Owls versus Falcons for Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Trophy

Riding a four-game winning streak, Rice University has accepted a bid to play the United States Air Force Academy in the 10th annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 29. Kickoff for the game that will air on ESPN and ESPN Radio is set for 10:45 a.m. (CT) at the newly-renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We are excited to add Rice to the list of teams we have had compete in the ten years of our game’s history,” said Brant Ringler, executive director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. “Coach Bailiff has done a tremendous job with this very talented and young group of athletes. We look forward to seeing them take the field with the Air Force Falcons in just a few weeks.” 

By winning five of their final six games to finish the regular season with a 6-6 record, the Owls will be competing in the postseason for the third-time in the last seven years after a 44-season bowl-drought that lasted from 1961 to 2006. It also marks the second time Rice has earned three postseason berths in a similar time frame with the first being a five-year stretch from 1957-1961 when the Owls played in the Cotton, Sugar and Bluebonnet Bowls.

The 2012 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl will also mark the 10th postseason game for Rice and second under current coach David Bailiff. The Owls defeated Western Michigan 38-14 in the 2008 Texas Bowl as Rice finished the season posting the school’s second 10-win season in Bailiff’s second year with the Houston-based school.

Rice, which has posted a 5-4 bowl record with four Cotton Bowl appearances (1938, 1950, 1954 and 1958), will be playing Air Force for the seventh time with the Falcons winning five of the previous six games. Three of the six games were played as conference contests when Rice and Air Force were members of the Western Athletic Conference in the late 1990s.

After graduating 25 seniors in 2011, the Owls are the second youngest team in the 2012 Football Bowl Subdivision with only seven seniors currently on the Rice roster, including starting wide receivers Sam McGuffie, Vance McDonald and Luke Willson, and defensive lineman Jared Williams.

Three of Rice’s six defeats this season were by four points or less as the Owls dropped a double overtime decision to Marshall (54-51) and a 28-24 setback to eventual Conference USA Champion Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Owls held 7-0, 14-7, 21-14 and 24-21 leads against the Golden Hurricane, who scored the winning touchdown with 91 seconds left in the game.

While Air Force features the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense (328.8 yards per game), Rice has a balanced attack featuring the play of junior quarterback Taylor McHargue (Mick-Harg). By scoring 31.8 points per game, the Owls are averaging 421.1 yards per game on offense, including 201.3 yards rushing and 219.8 yards passing.

A product of Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Ridge, Texas, the 6-1 McHargue has played in 11 of the Owls 12 games this season as he was sidelined with a shoulder injury for Rice’s game against cross-town rival Houston in late September. McHargue has compiled 628 yards rushing this season with 11 touchdowns while completing 188 of 317 passes for 2,178 yards and 11 scores.

Defensively, Rice is led by a trio of juniors in safety Paul Porras, defensive end Cody Bauer and cornerback Phillip Gaines. Porras leads the team in total tackles (86) while Bauer is tops in sacks (5.5) and tackles for losses (12). Gaines is the national leader in pass deflections with 18.

In the Owl’s bowl-clinching win last week in El Paso, Rice junior kick returner Jeremy Eddington became the first Rice player in 28 years to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Eddington gouged the nation’s top kickoff return defense for 210 yards on four returns and broke the nation’s longest drought without a kickoff return for a touchdown by taking a fourth quarter kickoff against UTEP 97 yards for a score. His touchdown return was the first for the Owls since Antonio Brinkley returned one for 90 yards vs. Baylor at Rice Stadium November 17, 1984.  

Eddington averaged 52 yards per return against a team that came into the game holding opponents to 13.7 yards.   His 210 yards are the second-best total in school history and he added 59 yards on the ground and caught one pass for a total of 279 all-purpose yards which was just 16 yards shy of Trevor Cobb’s school mark of 295 set vs. Iowa State in 1991.