November 8, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL - It was all right there for Boston College ... and the Eagles dropped the ball. Again.
BC headed to Winston-Salem on the first weekend of November, knowing it had its fate in its hands. It was simple: If the Eagles won at Wake Forest and then took care of business at home against lowly Duke and Maryland, they were guaranteed a spot in the ACC title game.
There would have been no mystery. By beating Wake and Maryland, they would have won tiebreakers with those two or Clemson, making their Thanksgiving game at Miami meaningless in terms of earning the Atlantic Division berth in the title game.
The reason that was significant also was simple. Even though Miami is down, BC hasn't won a game down there since Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass beat the Hurricanes 22 years ago. So, taking away meaning from that game would have been vital.
It didn't happen. Somehow, BC figured out a way to again lose the game that would have been a major step in getting over that hump of just being a bowl team to being one that plays in a significant bowl - maybe even a BCS bowl.
Two years ago, BC faced struggling Syracuse on the final day of the regular season, with the knowledge that a win would mean a BCS spot in the Eagles' final year in the Big East. With quarterback Paul Peterson hurt and then-unproven Matt Ryan starting, the Eagles were blown out - at home. They settled for a four-way share of the league crown.
Last year, it was a game at North Carolina late in the season that landed BC in a tie for the Atlantic with Florida State. Since the Seminoles had beaten BC in the ACC opener, they got the shot at the title game - and won it, along with the accompanying BCS spot.
Now, it's Wake Forest, which is fast proving to be a real thorn in BC's ACC side. The win by the Demon Deacons on Nov. 3 was their third over BC in the last four years. (The teams played twice in the years before BC joined the conference.) That number would have been worse for the Eagles had Ryan not come off the bench and led his team to a dramatic win last year.
Throughout the week leading up to this Wake game, BC's kids said all the right things about going to face a 7-1 opponent. BC's kids always say the right things about their foes, not doing anything to get the other side excited. They even said the right things about Division I-AA Maine and I-A doormat Buffalo before playing those teams in October. They shut both out, as part of a 4-0 month that also included back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and FSU.
It didn't matter to the BC players that Wake's 7-1 record was far more shallow than BC's. While the Eagles had beaten Clemson, BYU, Virginia Tech and Florida State, the seven teams beaten by Wake were a combined 15-43, including I-AA Liberty. Not one of the seven teams was .500 entering the first weekend in November. At the time, the only .500 team on Wake's resume was Clemson, and the Tigers beat Wake.
But the Deacons owned a major portion of that Clemson game, and they probably should have won it. Then, facing BC at home and clearly pumped up from the opening kickoff, the Deacs probably shouldn't have won. But they made the plays necessary to overcome a 407-yard passing performance by Ryan, who still was playing on a bum left foot.
BC had so many chances to win the Wake game that, in the aftermath, it immediately became a contest these kids may rue forever. They didn't get it done, and they put themselves in a position of not only having to win to make the ACC title game, but also of having to get help.
If it doesn't happen, this one will join the others as the one that got away. When you think about it, though, both losses this season - the other one a last-second job at N.C. State - were games the Eagles wanted back.
But there's another way to look at this, too. The Eagles came into this season as a young team that was looking for leadership. They had lost three players to the top 115 picks of the NFL draft, and they had suffered other key losses in the areas of talent and leadership. BC coach Tom O'Brien really didn't know what to expect.
The Eagles could have lost at Central Michigan in the opener. They then had to go to double-overtime in consecutive weeks to beat BYU and Clemson, needing the help of the replay to win both. They could have lost both of those.
They could have lost at N.C. State - and did. They manhandled Virginia Tech and got the job done at FSU, although that one was in doubt when BC let the Seminoles back into the game late. There were the easy shutout wins over the terrible teams, but when BC walked the plank against Wake Forest, the Eagles finally fell overboard.
So, the question remains: Will they get another chance? On paper, it looks like a longshot, at best, unless they run the table, including a win at always-dreaded Miami. BC, which could have taken care of things on its own, now finds itself in a position of needing help.
The thing that had to be nagging the program, too, was this: Will there ever be a year where the conference is more winnable? This was the year Miami and FSU were unranked at the same time, for the first time since the 1970s. This was the year of mediocrity in the league, the year the ACC was hammered by losses to the NFL and injuries. It was all right there.
BC dropped the ball at Wake Forest. Now the Eagles can only wonder if they'll get another chance to pick it up.
HOOPS: MOST EYES ON WILLIAMS
The Boston College basketball team, ranked between Nos. 10 and 20 in most of the preseason polls, and a general pick for third place in the ACC, was set to open its season at home on Nov. 10.
There were questions that had to be answered, but the coaches were optimistic that solid depth could help them overcome the losses of both All-American forward Craig Smith and floor leader Louis Hinnant, who really came on late last season.
A side note: Smith, a second-round NBA draft pick by Minnesota, struggled in his pro debut. But he then had 20 points (10-for-15 from the field) in the Timberwolves' second game of the season.
The general feeling about this BC team is that it can go as far as center Sean Williams can take it. Jared Dudley is a potential All-American, and there's other talent, but Williams, who missed half of last season because of a campus incident, has to give BC some offense.
The word from preseason workouts was that Williams, probably the best shotblocker in the conference, was looking more confident on the offensive end.
Regardless of how strong Williams looked, don't bet against coach Al Skinner starting forward John Oates and either bringing Williams off the bench or eventually playing the two big men together. Oates has a good outside shot that can draw defenders away from the middle.