FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Cal coach Sonny Dykes sees the Armed Forces Bowl pairing of his pass-happy Bears and run-heavy Air Force as a showcase for his sport.
"The great thing about college football, it's a game of extremes," Dykes said. "You get to see a run-and-shoot team play against a triple-option team or you get to see a spread run team play against a spread pass team."
In the case of Tuesday's game in Fort Worth, it's the second-best rushing offense nationally in Air Force, led by running back Jacobi Owens, against Cal's No. 6 passing team and record-setting quarterback Jared Goff.
"The commitment that's involved to what you teach fundamentally on the field and then being able to bring it all together, that's a real challenge as a coach," said Air Force's Troy Calhoun, who has the Falcons in a bowl for the eighth time in nine seasons. "And California does that. And, certainly, that's what we aspire to do, too."
There's one other contrast between these teams — how they finished the season. The Falcons (8-5) lost their last two games, including the Mountain West Conference championship game to San Diego State. But Air Force won five straight before that to earn a shot at the league title.
The Bears (7-5) finished with a win but dropped five of their last seven games after a 5-0 start. Still, they're eager to end a four-year bowl drought in Dykes' third season.
"They've played in a lot of bowl games at Air Force," Dykes said. "That's a very, very consistent program and that's where we want to go. Just this experience, the opportunity for our team to spend a significant time on the road together and bond, those are things that really contribute to having sustained success."
Things to consider in a rematch of the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, which Cal won 42-36:
Goff broke his single-season school records by throwing for 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns. The first true freshman quarterback to start for Cal has started all 36 games he has played and holds 26 school records. "Remarkable player," Calhoun said. "He makes in-rhythm throws, yet at the same time it's the things that he does that drives you absolutely nuts that are out of design and create a little more space and bigger plays."
The junior had a season-high 156 yards, including a career-long run of 65 yards, in the Mountain West title game loss to the Aztecs. He has a team-best 1,013 yards and is the 11th Air Force running back with at least 2,000 yards for his career.
Dykes is the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, who was a high school coach in the state before joining the Red Raiders, first as an assistant. The younger Dykes has Christmas with his wife's family in Wichita Falls, about 110 miles from Fort Worth. And he's expecting to see his dad. "I'm sure my dad will make an appearance at some point, probably an uninvited appearance," Dykes joked.
MORE TEXAS ROOTS
Calhoun noted that his wife is from Houston, and he's been to TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium enough to know that Pappadeaux's, a popular seafood restaurant, is nearby. He just needs to study up on the extensive freeway system in Dallas-Fort Worth. He thinks Interstate 20 runs close to TCU, but it's I-30. Calhoun is 1-5 in Fort Worth, including 1-3 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
OH YEAH, THE DEFENSES
Safety Weston Steelhammer leads Air Force with 80 tackles and five interceptions, while defensive end Alex Hansen has team highs of 7 1/2 sacks and 15 1/2 tackles for loss. ... Linebacker Hardy Nickerson (101 tackles) is the first Cal player with more than 100 tackles since Mychal Kendricks in 2011. Defensive end Kyle Kragen leads the team with career highs in sacks (six) and tackles for loss (seven).