Bowl Breakdown: Armed Forces
BYU and Tulsa were both talented enough to play in better bowl games
Tulsa's four losses all came to teams ranked in the top 10 at the time
BYU boasts a more rounded, experienced squad -- and a No. 16 defense
BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4)
Dec. 30, Noon ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: This year's Armed Forces Bowl features two teams that shouldn't be playing in it. Both BYU and Tulsa should have received bids to bigger postseason games, but suffered critical losses that doomed their seasons. The Cougars won eight of their last nine, but fell to their three toughest opponents: Texas, Utah and TCU. The Golden Hurricane went 7-1 in conference play, but lost every game they played against a ranked team. So who will win the clash of the "Coulda Shouldas?" Both teams average more than 30 points per game, but Tulsa's defense has been more susceptible. If it's a close game, the edge goes to Bronco Mendenhall's bunch, which is playing its seventh consecutive bowl game and has won four of its last five postseason matchups.
Keep an eye on: Tulsa running back Ja'Terian Douglas, if you can. The Golden Hurricane's sophomore sensation averaged an FBS-best 8.2 yards per carry this season and is one of the most explosive players in the country. Douglas torched Marshall for a career-high 194 yards on only 12 carries and broke off double-digit rushes in nine of 12 games. One of the reasons Douglas (108 carries, 884 yards) is so effective is that he isn't Tulsa's only option. Fellow running back Trey Watts also surpassed the 800-yard plateau and goal-line back Alex Singleton scored eight touchdowns. But BYU does boast the No. 23 rushing defense in the nation and has allowed only five teams to top the century mark on the ground this season.
Did you know: All four of Tulsa's losses this year came to teams that were in the top 10 at the time: Oklahoma (No. 1), Oklahoma State (8) Boise State (4) and Houston (8).
Final analysis: These two former WAC foes are no strangers, which should make this game more intense than the usual random bowl matchup. In their last meeting in 2007, Tulsa pulled off a 55-47 victory, its first win over BYU in history. To get its second win, Tulsa will need a strong showing against BYU's stingy defense, which is likely to focus its efforts on the Hurricanes' ground game. Neither team has been able to win the big one this season, but the edge goes to BYU, which possesses the more rounded squad thanks to its defense (16th in FBS) and experience.
The pick: BYU 31, Tulsa 24