December 30, 2008

Music City opponents would rather be elsewhere

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

Boston College is making its 10th consecutive bowl appearance and has won eight in a row. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is in a bowl for the first time since 1982 and for just the fourth time ever.

Still, neither team is that excited about its postseason destination Wednesday's Music City Bowl.

MUSIC CITY BOWL

Boston College (9-4)
vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Dec. 31
WHERE: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones will do play-by-play, with Bob Davie as the analyst).
THE LINE: Boston College by 3.5.
RECORD VS. BOWL TEAMS: Boston College 6-4, Vanderbilt 4-3.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Boston College 26th, Vanderbilt 60th.
BCS RANKINGS: Boston College 24th, Vanderbilt N/A.
COACHES: Boston College − Jeff Jagodzinski (1-0 in bowls); Vanderbilt − Bobby Johnson (first bowl).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you like defense, this one should have plenty of it. Vanderbilt is a nice Cinderella story; the Commodores are making their first bowl appearance since 1982.
KEY STATS: Boston College is 95th in the nation in total offense (318.5 yards per game) and sixth in total defense (273.4 ypg). Vanderbilt is 118th in total offense (260.9 ypg) and 29th in total defense (318.7 ypg).
KEEP AN EYE ON: Vandy cornerback D.J. Moore is one of the nation's most underrated players. He is a solid cover corner who has good speed and instincts. He also sees some time on offense, and when he does he becomes Vandy's most dangerous offensive player. For good measure, he also returns kicks and punts.
The bowl is in Nashville, Tenn., which is where Vanderbilt is located. The game is played at LP Field, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans. The stadium is about 15 minutes from Vandy's campus. Still, if they had their druthers, the Commodores would rather have traveled for their bowl appearance.

As for BC, this is the second season in a row the Eagles have lost in the ACC Championship Game, then fallen a long way in the league's bowl pecking order. The Chick-fil-A, Gator and Champs Sports bowls passed on the Eagles because the school traditionally doesn't sell many bowl tickets. That's the case again this season: BC reportedly sold about 2,000 tickets for the game.

As for BC's bowl winning streak, it's the longest such current streak in the nation and the second-longest ever. Florida State won 11 in a row from the 1985-95 seasons.

Who has the edge?

Boston College run offense vs. Vanderbilt run defense
Tailback Montel Harris was overshadowed in high school at Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian by heralded teammate Jamie Harper, but Harris has come up big as a true freshman. Harris is leading BC in rushing, and true freshman Josh Haden is the second-leading rusher. Vandy has had trouble with opponents running right at them, which BC will attempt to do. Four teams ran for more than 200 yards on the Commodores and two more ran for at least 158.
Edge: Boston College.

Boston College pass offense vs. Vanderbilt pass defense
Vanderbilt has one of the better secondaries in the SEC, headed by cornerback D.J. Moore and strong safety Reshard Langford. BC has a pedestrian passing attack, though receivers Rich Gunnell and Brandon Robinson have some talent. BC quarterback Dominique Davis, a redshirt freshman, will be making just his third start. BC coaches don't want the outcome to depend on Davis' arm.
Edge: Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt run offense vs. Boston College run defense
Vandy's leading rusher is Jared Hawkins, who may not be 100 percent because of a foot injury suffered against Tennessee. Hawkins is a tough runner but isn't a breakaway threat. Indeed, Vandy has no breakaway threats. QB Chris Nickson is the second-leading rusher, but it's unknown how much he'll play, as Commodores coaches say up to three quarterbacks could see time. BC is stout against the run, allowing just 92.7 yards per game. Ron Brace and B.J. Raji are loads in the middle, and there is an active linebacker group.
Edge: Boston College.

Vanderbilt pass offense vs. Boston College pass defense
The Commodores' passing attack is anemic. The receivers are mediocre, and the quarterbacks aren't good passers. BC leads the nation with 26 interceptions and has returned five of those for touchdowns. BC linebackers do a great job of dropping into coverage, which is going to bother Vandy.
Edge: Boston College.

Boston College special teams vs. Vanderbilt special teams
BC kicker Steve Aponavicius has been busy 21 attempts but not that good (14 made). He also is only 7-for-13 from 30 yards and beyond, with his longest coming from 36 yards. Punter Ryan Quigley is mediocre, as are the kick returners and the kick-coverage unit. But Gunnell is a dangerous punt returner, and BC does a good job covering punts. For Vandy, Moore is a good punt returner and a so-so kick returner. Kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt is 10-of-15 on field goals and has had two blocked; he also is just 3-for-7 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Brett Upson is adequate, though he also has had two attempts blocked. The punt-coverage team has been solid, but the kick-coverage unit has had issues.
Edge: Boston College.

Boston College coaches vs. Vanderbilt coaches
This is the second bowl in as many seasons for BC's Jeff Jagodzinski, who did a superb job this season despite losing a ton of skill-position talent. Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is one of the best in the nation, and he should have some interesting blitzes planned for Vandy. Offensive coordinator Steve Logan is a former head coach, and he has done a superb job with BC's quarterbacks in each of the past two seasons. Johnson has Vandy in a bowl for the first time since 1982 despite an offense that's not very good. Defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler almost always puts together a solid unit.
Edge: Boston College.

X-factor: BC has won eight consecutive bowl games. Though the Eagles aren't exactly happy to be shunted to this bowl, you would think the drive to keep the streak alive would be sufficient motivation. This basically is a Vandy home game but Vandy's home-field advantage typically is nonexistent.

Boston College will win if: The Eagles will win unless they cough it up three or four times and let Vandy's running game go wild. As long as BC holds Vandy to less than 130 rushing yards, it should be in good shape.

Vanderbilt will win if: The defense has to force turnovers and hopefully score on one or two of them. Vandy's offense is the worst of any bowl team, and there's no way the Commodores' popgun passing game is going to cause any damage. That means Vandy has to run the ball effectively if the Commodores want to pull the upset.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: Boston College 21, Vanderbilt 10

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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