Football, Sports

Projecting BC’s 2021 Bowl Placement

After opting out of bowl selection one year ago, Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley will compete in the postseason for the first time with his new team. A win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 13 secured bowl eligibility for the eighth time in nine years and the second time in Hafley’s tenure. 

Two straight losses to end the season—against Wake Forest and Florida State—landed BC at an even 6–6 on the season, including 2–6 in ACC play. Still, a 4–0 start to the season for BC spelled good news for the Eagles’ postseason hopes, and wins over ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech sent the Eagles bowling once again. 

Formal bowl placements will be released on Sunday, but for now, there are two bowls where BC fans could expect to see the Eagles at the end of the year. The most likely outcome for BC would be an appearance in the Fenway Bowl on Dec. 29 at Fenway Park. Practically every major outlet projects a close-to-home game for the Eagles. Still, it’s possible the Eagles could hear their name called for the Pinstripe Bowl, played at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 29. 

Just as BC made last-minute changes to its bowl plans last season, so did the Fenway Bowl itself. The game, organized by ESPN Events and Fenway Sports Management, was set to debut during the 2020–21 bowl season, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused its cancellation. The game will instead debut this year with an 11 a.m. kickoff on Dec. 29. As the bowl holds tie-ins to the ACC and the American Athletic Conference (AAC), should BC find itself staying in Boston for the postseason, the Eagles would face their fourth non-Power Five opponent of the year.

The Pinstripe Bowl, on the other hand, has been around for over a decade, with its debut game coming in 2010. Its tie-ins come from the ACC and the Big Ten, but it previously played host to the Big 12 and the Big East, the latter of which BC was a member of until 2005. 

Which Bowl Will BC Go to and Who Will It Play?

As the Fenway Bowl will be played for the first time this year, there is no track record to suggest how the pedigree of the game would be evaluated next to the other tie-ins for the AAC. The fact that the bowl is a guaranteed tie-in for the AAC, rather than a bowl in which the AAC has a potential slot, suggests that it will be slotted relatively well in the AAC bowl pecking order. 

Seven AAC teams are bowl eligible, with Cincinnati a shoo-in for a New Year’s Six spot regardless of the outcome in the AAC championship between the Bearcats and Houston. Should Houston spring a surprise upset, it could find itself on the way to a New Year’s Six berth as well. The Cougars would be a likely matchup for BC assuming Cincinnati cruises to a win on Saturday. 

BC and Houston have played three times previously, with the pair facing off in a home-and-home series in 1961 and 1962, and a 45–28 Eagles win in the 1985 Cotton Bowl. The Cougars have one of the stingiest defenses in the nation and a solid attack under head coach and air raid offense enthusiast Dana Holgorsen. 

Aside from Houston, other potential matchups include Central Florida, Southern Methodist, and Memphis. Southern Methodist—which will have an interim coach for the bowl game after head coach Sonny Dykes left for Texas Christian—and Central Florida are both 8–4, and Memphis is 6–6. Though all three programs have taken steps back offensively this year after establishing themselves as some of the most dynamic attacks in the nation over recent seasons, they have each still showcased stand-out moments this season. 

With the Pinstripe Bowl generally playing host to ACC and Big Ten programs on the lower end of bowl eligibility, 7–5 Penn State and 6–6 Maryland lead the list of potential candidates from the Big Ten. Minnesota, Purdue, and Wisconsin all stand at 8–4 and could also be options but would likely be slotted for superior bowls. 

The Nittany Lions were an enigma in 2021, nearly knocking off Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State while also falling to Illinois in a showcase of offensive futility. Penn State has one of the top defenses in the country and a longtime—if unspectacular—starting quarterback in Sean Clifford. BC faced off against Penn State in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl and narrowly fell 31–30.

Maryland started the season off hot on the arm of Taulia Tagovailoa but fell off later on and was repeatedly decimated by the big dogs of the Big Ten. The Eagles have a solid body of work historically against the Terrapins thanks to Maryland’s previous home in the ACC, and the two last met in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl for a 36–30 BC win. 

Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor

December 1, 2021