Sports, Football

Eagles Face Difficult Path to Bowl Eligibility in Final Five Games

Through two weeks, Boston College football seemed well on its way to another bowl. The Eagles took care of business against a Virginia Tech team that was favored in the season opener, then rolled past Richmond. With Kansas and Rutgers on tap next, BC had a not-so-slim chance of starting the year 4-0, which would place head coach Steve Addazio’s team two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility.

Then the Kansas disaster happened, and the Eagles saw their projected win total, per ESPN’s FPI, slip to just four wins (4.4). Now, six weeks later, we find Addazio’s team at 4-3 after a bounce-back victory over North Carolina State, in which BC used a dominant rushing attack and a stifling defensive effort to come away with a 45-24 win. The Eagles now have five games left to find two wins, and unfortunately for Addazio, the schedule isn’t particularly forgiving. 

Per ESPN, the Eagles have the sixth-hardest remaining strength of schedule in Division I football, and it’s 24 spots higher than any other ACC team (Duke is 30th). Not only does BC play a pair of College Football Playoff participants from last year, four of its final five games are also on the road. The Eagles’ inability to beat the Jayhawks and back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Louisville by a combined five points are haunting Addazio and Co., but while FPI projects them to finish 5-7, it seems that there are at least two—if not three—potential wins left on the schedule. Here’s a look at who BC has left to play, and what it’ll take for the Eagles to go bowling for the sixth time in seven years under Addazio.

Oct. 26 at Clemson (FPI Chance to Win: 2 percent)

clemson football

For all the hubbub around the Tigers (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast) dropping to No. 4 in the national polls despite starting the year 7-0, Clemson is still a force to be reckoned with and it’ll be awfully hard for BC to stay in this game. The Tigers have won 40 of their last 41 games at home, and bring in both the conference’s top-ranked offense and defense into this matchup. 

Dabo Swinney is 10-1 as a head coach against the Eagles, and his team has won the last eight matchups, with the lone loss coming back in 2010. Last year’s meeting was highly anticipated, as BC was No. 17 at the time, but once Anthony Brown went down, all hope was basically lost en route to a 27-7 loss, where the Eagles managed just 113 yards of offense. As 34.5-point underdogs, BC will hope to keep it close for at least a few quarters, but it’ll likely drop back to .500 and hope to avoid any injuries.

Nov. 2 at Syracuse (41.1 percent)

syracuse football

Per FPI, this matchup in the Carrier Dome is the one that the Eagles have the best chance of winning out of the remaining games on their schedule. Syracuse (3-4, 0-3), which was pegged as the second-best team in the ACC at the start of the year, has yet to register a Power Five victory—making the Orange one of just five teams in the country without one. 

The biggest issue has been on the offensive line, as Syracuse has allowed 35 sacks—the most in the country—and also ranks 117th in rushing yardage. Quarterback Tommy DeVito left last week’s game against Pittsburgh with an injury after constantly being chased from the pocket, and while backup Clayton Welch was serviceable in attempting to engineer a comeback, the team as a whole has plenty of questions. There hasn’t been much sign of improvement from Dino Babers’ side, and BC will attempt to run over a Syracuse defense that is allowing 4.14 yards per carry. This will be a must-win for Addazio, and right now, the Eagles look like the better team despite being underdogs in terms of FPI.

Nov. 9 vs. Florida State (39.8 percent)

florida state football

With a win over the Orange, BC would need just one more victory to punch its ticket to the postseason, and it’ll have a good chance to get it against an up-and-down Seminoles (3-4, 2-3) team. In their final home game of the year—and also the Red Bandana Game—the Eagles will likely come out firing against FSU, which hung with Wake Forest last week in a two-point loss. 

Time is ticking on head coach Willie Taggart’s tenure, as he finds himself at third on the weekly college football hot seat rankings. The Seminoles have been marred by late-game execution issues, which popped up in a major way against the Demon Deacons. Taggart hasn’t been able to get the best out of his team, as FSU has one of the more talented defenses in the ACC in terms of recruiting rankings, but is 13th in the conference in scoring defense (30.7 points per game). Throw in the fact that FSU has the ACC’s worst passing defense and ranks 10th in rushing defense, and BC is poised to win a potential shootout.

Nov. 23 at Notre Dame (5.4 percent)

notre dame football

The realistic best-case scenario heading into South Bend is clear: If the Eagles beat both Syracuse and FSU, they’ll be 6-4 and coming off a bye week to give top-10 Notre Dame (5-1) their best shot—a hypothetical which is filled with potential for Addazio’s side. BC came out of its last bye week brimming with confidence, and its breakdown-plagued defense was flying all over the field early en route to a 21-point blowout of N.C. State. Still, even if the Eagles are .500 or below, this should be a physical and entertaining matchup at the least. 

While the Irish have taken the last six meetings, the 2015 matchup is one to point to—BC had lost six straight but only lost to then-No. 5 Notre Dame by a field goal at Fenway. Keeping it close this season could be hard, though, as the Irish currently boast the 13th-best offense, per Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings, and the No. 35 defense. Quarterback Ian Book poses a serious problem for BC’s defense, as he’s completing 63 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns to two interceptions, while running back Tony Jones Jr. has impressed for an offense that is scoring 39.2 points per game.

Nov. 30 at Pittsburgh (30.8 percent)

pittsburgh football

A conference matchup closes out the regular season, and it could either be a must-win (should the Eagles drop one of Syracuse and FSU) or one with the potential to land Addazio yet another seven-win season. The Panthers (5-2, 2-1) have played their way to second place in the Coastal Division with four straight wins, but they’ve come by a combined 14 points. The margin for error has been slim for Pittsburgh, which almost blew leads in three of those games. The inability to play a full game is concerning for head coach Pat Narduzzi’s squad, but they have a decent chance of keeping the winning streak alive for a bit—they play Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech before hosting the Eagles. 

BC has a chance to win this one, as it seems more of a tossup than the 70 percent win probability that FPI has the Panthers at right now. The big story will, once again, be the opposing team’s rushing defense. Pittsburgh, through seven games, is holding opponents to an ACC-best 90.4 rushing yards per game and just 2.7 yards per carry. The other storyline is the Panthers’ streaky quarterback Kenny Pickett, as he’s fifth in the ACC in passing yards but just 13th in efficiency. 

Bottom Line

Overall, the best case scenario for Addazio and the Eagles is wins over Syracuse, FSU, and Pittsburgh, once again securing a 7-5 regular season for the much-maligned head coach. The worst case scenario? It seems unlikely considering the issues that the Orange and Seminoles have faced, but BC could drop both of those games in disappointing fashion and limp to the finish line on a five-game losing streak, ending the year 4-8. The betting lines in those games should be slim, and while the Eagles looked much improved against the Wolfpack, you have to avoid leaping to conclusions. A 6-6 season seems most likely, and that’ll be enough to get BC to a bowl game. It’s just a matter of executing on the road and making the most of a cold-weather home game against a team from Florida.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor
Images by AJ Mast, Will Newton, Keith Srakocic, and Richard Shiro / AP Photo

October 23, 2019