Washington State vs. Air Force: Cheez-It Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Washington State (6-6) vs. Air Force (10-2)

Location: Phoenix | When: Dec. 27 (10:15 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Air Force -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Washington State: The Cougars won three games to start the year and then promptly lost three straight Pac-12 games to UCLA, Utah and Arizona State. A win over Colorado broke that streak and then Washington State lost to Oregon and Cal. The Coogs got bowl eligible with wins over Stanford and Oregon State — that game was wild — before the traditional Apple Cup defeat to Washington. 

Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III has 24 total touchdowns. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III has 24 total touchdowns. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Air Force: The Falcons were a loss away from making the Mountain West title game. Air Force’s only conference loss came to, you guessed it, Boise State. Despite going 7-1 in the conference the Falcons finished second in the Mountain Division because it’s also occupied by the Broncos.

Air Force lost to Navy outside the conference but got wins over both Army and Colorado to make up for it. It’s the third time in six seasons that Air Force has won 10 games.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Who doesn’t want to watch a Mike Leach-coached team against a triple-option offense? It’s better than sleeping, that’s for sure. Also, this Cheez-It Bowl produced one of the wildest bowl games in recent memory a year ago with TCU and Cal. And this is the same Washington State that let UCLA come back for a win in the craziest rally of the season.

Washington State running back Max Borghi has been extremely effective both rushing and receiving. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Washington State running back Max Borghi has been extremely effective both rushing and receiving. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Washington State RB Max Borghi: When Borghi gets the chance to run the ball he’s extremely effective. Borghi has rushed for 790 yards on just 121 carries in 2019. That’s the most rushing yards by a Mike Leach-coached RB since Baron Batch ran for 884 yards in 2009 at Texas Tech. 

Borghi is a threat in the pass game too. He leads the team with 81 catches and has 566 yards receiving. 

Air Force QB Donald Hammond III: Hammond doesn’t throw the ball much. He attempted just 99 passes. He ran the ball 106 times and had the fourth-most rushing attempts on the team. While Hammond is the team’s fourth-leading rusher he leads the Falcons in rushing touchdowns with 11 and overall TDs with 24. 

He’s dangerous when he does attempt a pass though. Hammond averages 13 yards an attempt and his two leading receivers average over 25 yards a catch. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Washington State QB Anthony Gordon: The out-of-nowhere NFL prospect is 606 passing yards away from breaking the NCAA record for most passing yards in a season, held by former Texas Tech QB BJ Symons, another Mike Leach protege. Lest you think that total is unreachable, Gordon actually threw for 606 vs. Oregon State this season — despite coming into the year with a mere five college pass attempts — and averages nearly 436 passing yards a game. He’s an easy thrower with a rubber arm and will get to showcase his talents at the Senior Bowl, but this game is a sneaky-good test against an Air Force defense that only allows 208.1 passing yards per game

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Washington State: A win would be five straight winning seasons for the Cougars. A stretch like this hasn’t happened since Washington State was in the Pacific Coast Conference before World War II and was coached by O.E. Hollingberry. 

Air Force: The Falcons haven’t won 11 games in a season since a 12-1 campaign under Fisher DeBerry in 1998. That season culminated in a win in the Oahu Classic over a Washington team coached by Brock Huard. Yes, the same Brock Huard who does color commentary for Fox. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Washington State +2.5

Sam Cooper: Air Force -2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Air Force -3

Pete Thamel: Air Force -3

Dan Wetzel: Air Force -3

Sean Sullivan: Air Force -3

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