Penn State played to a 6-6 record in the ultra-competitive Big Ten conference, and Boston College went 7-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a core that included several players who have already graduated. Now, they'll be looking for a victory that can springboard their team to next season.
Tyler Murphy, BC's quarterback, said both teams know what kind of game they can expect.
"It's going to be a roller-coaster type game," said Murphy. "One round, we might have the momentum, and the next round, they might have it. We just have to make sure we hold our ground and keep fighting and get the game to the fourth quarter, where we feel like we have a good chance of winning."
Penn State leads the all-time series against Boston College by a 19-4 margin, but the two teams have never met in a bowl game. BC has won the last three meetings, but the most recent was a decade ago, and much has changed for both programs in the interim.
BC is in a new conference, and it graduated its all-time leading receiver (Alex Amidon) and rusher (Andre Williams) last season. Murphy stepped into the void this season, playing behind a veteran offensive line that features five graduated players. Murphy threw for 1,526 yards and ran for 1,079 more this season, and Penn State is quite clear on who it has to stop to win in the Pinstripe Bowl.
"Obviously, they're a team that prides themselves on being able to run the football," said Bob Shoop, Penn State's defensive coordinator. "They've got a very experienced and solid offensive line. Tyler Murphy has played exceptionally well. He's playing with so much confidence. He makes plays with both his arm and his feet. They've got two or three good running backs, and they've got a group of wide receivers and tight ends -- although they don't catch a lot of passes -- when the ball is thrown to them, they make plays and they know their job within the framework of the offense. They're a bit unorthodox."
BC might be unorthodox, but it's absolutely not untested. The Eagles beat No. 9 USC early in the season and later lost a close game (17-13) to No. 24 Clemson. Then, last month, BC gave No. 1 Florida State one of its toughest games this season before falling in a narrow loss (20-17) on the road.
"We were able to walk away with a lot of confidence. But we were very confident before that game," said Murphy of the FSU game. "We felt like we were going to be the team that knocks them off. We expected to win that game and we had a game plan that we stuck to. We always say, 'Get to the fourth quarter and win it there.' We had our opportunities in the fourth quarter and we just didn't make them."
Penn State, meanwhile, won its first four games this season but will come into the Pinstripe Bowl with losses in six of their last eight. The Nittany Lions' toughest game came in a 31-24 loss to Ohio State in overtime, and Penn State also lost to a ranked Michigan State team by a 34-10 score.
Penn State has a sophomore quarterback and four freshman receivers, but it's been fairly productive on offense. The difference maker, for this team, has been on defense. Penn State ranks second nationally on defense, and senior linebacker Mike Hull was named a second-team All-American.
Hull will be playing his final game, and he said it's all been a blur.
"It felt like it would never come," said Hull of his final college game. "I never want it to end. I want to play for as long as I'm able. It really hasn't hit me yet that this will be my last time out there."
The senior made his first trip to New York City this week, and he remarked that it's "definitely different than Pittsburgh," when asked for his impression of the city. Shoop, who coached at Columbia, said he was thrilled to be in the city and that his team has enjoyed the Yankee Stadium experience.
"I'm from Pittsburgh, so I'm a Pirates fan. And my wife's from Boston. She's a Red Sox fan," said Shoop of his allegiances away from the football field. "I've been to a lot of stadiums and watched a lot of games, but to play a game in Yankee Stadium is special with its tradition and history. And not just as a baseball venue, but it's a venue that has hosted NFL championship games and heavyweight boxing matches and some of the greatest concerts in history. It's really a neat opportunity."
This is the fifth edition of the Pinstripe Bowl, which was won by Notre Dame over Rutgers last season. Syracuse -- twice -- and Rutgers are the other teams that have won in prior seasons. Boston College would love to be the next team on that list, but it knows that Penn State will provide a stern test.
"They have a very balanced attack," said BC defensive coordinator Don Brown. "They have two excellent wide receivers, the tight end is a good player, and they have a stable of backs they share the wealth with.
"We have 15 guys with sacks. That tells you a little something right there about us. We're a heavy pressure team and we'll come with all 11 guys. We kind of share the wealth in that department. ... We're kind of the no-name bunch, but the thing we do well is fit the run game well with all 11 guys."