After being played the last two years on the SMU campus, the Armed Forces Bowl is returning to Fort Worth. The stadium on the TCU has undergone a $164 million rebuild since the bowl, which debuted in 2003, was last played there in 2009.
"They do such a super job of creating different opportunities and experiences for your guys that it actually seems like quite a while since we have been there," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "So we are excited. Great food; great, great hospitality and I look forward to playing in a terrific venue with the upgrades that have been made there too."
Air Force accepted an invitation to return to Fort Worth right after getting its sixth victory, a 21-7 win over Hawaii on Nov. 16. It is their school-record sixth consecutive season with a bowl game.
The only team other than Air Force and three-time participant Houston with multiple Armed Force Bowl appearances is Tulsa with two. Rice is in the bowl for the first time.
The Falcons lost to California in 2007, then split consecutive matchups against Houston, losing in 2008 before a 47-20 win in 2009. Both losses were by six points.
Rice got its spot in the Armed Forces Bowl when Tulsa won the Conference USA championship game on Saturday, sending the Golden Hurricane to the Liberty Bowl as the league's representative. That put the Owls in Fort Worth instead of the New Orleans Bowl.
The Owls have a four-game winning streak, averaging 41 points a game in that stretch, and won five of their last six games. This is their third bowl game since a postseason drought from 1961 to 2006.
"We were a good football team. We were competitive in every game," coach David Bailiff said. "Very resilient group of young men that showed up, even when we back ourselves into the corner and knew we had to win out to become bowl eligible."
Hatfield's first head coaching job was at Air Force from 1979-83, and he won bowl games each of his last two seasons. He then went to Arkansas and Clemson, then was at Rice from 1994-2005.
Bailiff was asked who was going to win to have Hatfield as an honorary coach.
"We want him to be there and it wouldn't even matter really what sideline he's on," the current Rice coach said. "He's just one of the greatest guys that's ever been in the business, and you know, we are just hopeful that he can come to the game."
Calhoun had similar flattering things to say about Hatfield, and credited him with doing "an awful lot to rejuvenate" the Air Force program with those two bowl victories three decades ago.
Before taking over in 2007 as head coach at Air Force, where he was a quarterback and started his coaching career in the late 1980s, Calhoun was offensive coordinator for one season with the NFL's Texans in Houston -- home of Rice.