Champs Sports Bowl

Champs Sports Bowl

Champs Sports Bowl preview: Boston College vs. Michigan State

Champs Sports Bowl
Teams: Boston College (10-3) versus Michigan State (7-5)
Date: Friday, Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Line: Boston College -3, 56 ½ O/U

The Boston College Eagles and the Michigan State Spartans meet in Orlando’s Champs Sports Bowl, a pair of programs that improved under first-year head coaches this season.

Boston College’s rise to claim the ACC Atlantic title under new man Jeff Jagodzinski may have been the bigger surprise. The Eagles lost former coach Tom O’Brien to division rival North Carolina State. O’Brien led BC for 10 seasons and a seven-game winning run in bowl games, the nation’s longest current streak.

Jagodzinski’s first college head coaching job was made easier by the presence of upperclassmen throughout the Eagles’ lineup. None was more important than senior quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan came out gunning, leading the Eagles to an 8-0 start. He led an amazing comeback win in the dying minutes at Virginia Tech at the end of October that served two purposes: it placed Boston College No. 2 in the national rankings and made Ryan the favorite for the Heisman Trophy at the time.

Eagles-fever died down in November and December, when Ryan threw more interceptions than touchdown passes and BC slumped to a 2-3 finish. The Eagles had a shot at an Orange Bowl berth but lost their rematch with the Hokies in the ACC Championship game.

The Eagles’ anticlimactic conclusion to the season doesn’t diminish how threatening they are to opposing teams.

The team’s offensive numbers are pass-heavy. That’s a natural reaction to having an NFL-ready quarterback running the show behind an experienced line that excels in pass protection. Boston College’s senior backfield duo can make plays when needed. Andre Callender caught the game-winning touchdown pass against the Hokies, one of 72 catches he made on the year out of the backfield. Callender also ran for nearly 1,000 yards.

One of the only offensive glitches for the Eagles is former walk-on kicker Steve Aponavicius, who hit only 65 percent of his field goal attempts and missed four extra points this season.

Defensively, the Eagles could use the healthy return of shutdown cornerback DeJuan Tribble. However they excelled all year at stuffing the run. Boston College was the top school in the nation against the ground game, allowing opponents only 68 rushing yards per game.

There lies the battle for the Spartans, who come to Orlando boasting one of the country’s top ground attacks. Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick were a nightmare lightning-and-thunder duo for opponents this year, combining for 2,159 yards and 27 touchdowns, all rushing.

MSU’s new head coach Mark Dantonio rode Ringer and Caulcrick to an early-season winning record, something Dantonio’s predecessor, John L. Smith, had no problem doing. The Spartans overcame their reputation for late-season collapses by shifting focus away from the run. They recognized that receiver Devin Thomas is as dangerous a player as you’ll find in the Big Ten.

The Spartans delivered a pair of upset wins to close the season 7-5 as quarterback Brian Hoyer looked Thomas’ way early and often. Thomas, who doubles as a kickoff return threat, caught 17 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in the final two wins.

Michigan State will need all the offensive balance it can muster to keep up with Boston College. The Spartans’ defense rarely slowed down its conference opponents, allowing 33 points per game in Big Ten action.

One shining star on the MSU defense was Jonal Saint-Dic, a finalist for the Ted Hendricks award as the nation’s top defensive end. Saint-Dic was a disruptive force in opposing backfields, recording 10 quarterback sacks and setting a Big Ten single-season record by forcing eight fumbles.

Saint-Dic and fellow end Ervin Baldwin may, in fact, be the keys to the Champs Sports Bowl. If they can find ways to hassle Ryan, the Spartans could surprise. If Ryan has time to set up and throw downfield, however, the Eagles could recapture their early-season winning ways.

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