Eagles, Bearcats set to face off at historic Legion Field
The TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl will certainly have two teams with vastly different seasons squaring off this year. Cincinnati (10-3, 7-1 AAC) was among the top Group of 5 contenders for a spot in the New Year's Six but fell one win shy of potentially playing in the Cotton Bowl. Boston College (6-6, 4-4 ACC) needed a win in the final game of the regular season just to reach bowl eligibility and will go into the game with an interim head coach, wide receivers coach Jeff Gunnell, following the firing of Steve Addazio.
Adding to the situation for the Eagles, they will be without their top running back as he prepares to head off to the NFL. Addazio has already resurfaced at Colorado State while former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley is set to take over at Boston College and could be in attendance at Legion Field since the Buckeyes' season is over.
On the other side, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell remains a name to watch whenever the coaching carousel is spinning, but he has managed to stay put for at least another season, so it would appear.
It looks like a classic matchup with a solid non-power program poised to end the season on a high note taking on a team just happy to be playing in a bowl game without its head coach and top offensive player. Can Cincinnati end the season with a victory over a team from the ACC?
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Boston College (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (10-3)
Kickoff: Thursday, Jan. 2 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Legion Field (Birmingham, Ala.)
Spread: Cincinnati -7
When Boston College Has the Ball
Boston College junior running back AJ Dillon has decided not to play in the Birmingham Bowl so he can begin to keep his focus on staying healthy and prepping for the NFL draft process. Not having a back with 1,685 yards and 14 touchdowns this season and more than 4,000 career rushing yards means Boston College will have some big shoes to fill in the backfield. David Bailey will likely be the beneficiary of Dillon's absence, and he will be a worthy replacement. Bailey has rushed for 816 yards and seven touchdowns this season as the Eagles continue to be strong on the ground.
Boston College also has been very good at protecting the football. The Eagles had the fewest turnovers lost in the ACC (11) during the regular season. Cincinnati ended the season leading the American Athletic Conference (AAC) in turnovers forced with 25. The Bearcats will attack the football, but the Eagles have shown they know how to protect it.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Cincinnati has struggled on offense this season and enters this bowl game averaging just 385.0 yards per game (10th in the AAC, ahead of only UConn and South Florida). Junior running back Michael Warren has been one of the bright spots for the team this season with 1,160 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Quarterback Desmond Ridder has not thrown a touchdown since Nov. 9.
If anything is going to allow Cincinnati's offense to get a jolt, it may be the porous Boston College defense. The Eagles finished the regular season ranked 126th in the nation in yards allowed per game at 480.3. Texas Tech is the only Power 5 program with a worst defensive average. Boston College ranks 88th against the run and 126th against the pass. If Cincinnati can't get yards in this game, there is something wrong.
Boston College is a program searching for a new identity, and it is not likely to be discovered in Birmingham. It is usually a question of how interested the power conference team is in a bowl matchup like this, but there may be more concern about Cincinnati's mindset knowing how close they were to playing in the Cotton Bowl. Expect some sloppiness by both offenses at times, especially early on, but look for Cincinnati to clean things up enough and get in a groove against a defense that has struggled to stop just about everybody this season.
Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Boston College 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)