October 23, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL If you ask anyone who knows anything about Boston College football to recall the most important game in the history of the program, chances are you will hear about Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass that beat Miami late in the 1984 season. That game, played on the day after Thanksgiving, was nationally televised, and "The Play" has been played over and over and over again through the years.
But while that one surely stands out, it really is hard to imagine the Eagles ever playing a bigger game than the one they faced at Virginia Tech on Oct. 25.
BC entered the bye Saturday (a shorter bye than normal because of the Thursday night game coming up) as the No. 3 team in the AP poll the Eagles also were No. 2 in the coaches poll and No. 3 in the first BCS standings but knowing that No. 2 South Florida already had lost. So, BC was a Michigan State upset of Ohio State away from being the No. 1 team in the country.
That didn't happen. The Buckeyes won, leaving BC at No. 2 in the country and heading to Tech to start a rigorous five-game run to the end of the regular season. Having already wrapped up the program's ninth straight bowl game (BC has won its last seven), the Eagles were looking for more, a lot more, but it wasn't going to be easy.
After the game at Tech, the Eagles host Florida State, go to both Maryland and Clemson, and then end the regular season at home against Miami, this time two days after Thanksgiving.
By the way, if you're thinking that Miami isn't what it once was, consider that BC hasn't beaten the Hurricanes since that Flutie pass. Anyone who thinks there's nothing to a streak like this hasn't seen some of the games in recent years.
The BC rise, from the unranked to No. 14 and then all the way to a spot that would have put the team in the national title game if the season ended on the weekend of Oct. 20, has been an interesting even if not a dominating one.
Sitting at No. 14, coach Jeff Jagodzinski's Eagles then played four non-conference games against weaker opponents. They didn't kill any of them, probably playing their best overall game in a 55-24 victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 6, but they won all four. They didn't allow themselves to take part in this Year of the Upset. There's something to be said for that, but the amount of luck it took for this team to get to where it was had to be bordering on crazy.
"We haven't played our best game yet," said guard Ty Hall, who was thrust into the starting lineup because of a career-ending Achilles injury to Ryan Poles.
Hall was right. But the Eagles had played well enough to have that 7-0 record, the program's best since 1942. They had managed to avoid being a victim in this wacky year, but headed to Virginia Tech in the role of underdogs the way most people saw it.
Before leaving for N.C. State, coach Tom O'Brien said he thought this would have been his best BC team. He's had to sit back from afar except for one game up close and personal as the Eagles have made their run. He's not shocked.
"I'm really happy for those kids," O'Brien said. "I think they deserve anything that they've attained. They've got a heck of a football team. ... They've got a lot of experience, a defense that was built to win. They've got maybe the best quarterback in the nation.
"Those are great kids, and I'm really happy for their success."
The BC players, who weren't thrilled with the way O'Brien left, nor the fact that he took up residence in the same division as the Eagles, remain grateful to their former coach.
"I have a ton of respect for Coach O'Brien and what he did at Boston College and giving me the opportunity to come here and earn a degree and play football," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I owe him a lot. I'm indebted to him for the opportunity that he gave me."
"I'm loyal to Jags. I love Jags. He's been great to the program, he's been great to me," linebacker Jolonn Dunbar said. "But I do have loyalty for Coach O'Brien. It's hard to disconnect yourself from a guy who gave you probably the greatest opportunity of my life."
For the BC players and coaches, life near the top of the college football world brought all kinds of extra attention. Ryan, who had put himself in position to challenge for the Heisman Trophy, was inundated with interview requests. Jagodzinski appeared in the ESPN studio on the night of the South Florida-Rutgers game. The Wednesday interviews with the players, normally not held during a bye week, went on as usual.
But the Eagles still weren't a big deal on the local sports scene in mid-October. Remember, the Red Sox were still alive in the baseball playoffs, the Patriots were undefeated and looking like the best team ever, and the Celtics had started preseason games with their new and exciting look. Heck, even the Bruins were winning.
Boston is a pro sports town, and BC wasn't getting all that much love locally. The Eagles weren't getting that much nationally, either, with the skeptics waiting for them to fall.
SKINNER HAS NEW CHALLENGE
BC basketball coach Al Skinner, armed with an extended contract, faces a different task this season, as he now coaches a young group that isn't being picked to do much of anything.
"The things I took for granted for the last three or four years, we have to teach this again, teach that again," Skinner said early in practice. "We have to be thorough and make it clear to them what we want them to do. We have to be more patient, maybe move a little slower, but that's OK. Once they get it, they're going to have it, and they're going to be pretty good."
With Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall gone through graduation and Marquez Haynes transferring, the Eagles will depend on point guard Tyrese Rice to do the bulk of the scoring as the younger guys continue to learn.
"The thing I'm really pleased about is they're really paying attention," Skinner said. "They've been very receptive to coaching for a young team. The talent's there, and it's just a matter of molding it together. They're trying.
"There appears to be some really good chemistry on this team."
Skinner, who has taken his teams to the NCAA Tournament six times in the last seven years, winning 164 games over that span (a program best), said the young group has him "anxious to get into the gym every day" to continue teaching. "Basically getting back to the basics that we took for granted for the last few years."
Senior forward John Oates, one of the veterans Skinner is counting on to lead the younger guys, missed the first two weeks of practice with a foot injury.
The Eagles open their season Nov. 10 against New Hampshire.