The math of getting to six wins (or more) has been on the minds of most BC fans since last season ended, given how it was the first in over a decade where there was no bowl game. Following the Eagles’ loss to Miami on September 1, the path may have changed a little bit as a winnable game did not come through.
Indeed, most BC fans who had this team going to a bowl game in 2012 probably counted Miami in the win column, but alas. This begs the question: how much did BC’s margin for error shrink following that loss?
The best way we can evaluate the schedule and possible win totals is by looking at it graphically:
To explain what we have here, start at the far left: these are the games in which the Eagles are or will most likely be favored. That’s Maine, this week’s game, Army, and Maryland. (The Maine game would probably be more of a “heavy favorite” if that column existed.) If you’re a BC fan figuring out the calculus for bowl eligibility, those are three games you are all but counting on being in the win column when the season is over. Meanwhile, on the far right, these are the games in which BC will probably be a double-digit underdog. Not surprisingly, it’s the three highest-ranked teams: Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson. The Eagles went 0-3 against them last year, outscored 104-35 by those opponents. It’s those games that one probably isn’t counting on when it’s all over.
In the middle is where we’ve got the action, with the “swing games” and “likely underdog” categories. “Likely underdog” means BC probably won’t be favored, but the spread won’t be huge (yes, that does include Notre Dame, who are also ranked). If the run defense doesn’t improve, Georgia Tech will be a very tough game to win. Yet it’s the “swing games” (in other words, “toss-ups”) that will have the most say on what this team is doing in December: Wake Forest, Northwestern, NC State, and Miami. Unfortunately, the latter is already a loss, which chipped away at BC’s margin for error. Boston College would have more breathing room if they had won.
Even if the Eagles lost every game on the right side of the list, they could still make a bowl game by winning all the games in which they’ll be favored, plus all the swing games. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s possible. If BC loses any of the games in the far left column, that would be a crushing blow to their hopes; conversely, if BC were to win any of the games on the right, that would be a major boost to their chances.
Realistically, if you want this team to get to six, they’ve got to hold all of the “likely favored” games and win at least two of Northwestern, Wake Forest, and NC State, leaving them to need just one of the other five. The complicating factor is that all three remaining toss-ups are on the road; BC had one home game, Miami, but they already lost it. It’s not impossible, but winning 2 or 3 of those games won’t be easy. Win fewer than two and they’ll really make it hard on themselves.
The more games BC forks over on the left side of the graph, the more they’ll have to win on the right, and that’s when their window starts slamming shut. Their job will get far more treacherous if they can’t win most of the remaining swing games, or, heaven forfend, if they lose one of the “likely favored” games. I know I’m due to get the “Any given Saturday” speech from someone, but BC has two paths to a bowl: less difficult and difficult. Win the games you’re supposed to win, and it’s as easy as it’s going to get. Don’t, and it’s difficult — in some cases, very difficult.
With any luck, BC will accomplish their goals and maybe shock some tougher opponents along the way, but in analyzing the remaining schedule, one sees that the Eagles’ margin for error is narrower than it was a week ago. They still have a path to bowl eligibility without having to take out a ranked team, but that will change if they lose more of the toss-ups. If the Eagles can’t take at least two from Northwestern, Wake Forest, or NC State, the odds will start to tilt against this team.