THE CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL
Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5), Dec. 28, 5 p.m., ESPN
By Mike Shalin
December 18, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL It may take Boston College fans a long time to get over what happened to the Eagles in the ACC championship game.
After all, yet another shot at the Bowl Championship Series was lost, and even the knowledge that BC got closer than ever didn't make people feel better.
Virginia Tech's 30-16 victory over BC on Dec. 1 rendered the Eagles' ninth straight bowl trip more than just bittersweet. Even a win, which would be a national-best eighth in a row, would do little to make people forget what might have been.
But amid the gloom and doom of not going to a BCS bowl, anyone connected with this program had to realize that things are going pretty well.
Remember those who shouted that the Eagles were getting in over their heads by leaving the Big East for the ACC? Remember those who thought there was no way BC could survive in the new league, that the Eagles were a plodding group that should have stayed where they were, in the world of Northeast football?
It's been three years now since the move three football seasons, anyway. The Eagles had a chance to go to the ACC title game in each of the first two years under Tom O'Brien.
Then they made it to Jacksonville in the first year under Jeff Jagodzinski, who now takes a 10-3 coaching record to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. It's the wrong city in Florida for BC, but it's another bowl game just the same.
Obviously, Jagodzinski didn't take over a losing program. He inherited a team O'Brien openly felt would have been his best at The Heights, and Jags almost took it to the ultimate height. It didn't work out in the end, as BC lost a game to Virginia Tech that it looked to have in its control in the first half.
So another season ended in disappointment. But that doesn't mean that things aren't going well for Boston College football, or that they won't continue to go well for the foreseeable future.
This success isn't new, remember. After the Doug Flutie/Jack Bicknell success in the mid-1980s gave way to losing later in the decade, Tom Coughlin went 24-10-2 from 1992-95 before giving way to Dan Henning. The pro coordinator didn't fully grasp the whole college thing, and the program dropped to 17-29 over a four-year span, two under Henning and the first two under O'Brien, who was brought in to clean things up after a gambling scandal.
But 1998 was the last losing season. Since then, and heading into this bowl game, BC has gone 78-34.
Over the last five seasons, three of them as part of the vaunted ACC, the Eagles are 38-12. No, they haven't reached the BCS, but 38-12 (or 39-12 or 38-13, depending on the bowl result) means that you have a successful program. There's no reason to think the winning will stop any time soon. O'Brien and his staff left enough talent, and the new guys are already busy.
And, remember, BC has done this despite the limitations it imposes on itself with regard to what players it can and cannot take. The Eagles' academic restrictions rank behind only Duke, and in the same neighborhood as Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, among ACC programs.
While it's easy to look at the current team and see key figures such as Matt Ryan, Andre Callender, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Jamie Silva about to leave and thus project some tough times ahead the future still appears bright.
The program is now armed with a fancy new football facility, complete with sharp-looking workout, meeting and locker rooms. It's still a new toy and an attraction to recruits, who always had the institution and the city of Boston itself as significant lures but sometimes would see the weight room and laugh. It's all different now.
The loss of the 22 seniors will hurt, especially with no experienced running back to carry the ball next season, and with an unproven Chris Crane set to take over for Ryan at the quarterback spot. Crane will have the benefit of losing only one important receiver, and that has to help. Tight end Ryan Purvis is already an All-ACC player, while wide receiver Brandon Robinson earned honorable mention recognition from the conference this season.
But you can't overlook what it will mean to this offense to lose Ryan, who will go down as the second-best quarterback ever to play at BC. (Guess who's first?) He led the offense through these last two years, and Crane, who has shown flashes in brief appearances, now will have his one year to run things.
The offense likely will struggle some in 2008, especially as it searches for an identity at the start. The defense? That should be what carries the team.
Linebacker Brian Toal sat out the season this year, as he continued to rehab his surgically repaired right shoulder. Tackle B.J. Raji sat out the season because of an academic problem. Both can leave for an early shot at the NFL, but both are expected to return. If they do, they will lead a defense that will be loaded with important returning players.
When linebackers Dunbar and Tyronne Pruitt, both seniors, suffered ankle sprains late in the season, the talents of sophomores Mark Herzlich and Mike McLaughlin stood out. With Toal coming back to join the players already there, this will continue to be a strength for BC. Up front, tackle Ron Brace and end Alex Albright (hurt at the end of the year) were both honorable mention All-ACC picks this season.
The backfield loses Silva and DeJuan Tribble, but Tribble didn't have a great year and wound up hurt down the stretch. Silva's leadership, talent and toughness will be sorely missed.
Special teams? The loss of return man Jeff Smith to a concussion this year hurt, and there was talk that he could be done. If he is, he'll leave a hole at a spot that looked as if it might be a strength for four years. The Eagles also will need a new punt returner, to replace the Silva-Tribble combination.
As far as the kicking game, freshman Billy Bennett's back woes this year caused concern, especially with the late struggles of junior Steve Aponavicius. But a lot of that trouble was caused by the absence of injured long snapper Jack Geiser. Reliable punter Johnny Ayers will be gone, opening the door for Bill Flutie to finally win a starting job.
So, despite the losses, both on the field at the end of the year and on the depth chart after the bowl game, the future at BC still looks bright. It's up to Jagodzinski to keep it that way.
P Johnny Ayers, RB Andre Callender, WR Kevin Challenger, LT Gosder Cherilus, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, DE Nick Larkin, CB Taji Morris, LG Ryan Poles, LB Tyronne Pruitt, QB Matt Ryan, FS Jamie Silva, CB DeJuan Tribble
OG Tom Anevski, RB A.J. Brooks, OG Ty Hall, TE Jon Loyte, OC Kevin Sheridan, TE Ryan Thompson, RB L.V. Whitworth
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
FB James McCluskey 6-2/231 So.
WR Brandon Robinson 5-10/194 Sr.
TE Ryan Purvis 6-4/258 Sr.
OC Matt Tennant 6-4/285 Jr.
RG Clif Ramsey 6-5/302 *Sr.
RT Anthony Castonzo 6-7/262 So.
DT Ron Brace 6-3/325 Sr.
DT Brady Smith 6-2/284 Jr.
DE Alex Albright 6-5/235 Jr.
LB Mark Herzlich 6-4/238 Jr.
SS Paul Anderson 6-1/208 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
PK Steve Aponavicius 5-10/183 Sr.
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
FB Brad Newman, WR/KR Rich Gunnell, WR Justin Jarvis, WR Clarence Megwa, OT Pat Sheil, RB/KR Jeff Smith
LB Kevin Akins, SS Marcellus Bowman, LB Robert Francois, CB DeLeon Gause, DE Austin Giles, LB Mike McLaughlin, SS Dan Mulrooney, DE Jim Ramella, DT B.J. Raji (2006 starter), CB Roderick Rollins, DT Damik Scafe, DT Allan Smith, CB Razzie Smith, LB Brian Toal (2006 starter), DE Jerry Willette
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1998 3-4 (5) 4-7 None
1999 4-3 (3) 8-4 Insight.com Bowl (L)
2000 3-4 (5) 7-5 Aloha Bowl (W)
2001 4-3 (3) 8-4 Music City Bowl (W)
2002 3-4 (4) 9-4 Motor City Bowl (W)
2003 3-4 (5) 8-5 San Francisco Bowl (W)
2004 4-2 (1) 9-3 Continental Bowl (W)
2005 5-3 (1A) 9-3 MPC Computers (W)
2006 5-3 (2A) 10-3 Meineke Bowl (W)
2007 6-2 (1A) 10-3 Champs Sports Bowl
ACC: 16-8 (.667)
Overall: 82-41 (.667)
Team 2007 Record^
Clemson 9-3 (5-3)
Georgia Tech 7-5 (4-4)
Maryland 6-6 (3-5)
Virginia Tech 11-2 (7-1)
Notre Dame 3-9
Rhode Island 3-8 (2-6)
Florida State 7-5 (4-4)
North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
Wake Forest 8-4 (5-3)
Kent State 3-9 (1-7)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.