One could say that Baylor coach Dave Aranda has returned to his roots for Thursday night’s Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas.

Aranda will serve as his own defensive coordinator after canning Ron Roberts following the Bears’ 6-6 season. Aranda ascended to the Baylor job after running the LSU defense for Ed Orgeron during a 15-0 national championship season in 2019.

“You go into my office now, my desk, I’ve got fits and drawings all over,” Aranda said. “I remember those days. It used to be a clean desk. It’s not like that anymore.”

Playing against a true triple-option desk could turn even the most stringent neat freak into a messaholic. The Falcons (9-3) led the FBS in rushing, averaging 330.9 yards per game, and have the nation’s third-leading rusher in fullback Brad Roberts and his 1,612 yards.

Taking away the fullback in an option attack is always paramount, but even more so when you talk about Air Force. It’s 9-1 when Roberts runs for at least 100 yards. The only teams to hold him under three figures? Wyoming and Boise State.

“For our players, we have to inspire them to the point where they can execute the mundane, play after play after play,” Aranda said.

At the same time, the Bears can’t get caught rocking the mundane all the time. Falcons quarterback Haaziq Daniels averages more than 20 yards per completion and has accounted for 13 touchdowns — seven of which have come on the ground.

Air Force was seen by some before the season as being the Group of Five’s top candidate to earn a New Year’s Day bowl bid. But it was beaten in mid-September at Wyoming to end those hopes and then couldn’t win its division in the Mountain West Conference.

However, the Falcons still have a shot at a 10-win season, which is an impressive accomplishment at a service academy. And it would be a nice footnote to the fact they’ve already claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after beating Army and Navy.

“For us to be able to encounter someone like this for one game, our guys realize we are extremely fortunate to be in this situation,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.

Baylor has won all three meetings between the two teams, but this is their first matchup since 1977.

–Field Level Media