The Cougars (8-4) were red-hot at the start of the year, as they won seven of the their first eight games before a 1-3 stretch at the end of the season.
Army started somewhat slowly, splitting its first four games before closing the season with eight straight wins. The most recent of those was a 17-10 victory over Navy, its third straight triumph against its archrival, thereby providing an extra dose of pride to the Black Knights.
While that victory is always the high point for Army, the key game in its season may have been the loss to Oklahoma. The Black Knights fought on even terms for 60 minutes before dropping the September 22 game in overtime by a 28-21 margin.
When this matchup was announced, Houston opened as a 1.5-point favorite. However, the public has spoken, and Army is now a five-point favorite in Saturday’s game.
Houston suffered a brutal blow late in the season when quarterback D’Eriq King suffered a knee injury in mid-November, ending his campaign. King was one of the top running quarterbacks in the nation, with 674 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns before his injury.
He was also the architect of a dangerous passing attack, as he threw for 2,982 yards with 36 TD passes and just six interceptions.
Clayton Tune is expected to get the start for the Cougars, and while he had a 7-2 TD-interception ratio, his passing accuracy is a big issue. He has completed just 44.7 percent of his passes (38 of 85).
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is not asked to win games with his arm. He has completed 48 of 90 passes for 956 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions during the regular season. However, he is a dominant runner, gaining 847 yards with 12 touchdowns.
In addition to those numbers, Hopkins is a strong leader who has the confidence of his teammates and the Army coaching staff.
Running back Darnell Woolfolk is the Black Knights’ leading ball-carrier with 210 carries for 885 yards and 14 touchdowns.
While Houston has an explosive offense when everyone is healthy, the Cougars are still getting used to life without King. Army has been humming along during its eight-game winning streak.
The Black Knights should have a sizable advantage on defense. The Black Knights rank ninth in the nation by allowing 293.5 yards per game. Houston struggled in that area all season, allowing 488.5 yards per game, ranking 124th in the nation.
Army lost its defensive coordinator after the Navy victory, as Jay Bateman was hired to take the same position at North Carolina. Houston defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio did not have that same kind of career move, as he was fired after the regular season.Three hundred and sixty-five days after defeating San Diego State 42-35 to capture the 2017 Armed Forces Bowl, the Black Knights return to the campus o
The Black Knights’ formula is simple: run the football, play solid defense and control the clock. Army is averaging better than 39 minutes per game.
Houston is a quick-strike offense that does not pay any attention to time of possession. The Cougars are last in the FBS with slightly more than 25 minutes per game. That seems like a made-to-order recipe for Army, which converts its third-down plays at a rate of 56 percent.
Army is 3-0 in its past three bowl games, going 2-1 against the spread. Houston is 0-2 in its past two bowl games, failing to cover on both occasions, per OddsShark.