Boston College (8-3) vs. Boise State (9-3), Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
By Mike Shalin
ACCSports.com December 22, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL -- Boise?
That was the question all Boston College fans were asking as it first became apparent and then -- despite the hopes of the local faithful -- became fact: The Eagles were rewarded for their 8-3 ACC debut by being sent to Idaho for the MPC Computers Bowl. Boise?
With most wondering why Boise even has a bowl game -- it must be more than the blue turf, right? -- only diehard BC fans signed on for the day-after-Christmas trip to watch their Eagles play a team that has won 31 straight games on that blue turf.
No. 19 Boston College (8-3, 5-3 ACC) beat Clemson at Death Valley, and the Tigers (7-4, 4-4) are going to Orlando. BC beat N.C. State (6-5, 3-5), and the Wolfpack is going to Charlotte. BC is going to Boise. It just worked out that way, and it should be a good game.
While the 2005 sentence remains a tough pill to swallow for the Eagles and their fans, what can't be overlooked is the team's seventh straight trip to a bowl game -- and a chance to extend the nation's longest bowl winning streak to six.
While a win at North Carolina would have given the Eagles a better bowl, and not leaving the Big East could have meant a BCS spot -- heck, even Rutgers is going to Phoenix -- another strong season is in the books for coach Tom O'Brien.
The people who inhabit the BC message boards think the Eagles should take the big step to the next level, that there's no reason they can't get better than that 15-25 range in the polls. They get frustrated by losses such as the one against Syracuse in last year's regular-season finale (a wipeout at home), and the one this fall at UNC. But much of what they call for is unrealistic.
Basically, BC is what it is -- an academics-first school that plays by strict rules, almost never takes junior college transfers and never accepts non-qualifiers. There are scores of talented and NCAA-certified high school players out there every year who are off-limits to O'Brien and his staff because of inadequate grades and/or SAT scores. Under those constraints, these guys have done pretty well.
O'Brien has been rumored to be leaving twice -- once to Georgia Tech and again to Washington. Tech basically said no, and Washington dragged its feet, so O'Brien stayed. He since has indicated that he won't leave, even though some of those message board folks think there are many coaches out there who could do a better job.
They scream about offensive coordinator Dana Bible, even as opposing coaches talk about how difficult it is to prepare for BC's balanced offense. They scream that O'Brien isn't rah-rah enough, that he doesn't charge up and down the sidelines yelling and screaming at his players and officials.
What they don't realize is the job O'Brien has done since arriving from Virginia (where he was a long-time assistant), rebuilding a program that was left in shambles by a gambling scandal. He was 4-7 in each of his first two years, while being forced to start walk-ons at some key positions. Then, he turned it around.
Over the last seven years -- all bowl trips, and all to better spots (OK, Detroit was no picnic) than Boise -- BC has gone 61-28. The coaching staff has remained pretty much intact. Bible is finishing his seventh year, while defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is in his seventh year at that job, his ninth with O'Brien. Things don't change much on this staff, and the on-field results have reflected that stability.
The recruiting, never easy at a school with serious academic standards, got a shot in the arm with the move to the ACC. Sophomore linebacker Brian Toal, a prized signee out of New Jersey, ultimately decided between BC and Miami. He admitted that the ACC played a major role in his decision.
"It would have been a lot tougher for me to come here if we weren't in the ACC," Toal, the Big East's rookie of the year as a freshman in 2004, said before this season. "Now we're finally getting into the ACC, and I'm really excited about it."
Players out of Florida who might be overlooked by the three powers in that state but still are talented enough to look at other major college programs now have another northern alternative. Offensive lineman Pat Sheil, who redshirted this season, was a plum plucked from Virginia, home to two ACC programs.
"Kids have identified the fact that the ACC is going to be the premier conference in the country in all sports, not only football, and they want to play that type of competition," O'Brien said. "If they're going to want to come and play at Boston College, then they get the opportunity to play on prime time Saturday night with Game Day' here and all the things that that brings. So I think the biggest change is the interest we've seen from many high school kids."
The Eagles will head toward their second year in the ACC with their skill positions -- quarterback, tailback, receiver -- looking strong. Matt Ryan, who took over the QB spot late in the season, has two years left. So do tailbacks L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. Will Blackmon and Larry Lester will be gone at wideout, but there's depth there, too. Toal has two years to lead a defense that will have to replace All-American end Mathias Kiwanuka.
Next year's schedule includes trips to both Miami and Florida State, with Virginia Tech highlighting a weak home slate.
BC knows it will not be going to Boise next year. However, the school's bowl situation always will be shaky. People often talk about BC fans not traveling to bowls, and while that's true, the school's location isn't going to change.
Plus, the advent of conference championship games can leave people in the Boston area scrambling for plane reservations, with the calendar already into December. For instance, had BC been tabbed for the Champs Sports Bowl in late November, there were $325 roundtrip airfares available to Orlando. By Dec. 4, when the bids finally went out, those fares were up to and over $600.
This is something the program, which has a limited fan base in a pro-sports-first town, had to live with in the Big East and will have to live with in the ACC. But having to go to a Boise now and then shouldn't diminish what O'Brien and his staff have been able to do with a program that was left for dead a decade ago.
What the Eagles made clear in their first year in the ACC was that this program always will have its niche. BC may not contend for national titles for various reasons, but that doesn't mean the Eagles aren't successful, or that their success will stop any time soon.
MPC BOWL AND BEYOND
WR Will Blackmon, LB Ricky Brown, LB Ray Henderson, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, WR Larry Lester, TE Chris Miller, QB Quinton Porter, OC Pat Ross, LT Jeremy Trueblood, DT Al Washington, CB Jazzmen Williams
DS Francois Brochu, PK William Troost
2006 Returning Starters
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2006 Class
RB L.V. Whitworth 6-0/220 Jr.
FB Paddy Lynch 6-2/241 Sr.
LG James Marten 6-8/315 Sr.
RG Josh Beekman 6-2/325 Sr.
RT Gosder Cherilus 6-7/320 Jr.
DT B.J. Raji 6-1/337 Jr.
DE Nick Larkin 6-4/252 Jr.
LB Brian Toal 6-1/238 Jr.
SS Ryan Glasper 6-0/207 Sr.
FS Jamie Silva 5-11/205 Jr.
CB DeJuan Tribble 5-9/189 Jr.
Special Teams (2)
PK Ryan Ohliger 5-9/197 Jr.
P Johnny Ayers 6-0/186 Jr.
Other Tested Returnees
RB Andre Callender, WR Kevin Challenger, WR Tony Gonzalez, OT Ty Hall, WR Jason Lilly, FB Mark Palmer, WR Brandon Robinson, TE Ryan Purvis, QB Matt Ryan, WR Taylor Sele, TE Ryan Thompson
CB Kevin Akins, FS Larry Anam, SS Paul Anderson, DT Ron Brace, LB Jolonn Dunbar, LB Robert Francois, CB Taji Morris, DE Jake Ottolini, LB Tyronne Pruitt, DE Jim Ramella, DT Keith Willis
Projected 2006 Strengths
It's not often that losing a senior starter (Porter) at quarterback is a good thing, but it's not difficult to find knowledgeable people at Boston College who believe that the Eagles will be better off over the next two seasons with the poised, talented Ryan running the offense. Ryan will have the immediate advantage of working with two reliable tailbacks (Whitworth, Callender), three nasty fullbacks (Lynch, Palmer, Toal), four proven linemen (Beekman, Cherilus, Marten, Hall) and a couple of capable tight ends. Even the receiving corps, which lost both starters, will return plenty of experience and depth. On defense, at least three returnees (Raji, Toal, Silva) have star potential -- Toal, when healthy, is already there -- and they won't be seniors until 2007. Along with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, meanwhile, this program has one of the most stable coaching staffs in the ACC.
Projected 2006 Questions
How will the Eagles replace that wonderful senior class, which carried not only the overwhelming majority of the load on the field but combined to reinforce the program's identity as a no-frills, no-nonsense, smart, hard-working bunch of mentally and physically tough kids? After Blackmon, who will be the highlight-film playmaker on offense and special teams? After Kiwanuka, who will be the consistently disruptive force on the edge? Are there enough elite-level athletes at BC who, combined with more good coaching and continued hard work, can help the program take that next step from the top 25 to the top 10?
Chart By: Editor David Glenn