Bowl season doesn’t stop after New Year’s Day. The games keep coming with the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl between the no. 21 Cincinnati Bearcats of the AAC taking on the Boston College Eagles of the ACC. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 EST on Thursday, January 2 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Current betting odds have Cincinnati as a 7-point favorite with an over/under of 55 points. Click here to get a full list of this year’s bowl game betting odds.
The Bearcats continued their ascent up the AAC hierarchy under head coach Luke Fickell in 2019. After winning 11 games last year, the Bearcats were able to take another step forward by winning the AAC East Division for the first time. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, they came up a little short against Memphis in the conference title game, missing out on a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
On the bright side, the Bearcats have already secured a double-digit win total for the second straight season. Cincinnati is also in a bowl game for the second straight year. The Bearcats are just 6-8 in bowl games since 2000, although Fickell was able to lead Cincinnati to a 35-31 win over ACC opponent Virginia Tech in last year’s Military Bowl.
Meanwhile, Boston College is a team in transition. The Eagles endured a season of ups and downs, eventually beating Pitt in their season finale to get to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. However, it wasn’t enough for Steve Adazzio to keep his job. Adazzio was 44-44 over seven seasons, winning seven games in all but one season. However, the powers that be weren’t happy with consistent mediocrity, firing Adazzio after the season.
Current Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will take over as the new head coach after the bowl game. In the meantime, former Boston College player and longtime assistant Rich Gunnell will serve as the interim coach in the Birmingham Bowl. While the Eagles have been regular bowl participants for the past two decades, success has eluded them in recent years. BC has just one win in their last seven bowl games.
This line makes me nervous because Cincinnati had plenty of close wins this season, even in games that I thought they would win comfortably. However, I think the Bearcats will be excited to prove themselves against a power-conference team while the Eagles might be in a state of disarray after the coaching change. I also think Boston College has some weaknesses that good teams have been able to expose this year. That’s enough to make me comfortable laying down the points and taking Cincinnati to cover.
Boston College’s problems begin on the offensive side of the ball. Starting quarterback Anthony Brown went down with a season-ending injury in early October. He was replaced by Dennis Grosel, a far less proficient passer. Grosel was occasionally able to hit on some big plays when the Eagles were able to run play-action, but he completed less than 50% of his passes on the season. If the Cincinnati defense can force the BC offense into must-pass situations, Grosel isn’t likely to beat them with his arm.
Of course, Boston College was able to survive down the stretch with Grosel at quarterback because of an outstanding rushing attack. AJ Dillon led the way, amassing nearly 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, he’s turning pro and won’t play in the Birmingham Bowl. The good news is that backup David Bailey is just as dangerous, so the Eagles won’t have to abandon the run without Dillon. But Bailey isn’t the same kind of workhorse as Dillon and isn’t used to getting 20-plus carries in a game.
Perhaps more importantly, BC’s one-dimensional offense will face a strong Cincinnati defense. The Bearcats faced plenty of offenses far more potent than the BC offense and still gave up less than 22 points per game. Outside of a loss to Ohio State early in the season, the Cincinnati defense was strong against the run. They aren’t likely to stuff the run completely, but they won’t allow the Boston College rushing attack to steamroll them the way the Eagles did to a few of the weaker ACC defenses this year.
Speaking of defense, that’s also a concern for Boston College heading into the bowl game. The Eagles gave up at least 27 points in eight of their 12 games, conceding an average of 32 points per game. Teams with a good rushing attack typically did well against the BC defense. Cincinnati’s passing game had mixed results this year with Desmond Ridder completed just 55% of his passes. But the Bearcats pose a threat on the ground, averaging close to 200 rushing yards per game. Michael Warren was the feature back, totaling over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, but Ridder is also a playmaker with his legs.
I’ll admit that the BC running game worries me a little in this game. Even without Dillon, the Eagles are capable of pushing teams around at the line of scrimmage. However, I think the Cincinnati defense can slow down the BC offense, which isn’t something I feel comfortable saying about the Boston College defense. The 7-point spread worries me a little, but I think the Bearcats can win on both sides of the ball and end up covering.