Mike Fiammetta
Tuesday December 23rd, 2014

Boston College Eagles (7-5) vs. Penn State (6-6)
Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates for every 2014-15 game

• Reason to watch: In James Franklin's first year in Happy Valley (thanks in large part to the NCAA lifting most of the severe sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal), the Nittany Lions are going bowling. Penn State entered the season only halfway through the NCAA's initial four-year bowl ban and seemed mostly focused on repairing the program under the energetic Franklin. Though the Nittany Lions went just 2-6 in Big Ten play -- losing four straight conference games from late September to early November -- the program gets an undeniable boost by once again playing in a bowl game, especially one so close to home.

• Keep an eye on: Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy. While Penn State finished the season No. 1 in rushing defense (84.8 yards allowed per game) and No. 2 in total defense (269.8 yards allowed per game), Murphy is a dual-threat weapon who set the ACC single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,079 yards. He had four 100-yard rushing games plus two more with at least 92 yards. A fifth-year graduate student who transferred from Florida after getting his degree, Murphy stepped in and led a Boston College squad that had three of its five losses come down to the game's final minutes.

• Did you know: Boston College hasn't won a bowl game since winning eight straight from 2000-07. The Eagles went 11-3 in '07 but dropped to 9-5 in '08 and lost in the Music City Bowl. Since then, Boston College hasn't won more than eight games in a season.

Penn State lost two straight bowls before its postseason ban was implemented, falling to Florida in the 2011 Outback Bowl and then to Houston in the 2012 TickeyCity Bowl. Franklin led Vanderbilt to a bowl in each of his three seasons there from 2011-13, winning the last two (Music City in 2012, BBVA Compass in 2013).

• Final analysis: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg can end his disappointing sophomore season with a strong performance against Boston College. After he claimed Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013, Hackenberg's numbers have fallen across the board. He's completed only 54.4 percent of his passes (down from 58.9 percent), averaged 6.0 yards per attempt (down from 7.5) and thrown eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions (after posting a 20-to-10 ratio last season).

Penn State's offensive line hasn't given Hackenberg much help, allowing 42 sacks, more than all but six other FBS teams. The rushing game also ranked 120th with 100.3 yards per game. Against Boston College's defense -- No. 12 in total defense (313.5 yards allowed per game) and No. 19 in scoring defense (20.5 points allowed per game), Penn State must improve at least one aspect of its subpar offense for it to have a chance at its first bowl win since 2009.

• The pick: Boston College 21, Penn State 13

STAPLES: Big Ten aims to revamp reputation in bowl season

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