SF Bowl foes showed heart
BC, Colo. St. finished strong
SAN FRANCISCO -- Although they come from different conferences and geographical extremes, it only stands to reason Boston College of the Big East and Colorado State of the Mountain West find themselves paired in tonight's Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl at Pacific Bell Park.
As their identical 7-5 records might suggest, the Eagles and Rams took strikingly similar paths to the same destination.
Both suffered tough nonconference setbacks in their season openers, with BC dropping a 32-28 decision to Wake Forest and Colorado State losing to Colorado, 42-35.
Both rebounded the following week to win tough nonconference road games: BC at Penn State, 27-14, and Colorado State at California, 23-21.
Both lost to a team from Miami in Game 4: BC dropped a 33-14 decision against the Hurricanes of Miami, Fla., and Colorado State lost, 41-21, to the Redhawks of Miami, Ohio.
And when both teams stood at the brink of elimination from bowl eligibility after dropping to 5-5, each went down to the wire to win its last game on the road -- BC at Virginia Tech, 34-27, and Colorado State at Nevada-Las Vegas, 24-23. Each team earned its fifth consecutive bowl trip.
"And we both came down to the last possession of the last game to get here," said BC coach Tom O'Brien. "They went down and scored with 39 seconds left and we got a couple of stops on defense, went down and kicked a field goal and got a turnover on the ensuing kickoff to win it."
So what does it say about the teams as they prepare to square off in a first-time matchup tonight?
"It says that these are teams of character," O'Brien said. "They play hard, and they continue to play."
It is a matchup that seemed to delight bowl officials.
"When we first signed the contract with these two conferences," said Gary Cavalli, the bowl's executive director, "we talked about one day being able to bring together a Colorado State and a Boston College. It was a very attractive matchup to us. I remember talking to a writer and saying, `Ideally, we'd like to have a game like Boston College and Colorado State.' And now we've got it."
The Eagles will face a difficult task in containing Colorado State's potent offense, which is led by tough-minded quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, the son of former New York Giants linebacker Brad Van Pelt.
"He reminds me of Rod Rutherford at Pittsburgh," O'Brien said. "He does his most damage when he gets out of the pocket and runs it."
Van Pelt broke his right hand in the season finale Nov. 22 at UNLV and underwent surgery two days later to have a 2 1/2-inch titanium rod inserted. Although he was initially listed as doubtful after participating in only two practices this week, Van Pelt said yesterday he was expecting to play.
"We've both been down the same rocky road," said Van Pelt. "We were both 5-5 and had to win our last two games. We run the same defenses. It's actually nice, because you know what to expect because you've seen the defense before.
"At the same time, there's an unknown aspect because we don't know what their wrinkles are going to be and what our wrinkles are going to be. So it's going to be a matter of who's going to match up and who's going to have the upper hand."
The Eagles aren't likely to stray far from what got them here, namely a strong rushing attack led by a gargantuan line and senior running back Derrick Knight, who gained 1,599 yards this season to become the school's all-time leader with 3,603.
"If we have one common trait, I'd say it's that I think both of us want to run the football," said Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick. "We want to knock it up in there and knock it up in there. But they just come off the line and they are pretty darn strong. So we're going to have to play very, very well to be in the ballgame."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.