From a mid-level three-star prospect to the Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year, you could argue no freshman back exceeded his initial expectations more than Reese. Among true freshmen at the FBS level, the 5’9” 175-pounder sits second in rushing touchdowns (14) behind Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins and third in rushing yards behind Judkins and Oregon State’s Damien Martinez. Since my evaluation of Reese has gone back and forth throughout the season, I’m excited to get one final look at his freshman campaign before diving back into the tape. Early in the season, I thought he was the most talented back on the Bears’ roster. Seeing him receive 30-plus carries in two straight games and average over five yards per rush indicated he can handle the workload. On the other side, I just don’t see a high-ceiling guy. With the size limitations coupled with, in my opinion, so-so creativity between the tackles, he projects more as a committee back to me. Either way, Bears fans should be ecstatic about Reese’s first year in Waco.
Air Force Falcons (9-3)
- Running Back Brad Roberts: I understand the triple-option-based offense calls for a ton of rushing yards, but let’s briefly talk about what Roberts accomplished this season. The Ralston Valley High School product has rushed for 1,607 yards this season, more than every FBS running back besides UAB’s DeWayne McBride and Illinois’ Chase Brown. To put this in perspective, the 5’11” 216-pounder broke Beau Morgan’s program record by over 100 yards. This stood for over 25 years. Roberts has ten games of over 100 rushing yards, another program record, and has rushed for no less than 130 yards in each of the last four games. The Arvada, Colorado native has been effectively dominant after first contact, totaling over 105 yards in each of the last two games and forcing ten missed tackles. Against a Baylor defense that has given up a 100-yard rusher in three of the last four games and 12 total rushing touchdowns over that stretch, Roberts has an opportunity to feast.
- Wide Receiver David Cormier: An Air Force receiver that did not see a single snap of action in his first three seasons in Colorado Springs? Why am I bringing him up? Considering he has the fifth-highest Receiving Grade from PFF among FBS receivers with at least 20 targets, slotted behind names like Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson, it’s interesting to note. Air Force doesn’t pass a ton, but Cormier recorded 384 yards and four touchdowns on only 13 receptions, good for the highest yards per reception average (29.5) in the country among the aforementioned threshold. This game will run through Roberts, but if quarterback Haaziq Daniels drops back, expect him to chuck a deep shot in the direction of the Albuquerque, New Mexico native.