November 6, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL It all came crashing down in one night for Boston College.
Well, not all of it. It just felt that way to the rain-soaked home crowd.
BC's 27-17 home loss to Florida State on Nov. 3, ended any dreams the Eagles might have had about a run at the national championship. It also put a severe crimp in Matt Ryan's Heisman Trophy candidacy, which was looking very good before that night.
What it didn't do was severely damage BC's chances of winning the Atlantic Division and going to the ACC title game.
The first loss in the conference left BC at 4-1 in the league. Wake Forest and Clemson were both 4-2. BC had already beaten Wake Forest so that was actually a two-game lead over the Demon Deacons. Clemson? That's another story the Eagles were set to fly into Death Valley after a trip to Maryland and just needed to take care of their own business to earn a date in Jacksonville. By the way, Clemson still had to play Wake Forest.
Ryan? It appeared he and Oregon's Dennis Dixon were 1-2 in the Heisman race. But Ryan was picked off three times by Florida State (the first time this season that had happened) and had one returned for a touchdown.
Ryan did throw for over 400 yards in the loss, tying him with Doug Flutie with four 400-yard games during their BC careers. That had to be little consolation to Ryan after the loss, though. All along, he had been saying none of the individual stuff mattered to him "as long as we win." Some guys say that and don't mean it. This kid is different.
What happened against Florida State? The same thing that almost happened at Virginia Tech nine days earlier. BC has shown vulnerability on offense against quick defenses. It first showed up against I-AA Massachusetts, but Virginia Tech made it work all the way until the closing minutes of the game, when Ryan worked the magic that had him leading the Heisman class.
TURNOVERS ARE KEY IN DEFEAT
Turning the ball over four times in all, the Eagles didn't get away with it against Florida State, an athletic and underachieving team that was able to cash in on BC mistakes and there were plenty of them.
"We beat ourselves," said Brandon Robinson, whose 163-yard receiving night went for naught.
There were so many times during that game where you expected BC to just take over, but the Eagle defense, which lost middle linebacker and leader Jo-Lonn Dunbar to a right leg injury, gave up too many big plays and made FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford look like Dan Marino.
"I think on both sides of the ball it wasn't taking advantage of the opportunities," linebacker Mark Herzlich said. "On offense we couldn't get it in the end zone when we needed to, and on defense we didn't get every stop we needed to. And that's the biggest part taking advantage of opportunities when they come to you, and we didn't get to do that."
There was some irony in what Herzlich said. Opportunities the Eagles were No. 2 in the country because of all the other ranked teams ahead of them losing. Remember, this team was ranked No. 14 and moved to No. 2 with wins over Army, Massachusetts, Bowling Green and Notre Dame with none of the wins what you would call highlight victories.
At the same time, Ryan went from a long shot for the Heisman to the leader because others dropped off the map. Remember Brian Brohm? Didn't he stay in college to win the Heisman? And the other Big East guys? And Colt Brennan? John David Booty? They all seemed to disappear. Ryan was winning, the Eagles were climbing up the ladder and it was all falling into place.
But what was also falling into place was the very real possibility that, even at 13-0 after winning an ACC title game, BC would not have played for the national championship. This is a down year for the ACC, and that would have been reflected if an LSU or an Arizona State (or even Oregon) had run the table the rest of the way. BC would have gone undefeated with its two best wins probably over Virginia Tech, which was No. 8 when the Eagles beat them in Blacksburg. The Eagles may well meet the Hokies again in the ACC title game.
But none of that mattered after Florida State ended BC's 16-game home winning streak and handed Jeff Jagodzinski his first loss as a college head coach. The last team to beat BC at The Heights before Nov. 3? Florida State, two years ago in BC's conference debut.
Weatherford, though, knew what he was up against in this BC team. "You can never count out Matt Ryan and BC," he said after escaping with the win. "I was nervous the whole time. He's a great player, he's led his team back before, and I knew he could do it again. I was nervous until the final play."
And BC fans were nervous after the loss, but there was still plenty for the Eagles to play for.