October 10, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- The Boston College kicking game, already driving Eagles coach Tom O'Brien crazy this season, fell into a sea of turmoil during the off-week that preceded the team's Thursday night game against Virginia Tech.
Ryan Ohliger, whose three missed extra points in two games almost cost BC a win over BYU and was a major factor in the Eagles' lone loss (at N.C. State) in the first five games, was suspended from the team indefinitely for what O'Brien called "conduct unbecoming of a Boston College football player."
Two local television stations reported that Ohliger had been involved in an altercation outside a local bar late Wednesday night. While it certainly wasn't the first time a BC athlete had gotten into trouble inside or outside drinking establishments in the area, this one left the Eagles without a starting kicker, with a game coming up against the program that's the best in the country on special teams.
It also left O'Brien with a decision to make. There were two other kickers available, left-footed walk-on Steve Aponavicius and freshman Bill Flutie.
Aponavicius seemed like the more logical choice. Flutie, the nephew of former BC star Doug Flutie, is a quarterback who also is listed as the Eagles' backup punter. The original plan was for the local high school star to redshirt this season, and it wasn't known if O'Brien would lift that redshirt in the sixth game of the season, especially with Aponavicius, who has a strong leg, available.
There also was a chance that O'Brien could use Flutie and then redshirt him next season. Starting QB Matt Ryan and his backup Chris Crane both will be back next year, and there will be a new kicker on campus.
The Eagles already have recruited a kicker -- the highly regarded Billy Bennett, from San Diego -- for next season, so it seemed the ever-erratic Ohliger's days were numbered anyway. Now, Ohliger is on the bad side of O'Brien, a former Marine who came to BC 10 years ago to restore discipline to a program that had just been wracked by a gambling scandal.
O'Brien and the school were not allowed to comment specifically on what happened, but the details didn't seem to matter.
The coach was minus his kicker, albeit a shaky one, with Tech and its talented special teams heading to town for what was expected to be a real event in the Boston area.
INJURIES ADD TO DEFENSIVE WOES
If you asked people to tell you who they thought were the two hardest hitters on the BC defense this season, one answer you might get would be linebacker Brian Toal and safety Jamie Silva. Neither played on defense in the team's 22-0 win over Division I-AA Maine on Sept. 30.
Toal, who has a shoulder injury, did his short-yardage stuff on offense and even scored a touchdown but didn't play defensively. Silva, who has a knee injury, was in the stands in street clothes.
The status of both for Virginia Tech was unknown, but neither was a slam-dunk. Receiver Brandon Robinson, out with a concussion after a questionable hit in the N.C. State game, was set to return for the Hokies.
Without Toal and Silva, Maine didn't get past the BC 27-yard line, as the Eagles moved to 4-1 and got back into the Top 25. It was the third shutout of the O'Brien regime. BC blanked Central Michigan (2002) and Ball State (2005) of the MAC, then did the same to the Black Bears.
Toal continued to look like a snake-bitten player. Injured at the end of last season, he missed spring ball and then talked about how big his junior year would be for him. But the new injury left him as anything but a sure thing for the rest of the season, and it made him look like one of those players who just has bad things happen to him.
"He hasn't been playing up to full strength, and it's not the injury he had last year and it's not the same shoulder," O'Brien said. "It's a different injury. But his strength has been improving and getting better, and we chose to hold him out (against Maine), except to run the football and not take a shot on his shoulder."
Clearly, the coach knew he would need Toal for Virginia Tech.
While Silva was missing, the Eagles were boosted by the unexpected return of safety Ryan Glasper. The general feeling was that BC might not get Glasper back at all for his senior year, after he underwent hip surgery in the offseason, but he was back and starting against Maine.
Speaking of the I-AA opponent, athletic director Gene DeFilippo said he hopes to have BC play a different I-AA foe from New England each year, on a rotating basis. The Eagles are talking to Rhode Island about 2007.
ODD SCHEDULE: ANYTHING POSSIBLE
Funny thing about the teams you play early in the season: In many cases, you really don't know how good they are until later.
For instance, BC beat No. 18 Clemson in overtime, and the Tigers then went down to Tallahassee and dumped then-No. 9 Florida State. The Eagles then won their second straight double-overtime game, nipping Brigham Young the following week, and BYU subsequently upset No. 15 TCU. Most recently, N.C. State, the team that beat BC, also defeated FSU, which had fallen to No. 17.
The Eagles came into this season hoping for more than just "making it" to a bowl game. The loss to N.C. State put a crimp into some of those plans, but with the conference obviously suffering through a rough year, anything was possible.
BC still had Virginia Tech at home, plus Miami and FSU on the road. The two-game Florida task, which seemed like certain death coming into 2006, wasn't looking as tough after what those teams did through the first five weeks.
If you're paying attention to such things this early, the Eagles already had four wins, with Buffalo and Duke -- two of the weaker teams in college football -- still ahead. That likely means an eighth straight bowl bid. BC has the nation's longest bowl winning streak, capturing postseason games in each of the last six years. The Eagles want more, but they'll surely be going bowling again.
The once-vaunted BC running attack, known for its 1,000-yard rushers over the past decade, went through the first five games this season with just one 100-yard effort from either starter L.V. Whitworth or oft-used backup Andre Callender. Whitworth had 109 yards in the loss to N.C. State.
Teams have been stacking the box against BC, daring Ryan to beat them, one reason he was leading the ACC in passing. BC was expecting more of the same from Virginia Tech, when the Hokies came calling.