Armed Forces Bowl: James Madison vs. Air Force Expert Pick and Prediction – December 23, 2023
ARMED FORCES BOWL: JAMES MADISON VS. AIR FORCE EXPERT PICK AND PREDICTION – December 23, 2023 — On paper, the unstoppable force meets immovable object in Fort Worth, as the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense faces the top run defense. Air Force has made the triple option its identity for years (as have the other service academies), to the point where the Falcons barely bother to pass.
But this marks the best run defense Air Force has seen all season, and it comes with the Falcons on a four-game losing streak. Something went out of Air Force when it faced Army, and it’s only gotten worse since then. The Falcons managed just 337 yards of offense in the finale against Boise State, which simply isn’t good enough.
However, Air Force’s opponent isn’t at full strength. The Dukes lost their coach when Curt Cignetti fled for Indiana, and they lost many of their best defenders to the transfer portal. Madison looked like it would be left out of a bowl because of the NCAA transition rule, but a lack of eligible teams lifted them into the spot.
For the year, James Madison has given up just 738 rushing yards, a mere 61.5 yards per game. You could say they did it against a soft schedule, and you’d have an argument, but the Dukes did play one Power 5 team in Virginia and swept through the schedule with just one defeat. When Madison’s played the biggest names in the Sun Belt, it has risen to the occasion. Against Air Force, the Dukes get to face another bigger name with plenty of motivation on their side, exactly what the program wanted when it moved to FBS.
(11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS)
(8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 23rd at 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Public Bets: 73% on Air Force
Public Money: 80% on Air Force
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of December 14th, 2023.
James Madison vs. Air Force In-Season Trends
The key to Madison is simple: do the Dukes get off to a hot start and put the game out of reach, or do they allow Air Force to get comfortable? The biggest thing about the triple option is that it doesn’t let you come from behind, which is one reason why five of the Falcons’ final six were losses against the spread.
Madison, conversely, got stronger as the year progressed. The Dukes went 8-2 ATS after losing the first two weeks, and the two exceptions were close games with Old Dominion and Appalachian State. Everyone else since Sept. 30 has failed to stay with the Dukes, who beat everyone they played since that game by at least eight points.
Incredibly, Air Force’s totals cashed last week, which could have bookmakers set to go in the opposite direction. So far, the trends seem to be holding in the direction of a low total at 41.5, but Air Force’s defense giving up 27 or more three weeks in a row makes that worrisome.
This game’s supposed to be in the short window between two long periods of rain. Temperatures will hit 62 degrees, and how playable the field will be determined by how well it’s covered the day before.
The question for James Madison is whether the defense can hold together after losing its best several tacklers. Five of the Dukes’ six first-team all-Sun Belt defenders have either left in the transfer portal or gone down with injury, which could really hurt the Dukes’ efforts against the Falcons’ ground game.
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That said, Jordan McCloud will play in the bowl game despite entering the transfer portal. McCloud earned Sun Belt Player of the Year honors, throwing for 32 scores on the season. Air Force’s offense is more of a question, as Emmanuel Michel faded badly down the stretch and ceded carries to Dylan Carson. But given Air Force’s offense, it’s just a question of who has the ball on a run.
This one’s a tough one to pick because of how James Madison has been depleted by the portal. If the Dukes were at full strength, they’d be the easy pick given Air Force’s fade. But that’s not the case here, which gives the Falcons a chance.
However, Air Force’s last four games are a major concern. I saw the Falcons get manhandled by Hawai’i, not exactly known for its run defense. The Falcons just aren’t the same team they were in October, which should allow the Dukes to emerge with the win.
James Madison -2.5