SMU into enemy territory to face Boston College at Fenway Bowl

Field Level Media

December 24, 2023 at 8:38 pm.

No. 24 SMU aims for its 10th consecutive win when it treks north to meet future Atlantic Coast Conference foe Boston College in the second-ever Fenway Bowl on Thursday at Boston’s venerable Fenway Park.

The Mustangs are 11-2, beating Tulane 26-14 to win the American Athletic Conference championship — their first crown since 1984 in the Southwest Conference — following an 8-0 record in league play.

SMU has outscored opponents by more than 23 points per game and has logged 466.2 yards of offense per game. The Mustangs’ only two losses came at then-No. 18 Oklahoma and TCU, which played for the national championship last January.

Despite the success, SMU was not selected for a New Year’s Six game.

“The bottom line is we’re still celebrating (a conference championship) and we’re not going to let things that maybe we don’t agree with overshadow that,” SMU coach Rhett Lashlee said of the bowl announcement.

After star sophomore quarterback Preston Stone broke his leg in the regular-season finale against Navy, SMU turned to Kevin Jennings for his first career start in the AAC title game. The redshirt freshman threw for 203 yards and a touchdown.

The Mustangs’ balanced offense has accounted for 32 passing and 28 rushing touchdowns. SMU has eight 300-yard receivers, led by RJ Maryland’s 518 with seven touchdowns. Jaylan Knighton has 720 rushing yards and seven scores.

SMU ranks second nationally in sacks with 47, behind Elijah Roberts’ 10. The Mustangs are sixth in scoring offense at 40.6 points per game.

Lashlee, who was UConn’s offensive coordinator for a 2017 game against Boston College at Fenway Park, knows the significance of finishing the season on a high note.

“We haven’t won a bowl game here (since 2012), we need to try to accomplish that,” Lashlee said. “Getting (win) No. 12 to tie the school record would be big time. Whether or not we win or lose, that game’s not going to really validate or diminish this team’s accomplishment, I think it’s pretty cemented.”

The Eagles (6-6) look to the bowl invitation as a fresh start after losing to Virginia Tech, Pitt and Miami consecutively to end the regular season, following a five-game win streak that was their longest since 2010.

Thomas Castellanos ranks third in the country for rushing yards by a quarterback with 957. The UCF transfer threw for 15 touchdowns – including seven to Lewis Bond – and ran for 11 during the regular year.

Coach Jeff Hafley feels that Castellanos is throwing the ball as well as he has as an Eagle.

“He’s got a chance to be special,” Hafley said. “I think we’re only seeing the very surface of it.”

The bowl will offer a glimpse of Boston College’s future. Team-leading linebacker and captain Vinny DePalma (87 total tackles) is one of only three graduate students listed as a definite starter on the depth chart.

“That’s rare around college football right now,” Hafley said. “The guys that are gonna play in this game, maybe less than five are leaving. I think it’s really important to keep building.”

The Eagles have been bowl eligible four times since 2018, but only the 2020 Birmingham Bowl was actually played due to weather or COVID-19 protocols during that stretch.

Louisville beat Cincinnati 24-7 in the inaugural Fenway Bowl in 2022.