Boston College Eagles (-2.5, 40 o/u) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
This year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl – so named because it’s played in Yankee Stadium – will take place on Saturday, December 27 (4:30 p.m. Eastern) and will feature two storied football schools as the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) meet the Boston College Eagles (7-5, 4-4 ACC).
Neither team will be pleased with how the regular season played out, but both could set the tone for next year with a bowl victory over a perennial football power.
Penn State comes in having lost two straight: a 16-14 upset at the hands of Illinois, and a 34-10 rout against Michigan State. (The Nittanies failed to cover in both games.) After starting 4-0, Penn State managed just two wins over its final eight games and finished with the second-worst record in the Big Ten (ahead of only 1-7 Indiana).
The majority of Penn State’s season featured the same storyline: the lackluster offense couldn’t score enough points to reward the exceptional defense. The Nittany Lions put up more than 20 points just once in conference play (and they needed OT to do it), losing 31-24 to Ohio State in double-overtime back in October.
The defense was stifling all season, though, and finished eighth in the nation in points allowed (17.7 per game). That unit will be hoping quarterback Christian Hackenberg – who started the year averaging 360 passing yards per game through three weeks – gets back to his early season form. The sophomore pivot failed to reach the 200 yard mark in the final five games of the season, and threw ten picks over the final eight. The demise of Hackenberg and the passing game sealed the fate of a Nittany Lions team that ranked 120th in the nation on the ground.
For Boston College, 2014 was a season of near misses. The Eagles looked poised for a resurgent year in the early going. They started 3-1 and picked up a signature win over USC in week 3. But they couldn’t eke out wins over any other top teams despite several close calls. In mid-October, Boston College played then-No. 24 Clemson tough, falling 17-13; then, in early November, the Eagles led Louisville at the half before giving up 14 unanswered in the fourth to lose 38-19.
In their second-last game of the year, B.C. went into the fourth quarter tied with undefeated Florida State, 17-17. But the offense couldn’t muster anything late, and the Noles kicked the game winning field goal with three seconds on the clock.
Like Penn State, the Eagles feature an offense that can’t keep up with its defense. Boston College scores 25.9 points per game, 85th in the nation, while its defense surrenders just 20.5, 18th in the country. Unlike Penn State, the Eagles have a run-first offense spearheaded by senior QB Tyler Murphy (1079 rushing yards and ten touchdowns) and freshman RB Jon Hilliman (712 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns).
While Murphy is a dynamic runner, he struggles in the passing game, completing just 56% of his passes on the year and throwing just one more touchdown (11) than interception (10).
Boston College has lost its last four bowl games. In 2013, the Eagles dropped the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl to Arizona (42-19). They failed to reach bowl games in 2011 or 2012 after losing to Vanderbilt, USC, and Nevada from 2008-2010. Their current cold-streak came on the heels of an unprecedented eight straight bowl wins from 2000-2007. That winning streak has kept the Eagles’ overall bowl record at a solid 13-10.
Penn State’s bowl history is a little more complicated. The Nittany Lions haven’t been to a bowl game in the past two seasons. Their last appearance was in the Ticket City Bowl on Jan. 1, 2012, when they lost 30-14 to the Houston Cougars.
However, all of Penn State’s bowl appearances from 1998-2011 seasons (including the Ticket City Bowl in 2012) were vacated due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Setting aside the retroactive sanctions, Penn State’s last bowl win came at the end of the 2009 season when a stingy Penn State defense led the team to a 19-17 win over LSU in a muddy Citrus Bowl.
Recognizing Penn State’s dreadful offense, the Eagles are currently 2.5-point favorites for this year’s Pinstripe Bowl. Recognizing both teams’ excellent defenses, the over/under is at a low 40. Both squads showed that they are capable of hanging with the best teams in college football this year, but the Eagles played better football down the stretch and have a senior QB who will be eager to go out with a win. As a result, we like B.C. to triumph in this year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
(Photo credit: Keith Lovett (originally posted to Flickr as Touchdown) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)