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December 29, 2010

Armed Forces Bowl: Army at SMU

Two teams without much bowl experience get together Thursday in the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas.

SMU (7-6), which lost in the Conference USA title game, meets Army (6-6), which is in a bowl for the first time since 1996. This is just Army's fifth bowl in its history, and it's only the 13th for SMU. It's the Mustangs' second bowl in a row, but last season's postseason appearance was the school's first since 1984.

The game is at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium; the bowl usually is played at TCU, but that school's Amon G. Carter Stadium is undergoing renovations, which forced the move from Fort Worth to Dallas.

SMU is the third bowl team to play at home this season. San Diego State beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, but Hawaii got trampled by Tulsa in the Hawaii Bowl.

SMU players will wear a "17" sticker on their helmets to honor Don Meredith, a former SMU star who died earlier this month in Santa Fe, N.M., at the age of 72.

Army must win to clinch its first winning season since '96, when the Black Knights finished 10-2.

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Army rush offense vs. SMU rush defense: The Black Knights use the triple option and have 33 rushing TDs. Of note, though, is that they did not score a rushing TD in either of their last two regular-season games, and their three lowest rushing totals of the season came in the final three regular-season games. FB Jared Hassin and QB Trent Steelman are the key guys. SMU generally has been solid against the run. In a seven-point loss to Navy, which also runs the triple option, the Mustangs gave up 253 rushing yards; that was one of two games in which SMU surrendered more than 190 rushing yards. SMU has a good group of linebackers, and 'backers such as Pete Fleps and Taylor Reed need to be sharp. Edge: Army.

ARMED FORCES BOWL

Army (6-6) at SMU (7-6)
WHEN: Dec. 30, noon.
WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas.
TV: ESPN (Beth Mowins will do play-by-play, with Ray Bentley as the analyst).
THE LINE: SMU by 7.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Army 0-4, SMU 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Army T-101st, SMU 61st.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither team is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the Pac-10.
COACHES: Army - Rich Ellerson (first bowl); SMU - June Jones (5-2 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This certainly is not a classic. But it is the only game on at the time, so if you want to watch football, this is it. In addition, both programs are nice comeback stories. SMU is in a bowl for the second season in a row under third-year coach Jones, while Army is bowling for the first time since 1996 under second-year coach Ellerson.
KEY STATS: Army is 10th nationally in rushing offense, at 251.1 yards per game. SMU is 49th in rushing defense, allowing 140.6 yards per game.
Army pass offense vs. SMU pass defense: The Black Knights are last in the nation in passing, at 82.1 yards per game; Army is the only team in the nation that hasn't thrown for 1,000 yards as a team this season. WR Austin Barr has three of Army's seven TD receptions. SMU's pass defense is OK, but the secondary is not going to get a big test in this one. LB Ja'Gared Davis is one of Conference USA's best big-play defenders, but his pass-rush ability won't be of much use in this game. Edge: SMU.

SMU rush offense vs. Army rush defense: Zach Line, a 235-pound tailback, has run for 1,391 yards and 10 TDs, and he gives the Mustangs a legit feature back. Line is tough between the tackles and is faster than he looks; he has six 100-yard games this season, including 139 against TCU. Line's yardage total is the third-best single-season mark in school history, behind Eric Dickerson's performances in 1981 and '82. Army has been adequate against the run. Of note: The Black Knights held Hawaii -- which runs the same type of offense as SMU -- to 10 rushing yards. Edge: Even.

SMU pass offense vs. Army pass defense: SMU is not the pass-happy team that June Jones had when he coached Hawaii, but sophomore QB Kyle Padron can toss it around. He has thrown for 3,526 yards, with 29 TDs and 12 interceptions. He had five 300-yard games this season and has tossed at least one TD passes in each game. He has three receivers with at least 60 receptions. Cole Beasley leads with 84, but Aldrick Robinson is the Mustangs' most dangerous deep threat. Thirteen of his 60 receptions have gone for scores, and he averages 20.4 yards per catch. Army has allowed 20 TD passes and has 12 interceptions. Army must get consistent pressure on Padron. The Black Knights have 23 sacks, and E Josh McNary has 9.5 of them. SMU has allowed 32 sacks, so that aspect bears watching. Edge: SMU.

Army special teams vs. SMU special teams: Army K Alex Carlton has a strong leg, but accuracy is an issue. He is 14-of-21 this season, including 7-of-12 from 40 yards and beyond. Carlton, who has made 10 in a row, also has had two blocked. P Jonathan Bulls averages 39.2 per attempt, but he has dropped 20 of his 50 punts inside the 20. The return units are mediocre, the coverage units solid, especially on punts. SMU K Matt Szymanski nailed a 61-yarder this season, but he is just 7-of-10 overall and just 2-of-5 from 40 and beyond. He doubles as the punter and is averaging 41.4 per boot. The kickoff-coverage and punt-return units have been awful. But the punt-coverage and kickoff-return groups have been solid; KR Darryl Crawford is a good one. Edge: SMU.

Army coaches vs. SMU coaches: The coaches were teammates for one season (1974) at Hawaii, where Jones was a quarterback and Army's Rich Ellerson a center; they also served as assistants at Hawaii for one overlapping season, in 1983. Both staffs have done nice jobs in their short tenures. Ellerson has a defensive background and has added an edge to the Black Knights' defense. Jones is a passing guru and has SMU poised to be a legit contender in Conference USA on an annual basis. Defensive coordinator Tom Mason has done yeoman work on his side of the ball, and SMU is on the verge of becoming an upper-echelon C-USA defense. Edge: SMU.

X-factor: This is a home game for SMU, which is 4-2 in its home stadium this season. It's also just the Mustangs' second home game since Oct. 23. You would think the home crowd would work in SMU's favor.

Army will win if: The defense has to keep Line under control. Army is going to have success with its triple option and SMU is going to have success throwing the ball. But the Black Knights absolutely cannot let the Mustangs be multi-dimensional on offense.

SMU will win if: SMU is minus-9 in turnover margin, and the Mustangs can't afford to cough it up against Army, which has the ability to control the clock with its style of offense. SMU's turnover margin in its wins is zero, which means turnovers usually lead to losses for the Mustangs. Army is seventh in the nation in turnover margin at plus-1.08 per game. It also would help the Mustangs' cause if Line can run for 100. Army is going to have issues with SMU's passing attack; if Line is running well, that bodes ill for Army.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: SMU 24, Army 21
Tom Dienhart: SMU 41, Army 35
David Fox: SMU 21, Army 14
Mike Huguenin: SMU 27, Army 21
Steve Megargee: SMU 27, Army 14

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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