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Army vs. Houston Preview: Black Knights battle Cougars in Armed Forces Bowl

Army will face Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Black Knights have the chance to cap off one of their best seasons in recent memory if they can contain the Cougars’ fast-striking offense.

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NCAA Football: Colgate at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Monken and his team have the chance to cap off one of the best seasons in recent memory in the history of football at West Point.

Army is 10-2, won the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy by beating Air Force and Navy, and is ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll and No. 25 in the Coaches Poll.

Standing in the way of Army’s first 11-win season in the history of the United States Military Academy are the Houston Cougars. (And yes, you read that right. Army has never won 11 games in a single season, according to sports-reference.com.)

The meeting between Army and Houston in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl marks something odd — it features the FBS leader in time of possession in Army against the team who has possessed the ball least in Houston. These are two very different offenses. While Army prefers to milk the clock and watch defenses bleed, Houston likes the quick strike.

Both offenses are effective — Houston is 14th in passing, putting up 300.9 yards per-game through the air. The Cougars are also 14th in third down conversions, 12th best in first down offense, 19th in rushing offense, and fourth overall in scoring, tallying 46.4 points per-game. Meanwhile, Army ranks first in both third and fourth down conversion percentage, and second in rushing offense, trudging along for 296.3 yards per-game.

Because of the differences in philosophies and style of play, this game could go a lot of different ways.

The Basics

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST
Watch: ESPN — Chris Cotter and Jim Mora will provide commentary from the booth, while Emmanuel Acho and Quint Kessenich report from the sidelines. A stream will be available at CBS.com.
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. It is the home field for the TCU Horned Frogs.
Spread: Most books have Army favored by 3.5 points. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly thinks that Houston will not only cover that spread, but win the game 37-29.

Last Time They Met

Houston beat Army in their last meeting on Sept. 18, 2004 in Texas by a score of 35-21. This was Bobby Ross’ first season at the helm of the Black Knights and their last as a member of Conference USA, of which Houston was also a member of before switching to the American in 2013. In this game, Houston was led by Kevin Kolb’s 278 passing yards and Anthony Evans’ 283 rushing yards. Tielor Robinson rushed for 148 yards for Army, and Carlton Jones added two touchdowns.

X-Factor

Army’s defense could be the difference in this one. Houston has scored more than 41 points in all of its games this season but two, and in those games it scored 31 points. Army has proven that it has the potential to contain an elite offense, holding Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray to just 28 points in an overtime defeat. Army is 20th in the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up 185.3 yards per-game through the air. The Black Knights are also third in third down defense, 17th in fumbles recovered and 23rd in red-zone defense.

They Said It

Jeff Monken, via Fort Worth Star Telegram: “We’ve played in Texas every year that I’ve been at Army, and this is the first year that we haven’t played multiple games in Texas. It’s kind of nice to come back. I think Texas is a great recruiting area for us anyway. But I certainly think there’s an appeal. We’re a national school, and part of the advantage of that is we control our schedule and we get to travel to a lot of different places.”

Also

Houston will be missing several key players in this game. Bryson Smith, who has accounted for five touchdowns and nearly 400 yards of total offense, will miss the game with a hamstring injury. The Cougars’ starting quarterback, D’Eriq King, has been out with a knee injury since Nov. 15. All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who is projected to be a top 15 NFL draft pick, is skipping the game.

Prediction

Army’s defense frustrates Houston’s backup quarterback and the Black Knights running game rolls through the Oliver-less Cougars. Army wins, 31-26.