Date: Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Ft. Worth, Texas | Amon G. Carter Stadium
California Golden Bears
Best moment: The Golden Bears made a strong finishing statement at home in what may have been quarterback Jared Goff's last appearance at Memorial Stadium. Trailing 27-10 at halftime, Cal mounted a furious comeback against Arizona State to win 48-46. Matt Anderson kicked the decisive field goal as time expired, and it was a try set up by Goff’s 542 passing yards and five touchdowns. The victory pushed the Bears to 7-5, ensuring a winning record just two seasons after a 1-11 nightmare.
Lowest moment: Cal was humbled 40-24 by UCLA in mid-October, and that was the defeat that stripped the luster off the Bears’ auspicious 5-0 start. They had already suffered their first loss at Utah a game prior, but at least that contest was close. This one was not. Sonny Dykes’ squad turned in its worst effort of the season and trailed big throughout. The Bears didn’t recover from this Josh Rosen torching until they beat Oregon State more than three weeks later.
Key player: Goff is the Bears’ unquestioned leader, and he faced an even greater burden under center this season given the injury-riddled campaign of Daniel Lasco, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014. Cal relied heavily on Goff to spread the ball around the Air Raid system, and he did well in the face of massive expectations. At the end of the day, Goff guided the Bears to two more wins than last season and a return to bowl eligibility, so their season can be considered another step in the right direction.
Motivation level: This will be Cal’s first postseason appearance since 2011, so the Bears should be fired up to have a chance to play in a bowl game. Only fifth-year seniors were on the squad back when Cal last played in a bowl game.
-- David Lombardi
Air Force Falcons
Best moment: A 37-30 win over Boise State. It wasn’t the cleanest game by Falcons quarterback Karson Roberts (he threw three interceptions), but the Air Force offense used big plays to defeat its biggest competition in the Mountain West Mountain Division. Air Force accounted for five plays of 45 or more yards, including four plays of 50 or more yards.
Lowest moment: Road games. All five of the Falcons’ losses came away from home this season. In its losses, Air Force rushed for 120 fewer yards than it did in wins and failed to turn opponents over at as high of a rate as it did in wins.
Key player: Safety Weston Steelhammer. The junior All-Mountain West selection was active all over the defensive side of the ball for the Falcons. He had a team-high 72 tackles and a team-high five interceptions as well as 10 tackles for a loss and seven pass breakups.
Motivation level: Out for redemption. The Falcons came bitterly close to the Mountain West title on Saturday night but eventually lost by three to San Diego State. In the Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force will be out to prove itself after its first six-conference-win season since 2007, and the Falcons will be eager to build on their postseason win from 2014.
-- Chantel Jennings