The last Penn State bowl appearance was hardly an experience the Nittany Lions want to remember.
In 2011, Penn State went to Dallas to play in a bowl game televised on ESPNU in a crowded slot with more appealing matchups in the Capital One and Outback bowls. That the bowl was an afterthought was just fine.
Under interim coach Tom Bradley, Penn State lost 30-14 to Houston, ending a season in which the program was reeling from scandal.
This game will be different.
Penn State entered the season with the NCAA-mandated bowl ban still in place. That sanction ended Sept. 10, though the Nittany Lions needed until Nov. 15 to ensure they’d end 2014 in the postseason.
No, this isn’t the kind of bowl destination Penn State normally would be accustomed to visiting a decade ago, but the return should be an appealing matchup.
Penn State draws a Boston College team that finished 7-5, defeated USC and played Florida State and Clemson within less than a touchdown.
The two programs played every year from 1981-92 with Penn State winning all but two meetings during that stretch of the series. With Boston College winning a home-and-home in 2003-04 and the 1992 matchup, the Eagles have a three-game winning streak in the series.
Boston College vs. Penn State
Kickoff: Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m.
Spread: Boston College by 2 1/2
Boston College’s Key to Victory: Unleash Tyler Murphy
The Eagles are at their best when quarterback Tyler Murphy is methodically moving them down the field. The Florida transfer rushed for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and did just enough in the passing game to keep teams honest. He was interception-free in six of the final seven games, but the exception was as a doozy with four picks against Louisville. Facing the middle of the Penn State defense led by linebacker Mike Hull and tackle Anthony Zettel, though, will be tough.
Penn State’s Key to Victory: Continue the late-season run game momentum
This is not a great matchup for Penn State’s embattled offensive line. Boston College is eighth in fewest yards allowed per carry (3.1) and fourth in rushing yards per game (95.5). Don Brown’s defense features three down linemen and brings the blitz, so the Nittany Lions’ line will have their hands full in protecting quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Penn State rushed for at least 160 yards in three of the last four games, albeit agains Indiana, Temple and Illinois. Even in that stretch, Penn State still gave up nine sacks. Against five winning teams in 2014, Penn State averaged 1.4 yards per carry and 43.4 rushing yards per game.
Normally a matchup between a 6-6 Big Ten team and a 7-5 ACC team wouldn’t carry a great deal of weight, but this game will be different. Penn State’s return to a bowl is one storyline, but a victory would give the Nittany Lions a winning season each year under NCAA sanctions, no insignificant feat. Boston College, a program that won eight bowl games in eight seasons at one point, is now riding a four-bowl losing streak. A win would give BC its first eight-win season since 2009 and first bowl victory since 2007. That said, finding ways to score will be a challenge. These two teams both rank in the top 12 in total defense and are allowing fewer than 21 points per game.