Before Jeff Hafley takes over the Boston College football program, there is still one more game to be played.
The Eagles meet No. 21 Cincinnati on Thursday in the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field, and they will do so with wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell at the helm. It wasn’t that long ago that Gunnell was making his own bowl memories in a BC uniform.
In 2007, Gunnell was Matt Ryan’s favorite target with 64 receptions for 931 yards, latching on to a pair of touchdown grabs in a Champs Sports Bowl win over Michigan State. He added 60 more catches as a senior and left the program with its all-time career receiving yardage record in his hip pocket.
A four-year assistant under the departed Steve Addazio, Gunnell’s sole goal now is to get the Eagles a seventh win and a winning season.
“As a prideful, proud BC man, I’m just going to continue to preach what we’re all about,” he said. “That’s toughness and faith and all those good things with high character guys. Moving forward, I’m just focused on winning this game. That’s the most important thing to me right now, keeping these kids together.”
The Eagles (6-6) won’t have star running back AJ Dillon, who rushed for 1,685 yards and scored 14 touchdowns this season. He has declared for the draft and is sitting out the game in Birmingham, Ala. Backup David Bailey will see a larger role after rushing for 811 yards and seven touchdowns.
As for the Bearcats (10-3), they’ve enjoyed a fine season under third-year coach Luke Fickell. They were agonizingly close to earning the Group of Five’s berth in the Cotton Bowl, but a 29-24 loss to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game forced them to settle for a less prestigious bowl.
Cincinnati is led offensively by running back Michael Warren and dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder. Warren collected 1,160 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, while Ridder threw for 2,069 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 545 yards and two scores.
The defense is paced by safety Darrick Forrest (104 tackles, three interceptions) and linebacker Perry Young, who has 77 tackles. For Young, the final game of his college career has great meaning, as he is a product of Spain Park High School in Birmingham.
“To see the people that couldn’t make it up for a game in my college career, for some of them to see me play with the University of Cincinnati for the first time in person is going to be a great moment,” Young said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
–Field Level Media