With Boston College amid a search to replace fired head coach Steve Addazio, its bowl fate felt like an afterthought, until the Eagles found out Sunday they would be flying south to ring in the New Year.
The Eagles (6-6) will travel to Alabama on Jan. 2 for the Birmingham Bowl, where they’ll face American Athletic Conference opponent Cincinnati (10-3).
This will be the Eagles fourth straight bowl appearance and their sixth in the past seven seasons.
“I had kind of been hearing a lot of things — Birmingham, Detroit, we’re going to play before New Years, after New Years,” said Ben Glines, a BC senior captain and wide receiver. “And I tried not to get wrapped up in that. The opportunity to play in a bowl game — one more game for myself guaranteed — any football that I play after this point is hard-earned stuff. So I’m definitely thankful.”
They will be playing in Alabama for the first time since 1984 when they stunned the No. 9 Crimson Tide in a 38-31 comeback victory behind an epic performance from Doug Flutie, who rallied the Eagles from a 17-point deficit by running for a touchdown, throwing for two others and playing the final 20 minutes with an injured left shoulder.
Since winning their regular-season finale at Pittsburgh, the past week has been a blur for the Eagles. A day after the victory, BC parted ways with Addazio, who compiled a 44-44 record after seven seasons, closing the door on a chapter in program history that restored stability but ultimately went stale.
Wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell was installed as interim head coach and will lead the Eagles in their bowl game.
“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” said captain and defensive lineman Tanner Karafa. “But I wish Coach Addazio the best. I loved him and I’m happy that I got to spend all five years with the same head coach, the guy I came in with.
“So we wish him the best of luck and I know Coach Gunnell’s going to do a great job getting us this seventh win.”
Glines echoed the sentiment, but said the team’s rallied around each other as well as Gunnell, who will guide the Eagles as their bowl prep begins this week.
“Obviously, that’s a change, a curveball that came and that’s just something that you’ve got to deal with in college football,” Glines said. “At the end of the day, it’s a game, but it is a business at the same time. I have nothing but thanks to Coach Addazio for getting me to Boston College.
“Any time you get coaching changes like that, it definitely puts some pressure on people, but at the same time, it forces us to lean on one another and it forces the leadership of this team to kind of band together, maybe forces some young guys to step up and kind of really does make the team come together.
“You have no other choice. It’s kind of like a make-or-break moment right there, where you’re either going to band together or you’re going to start to fall apart, and we’re banding together right now.”
As the program deals with the task of moving on from a disappointing season and choosing a new leader, the Eagles still have an opportunity to finish the season with seven wins for the sixth time in seven years.
Gunnell, who was out of town on a recruiting trip Sunday, said in a statement, “We are excited for the challenge to face a nationally-ranked Cincinnati team in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl. It is important for us as a program to end the season the right way for our seniors.”
After having last year’s trip to the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl in Dallas cut short in the first quarter because of a lightning storm, the Eagles are crossing their fingers that weather won’t be an issue this year.
“Hopefully,” Glines said. “I don’t want to [jinx it].”
Facing Cincinnati has added meaning for Glines, who was born and raised in the Queen City and starred at St. Xavier High, but wasn’t recruited by the Bearcats.
He’ll have friends on the opposite sideline come game day, but he said he’ll be more motivated by the chance to end his BC career on a high note.
“When you’re younger, you’re kind of more caught up in the recruiting thing still and you’re kind of fresh off that,” Glines said. “I’ve been here for five years now, so this is my spot, this is my place and this is what I represent and I’m extremely thankful to represent Boston College.
“It’s nice when things come full circle. I have one more opportunity at this college level and it happens to be against a team that’s right in my own backyard.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.