BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (7-5) vs. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-6)
DEC. 27, 4:30 P.M. ET, YANKEE STADIUM, BRONX, N.Y. (ESPN)
BOSTON COLLEGE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: Few scenes in college football this season could compare to the one in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Sept. 13, as the Eagles upset then-No. 9 USC 37-31, leading to a prime-time field-storming. More special than the victory itself was whom it was for, as BC donned red bandana-themed uniforms in honor of alum and 9/11 hero Welles Crowther, whose family was given a game ball in the locker room from second-year coach Steve Addazio. Beating Virginia Tech for the second straight year, on Nov. 1 in Blacksburg, made the Eagles bowl eligible for the second year in a row.
Season lowlights: A 24-21 home loss to Colorado State on Sept. 27 looked bad at the time, but CSU ended up winning 10 games this season, easing the pain of that defeat. BC played subpar in home losses to Pitt and Louisville, but neither probably hurt more than losses to Clemson (17-13) and Florida State (20-17), division powers that BC was a play away from beating (a year after giving both teams great shots too).
Player to watch: Tyler Murphy is arguably the best transfer pickup in college football this season. The former Florida quarterback -- whom Addazio recruited to Gainesville during his time as an assistant there -- enrolled at BC during the spring semester, won the starting job and hasn't slowed down since. Murphy broke the ACC record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,079) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,526 yards and 11 scores, with 10 interceptions, as he has given BC a completely different look on offense from a year ago.
Motivation factor: A victory would make BC 8-5 and show improvement over Addazio's first season, when the Eagles went 7-6. It would also be his first bowl victory with the Eagles. More than anything, every little step is a sign of progress for a program that was coming off a two-win season in 2012 when Addazio took over. He has said this is a five-year rebuilding job. If he is winning seven or eight games a year while "rebuilding," the buzz and potential around the program will continue to grow as he lands more recruiting classes.
-- Matt Fortuna
PENN STATE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: The Nittany Lions’ season started promisingly enough. Christian Hackenberg opened by throwing for 454 yards against UCF in a 26-24 win as he drove the offense downfield and Sam Ficken hit a last-second, game-winning field goal. A few weeks later, Hackenberg was instrumental in guiding Penn State to a last-minute 13-10 win over Rutgers. Since then, the defense has dominated -- but wins have been hard to find. On the bright side, Bill Belton rushed for a 92-yard touchdown against Indiana in a 13-7 win. And the Lions did force Ohio State into double overtime before losing 31-24.
Season lowlights: The offensive line was a bad punch line for much of the season, but it hit a new low against Northwestern in a 29-6 loss. Offensive guard Brian Gaia closed his eyes and inadvertently blocked a teammate as Penn State failed to convert a fourth-and-1 play. (The clip went viral.) A 16-14 loss to Illinois caused alumni -- such as running back Ki-Jana Carter -- to criticize the offense on Twitter; Carter called it “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.” Then there was the loss to Maryland after the Terps’ team captains refused to shake hands.
Player to watch: LB Mike Hull. He was named the Big Ten linebacker of the year, and he is the heart of the nation’s top-ranked rush defense and No. 3 total defense. He has the ability to take over a game and has more than twice as many stops as the No. 2 tackler on Penn State. Hull has 134 tackles, notched 10.5 tackles for loss and had a hand in three turnovers. He’s not the biggest linebacker at 6-foot-0, 223 pounds, but he’s smart, fast and strong.
Motivation factor: This bowl game is a bonus of sorts for Penn State. When the Nittany Lions received sanctions in the summer of 2012, stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, they were also punished with a four-year postseason ban. But that ban was lifted in September. Thousands of Penn State fans crowded the streets in the hours following the announcement, some surfing on mattresses, to celebrate the news. For Penn State, this is its first bowl since the 2011 season. And this team doesn’t want the seniors who stuck with this program to end their careers with a loss.
-- Josh Moyer