Air Force, Cal sport Texas ties for Armed Forces Bowl

Cal quarterback Jared Goff threw for 4,252 yards this season with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff threw for 4,252 yards this season with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. AP

One has a Texas pedigree, the other counts on Texas patriotism.

Cal coach Sonny Dykes and Troy Calhoun of Air Force had high praise for the Lone Star State on Tuesday when they formally accepted invitations to the 13th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl during an event at the 1.25-mile long assembly plant for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

“It is great to be home, Texas is my home,” said Dykes, whose father Spike Dykes coached for 40 years in the state, including 1986-99 at Texas Tech. “I was born and raised here and it means a lot to me. My wife is from Wichita Falls, and we’ll have a lot of friends and family here at the game.

“I’m sure my dad will make an appearance at some point, probably an uninvited appearance. He’s excited to come up. This will be a big homecoming for us.”

Cal (7-5) plays Air Force (8-5) at 1 p.m. Dec. 29 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Sonny Dykes is in his third year, and the Golden Bears are in their first bowl game since 2011. The Falcons have been to bowl games eight of the past nine years.

“That’s a very consistent program and that’s where we want to go,” Dykes said. “When you’re trying to turn a program, we’re going to get 15 practices prior to this game. That’s a whole other spring training for our young football players.

“We feel like we’re certainly the visiting team. I’m sure Air Force will have a lot of fans, especially military fans rooting for those guys.”

For Calhoun, a game in Texas means a recruiting opportunity for the service academy. Air Force has 18 Texans on its roster, nine on the two-deep list.

“There’s just no better high school football,” Calhoun said of Texas. “Exceptionally well-coached; kids are passionate. They know what it means to make a commitment. And a strong link for us is it’s a very patriotic state.”

Playing for Air Force means a least a five-year service commitment after graduation.

“For the seniors, they realize that this is the last time they’re going to play football,” Calhoun said.

In the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, Calhoun’s first year at Air Force, the Falcons lost to Cal 42-36. It remains the highest-scoring Armed Forces Bowl.

This year’s game features run-oriented Air Force against Cal’s best quarterback since Aaron Rodgers left the Berkeley campus after the 2004 season.

Golden Bears junior Jared Goff (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) is a first-team All-Pac 12 selection who completed 316 of 492 passes for 4,252 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Goff is considered a high first-round NFL draft pick in 2016.

“He’s a unique player,” Dykes said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great players, and if he’s not the best, he’s certainly one of the best.”

Air Force will counter with a running game that averages 322 yards a game, second-best in the NCAA.

“You’ll see two contrasting styles — one throws, one runs,” Armed Forces Bowl executive director Brant Ringler said. “I expect a high-scoring affair and we’re excited about this matchup.”

Eric Zarate: 817-390-7237, @zarate_eric

Air Force vs. Cal

1 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN

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