Arizona Bowl Chairman Ali Farhang had a smile and said, “We’ve come a long way in two years.”
Indeed, the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl seemingly has with the announcement Sunday afternoon that Air Force (Mountain West, 9-3 overall) will face South Alabama (Sun Belt Conference, 6-6) in Arizona Stadium on Dec. 30 in the second annual Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
“I’m ecstatic, they were both the teams of our choice,” said Farhang. “Air Force comes with its own distinguished history and South Alabama beat the Mountain West champion (San Diego State) and Mississippi State.”
Bowl game officials celebrated the announcement at Sir Vezas where local fans were part of the festivities.
Farhang felt late Saturday night those would be the two teams coming to Tucson in late December and felt more secure about the two teams coming on Sunday morning.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, in a conference call, said his team is excited to be coming to Tucson and he found “it a bit ironic that a couple of times this year we’ve worn uniforms to honor our great aviators and a good number of those were A-10 pilots that were based out of Davis-Monthan. This is really, really cool.”
Calhoun called it a “great location” to come and play at, given the temperature.
“How many people would love to play college football in late December in Arizona or play a bowl game at that time of year,” he said. “Great place and they are great with their service members. And we play a great opponent.”
Calhoun specifically pointed out that South Alabama defeated Mississippi State in Starkville and San Diego State.
“We will see how well we will represent our conference,” he said.
This is South Alabama’s second bowl game in three years. South Alabama has been a Division I program for four years.
Beating Mississippi State helped the program get “great credibility to South Alabama. It was really good times and another stepping stone to where we need to get,” said coach Joey Jones.
Jones said he’s looking for his program to eventually get to a level where South Alabama can be part of the national college football landscape, joining teams like Boise State, Western Michigan and Southern Mississippi from years past.
“We obviously have a ways to go,” Jones said, “but that’s the type of program we want to have.”
Mike Feder, executive director of the game, praised South Alabama for getting in, saying, “It wasn’t an easy route. They had to work very hard to get here. Look who they beat.”
And if he would “have had a choice of anybody it would have been Air Force. They mean so much to this community.”
Having the Falcons here will help game organizers continue to make the Nova Home Loans Arizona Hero Tribute even more appealing. Bowl officials are hoping local sponsors help to underwrite tickets for active military, veterans, fire fighters, police/sheriff and teachers.
“It’s actually a program that’s going very well,” Feder said. “… We want to have the airman have pride that their school is playing in this game.”
The game will be televised by American Sports Network. Locally the game will be on KWBA-TV, a local CW affiliate. Campus Insiders will stream the event live.