Military Bowl preview: Air Force, Toledo look to end season with win in D.C.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Military Bowl is a name. It doesn't describe a prerequisite.
So organizers didn't necessarily have to seek out Air Force when both Navy and Army finished with losing records this season, but it sure made for a tidy arrangement.
"I would like to be part of the rotation, every year, three years, being able to play in this bowl," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "I think there should be a fit there. It would have to be something where the bowl wanted that, and I know there are some things on our end we would have to work through, but it's an ideal fit."
The Falcons (7-5) will face Toledo (8-4) on Wednesday in the fourth annual bowl at RFK Stadium. Organizers renamed the event the Military Bowl last year, with proceeds supporting the USO. There are tie-ins with Army and Navy in some years, although in 2010 the game pitted Maryland against East Carolina.
And wherever there's a service academy game these days, there is, of course, the old-fashioned triple-option offense to behold. Air Force is second in the nation in rushing — behind Army, naturally — averaging 320.3 yards on the ground. New Toledo coach Matt Campbell can only be thankful that he had extra time to prepare for an attack his players rarely see.
"At the end of the day, you got to tackle really well," Campbell said. "They do a great job of being methodical and getting themselves into great second-and-medium situations, third-and-short and moving the chains. We have to be disciplined enough to try to put them in situations that they feel uncomfortable in. That'll be a great challenge."
Campbell took over earlier this month after Tim Beckman took the head job at Illinois. At 32, Campbell is the youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision by more than three years, but it's been a seamless transition because he's spent the last three seasons as the Rockets' offensive coordinator.
"He's a familiar personality," Toledo running back Adonis Thomas said. "All coaches have different coaching styles, but his is more of a relaxed-type coaching style. He's the type of coach that when a player messes up, he feels bad he let his coach down."
It was hard to argue with Campbell's credentials. He's made the Rockets one of the most powerful offenses in the country, averaging 42.3 points per game. Given that neither defense is particularly stellar, Wednesday's game should see the ball in the end zones early and often.
"We've put up points all year, so I think we're pretty confident going into the game," Toledo receiver Eric Page said. "We've just got to execute and not make any mistakes."
Page is the game's marquee player by far, a compelling multi-dimensional athlete who's a threat any time he's on the field. The junior's place in the record books takes up an entire page in the Rockets' media guide. He has a school-record 112 catches for 1,123 yards this season and is also averaging 26.7 yards per kickoff return in his career — tops in Toledo history. His 10.9-yard punt return average in 2011 ranks in the top 20 in the nation.
It's little surprise that Page has been nominated for the Paul Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile player. As tough as it will be for Toledo to prepare for the triple option, Air Force can't be exactly gleeful about facing Page.
"They make you defend a good chunk of the field," Calhoun said, "so it's going to require a great deal of hustle."
AP freelance writers Ben Standig and Jack Anderson contributed to this report.