Air Force football pleased with Cheez-It Bowl selection, matchup with Washington State

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Air Force receiver Geraud Sanders can’t recall snacking on Cheez-Its since middle school.

He plans to change that immediately.

“I would love to get a box of Cheez-Its,” said Sanders, hours after the Falcons were selected to the bowl that bears the snack food’s name.

No. 24 Air Force will play Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl at 8:15 p.m. Dec. 27 in Phoenix, it was announced Sunday. Falcons players seemed unanimous in their approval of the food (“I like Cheez-Its and Cheese Nips,” offensive lineman Scott Hattok said. “If I had to choose one, I’d definitely choose Cheez-Its.”) and in their support of their bowl-game draw.

The Cheez-It Bowl wasn’t part of the Mountain West’s bowl lineup, but the league’s contingency agreement with the game was activated when the Big 12 sent Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff and subsequently didn’t have enough eligible teams to fill out its bowl games. The Falcons join Mountain West champion Boise State as the conference’s only teams who will play opponents from Power 5 conferences in a bowl game.

6 from Air Force earn all-Mountain West football honors

“I think everyone on the team is excited to have the opportunity to go out and play a very solid opponent and show what we can do,” said Hattok, a first-team all-Mountain West selection at offensive tackle.

The matchup presents extreme opposites in styles. Washington State leads the nation in passing yards. Air Force ranks third in rushing yards. Cougars coach Mike Leach is known for taking pointed stances in long answers in news conferences. Falcons coach Troy Calhoun has a reputation for brevity with media and skirting direct questions. Air Force’s Mosese Fifita stars on the defensive line. His brother, Ma’ake Fifita, plays on the offensive line for Washington State.

“If my mom comes to the game, I hope she wears Air Force gear,” Mosese Fifita said.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

“We’re really excited about this year’s matchup,” said the game’s executive director Mike Nealy, noting the offenses should provide a contrast to last year’s game that saw TCU top California 10-7.

The Cheez-It Bowl was formerly known as the Copper Bowl, Insight Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Cactus Bowl. It is played at Chase Field, home to MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

This will be Air Force’s first bowl game since appearing in the Arizona Bowl in 2016, where it won 45-21 over South Alabama.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” Leach said. “Thrilled to be playing a team the quality of Air Force.

“Being American and everything, I always root for Air Force.”

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said being part of the Cheez-It Bowl would be “beyond a privilege,” though he noted simulating Washington State’s passing attack would be difficult.

“It is going to be a gigantic challenge,” Calhoun said. “You’ve heard me say it before, I think our guys embrace challenges. And this is going to be one unlike we’ve ever encountered.”

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