December 4, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL Dec. 1, 2007, will not go down as a banner day in the history of the Boston College athletic program.
By late afternoon that day, the BC football team, once ranked as high as that dreaded No. 2 spot in the country, had fallen to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. Reaching Jacksonville in just their third year in the conference, the Eagles wound up settling for the Champs Bowl in the wrong part of Florida instead of being able to eat oranges.
That evening, the young 5-0 BC basketball team rallied from a 24-point deficit and then lost to former Big East rival Providence for the second straight year. The Eagles led the game by six with just over a minute left but couldn't finish the deal, leaving BC fans even more stunned than they already were.
But the basketball loss was merely salt in the gaping wound created by the frustration of the football game.
From the minute Jeff Jagodzinski replaced Tom O'Brien as BC's coach, the talk was about getting over the hump, getting the seniors that one extra step.
These guys had come close before, from losing badly a home game against Syracuse in the final Big East game that caused the program to settle for a four-way tie for the league title and not go to a BCS, to losing games the last two years that had to be won to make it to Jacksonville, just enough to keep the Eagles just far enough away.
This season started with an 8-0 run, along with a rise from being unranked at the start all the way up to No. 2, that cursed No. 2 spot. Two losses followed, but this team had enough left to pull out a game at Clemson to win the Atlantic Division and then to beat Miami on Senior Day.
The step had been taken. But through it all, it was really about two steps.
"It's hard to put this one into words," middle linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "We wanted to go to the Orange Bowl as bad as we wanted the ACC title. It's a setback in terms of this program, our team and our personal goals."
So, instead of Miami and Georgia, the Eagles got Orlando and Michigan. They had a chance to go win an eighth straight bowl game the longest streak in the country but it would have to come in another bowl that didn't fall into that special category.
They were 10-3, the seniors have lost just 12 games in four years, but BC still didn't quite get where these kids wanted to go. The frustration was clear.
Now, can the focus be there for what has to be a letdown game? The Eagles still can match the program's all-time mark of 11 wins and still can keep the bowl streak going, but these kids are going to have to rebound.
"You've got to deal with it and bounce back and continue to work," said quarterback Matt Ryan, whose Doug Flutie-like season saw him named ACC player of the year and offensive player of the year. "It's going to be important for us to get back to practice and to improve and to get ready for the bowl game coming up."
BOWLS NOT EXCITED BY EAGLES
BC's reputation for not bringing enough fans to bowl games wouldn't have mattered if the Eagles had won in Jacksonville. As ACC champs, they were going to Miami for the Orange Bowl, plain and simple. But once they dropped into the pool, they again became the league's weakest link in terms of where they would go.
The Chick-fil-A and the Gator were next in line. The Chick-fil-A in Atlanta is the obvious choice for the league runner-up, but this league runner-up is from the north and sold only 4,000 of its 10,000-ticket allotment for the ACC title game. So the Chick-fil-A folks went for nearby Clemson, and the Gator already had said it didn't want the title-game loser back in the same city for a second game.
So BC continued to drop, as it always will as a northern team in a southern conference. The only consolation is that the Eagles really weren't much better off in their old league. If your fans don't travel, most bowls don't want you.
SPECIAL TEAMS INJURY HURT
Injuries hurt this BC team all season, especially on defense. But when it came down to it, an injury to long snapper Jack Geiser may have been the thing that kept the Eagles from Miami.
Linebacker Mike McLaughlin, who already was playing defense (and playing it well) more than he should have because of the losses there, was the snapper when Steve Aponavicius had two kicks blocked by the infamous Beamer Ball guys. One was a field goal that would have given BC a 3-0 lead. The other, a real momentum changer, was on an extra point after Ryan scored to make it 16-7. That one was blocked and returned for two points that made it 16-9. BC was just never really right after that.
Jagodzinski said, "The ball was too slow getting back there," and you can't do that against Virginia Tech.
The Eagles wasted early chances to break the game open and had to settle for a brawl they wound up losing, with Ryan again taking them close to pulling off some magic.
HOOPS RALLIES, ONLY TO LOSE
The basketball team was coming off a win at Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and really had Providence reeling with the late comeback in the second game of a doubleheader that also saw No. 19 Gonzaga beat Connecticut.
But the Friars made all kinds of long shots (BC coach Al Skinner said those shots weren't contested enough in regulation) and won the game rather easily in OT.
"It's psychological," said Skinner, who recently cleared the 200-win mark at BC. "We just thought it was over."
That's part of being a young team.
"I think our immaturity, I think our youth, showed, because we just thought that Providence was going to go away," Skinner said. "That, obviously, was not the case."
The loss overshadowed a 24-point, seven-rebound effort off the BC bench by freshman forward Corey Raji, one of three rookies playing a load of minutes for this team.