The valley of a mountain is rarely too steep. It’s a place where staring up in awe at the peak is possible, but treacherous rock faces, crevasses, sheets of ice, injuries, cliffs, fatigue, and other obstacles and miseries barring climbers from success remain invisible and out of mind. It’s a place where a false sense of security creeps, where the going is easy, and challenges remain conquerable.
On Wednesday afternoon, the ACC released its 2014 football schedule.
The Boston College football team is starting deep in the valley.
In his second year as head coach, Steve Addazio’s Eagles are primed to play seven home games-Pittsburgh, University of Southern California, Maine, Colorado State, Clemson, Louisville, and Syracuse-and will travel for five away games against UMass, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Florida State.
The journey will be easy at first-a five game hike in Massachusetts with one heavy challenger at home.
The Aug. 30 matchup at Gillette Stadium marks the gentle slope, a non-conference jaunt against the UMass Minute Men, a football program that suffered through a hapless 1-11 season in 2013.
Then, on Sept. 5, the Eagles will open Alumni Stadium and conference play with a Friday night matchup against Pittsburgh, beginning a streak of four consecutive home games. With wins against Duke, Notre Dame and Syracuse, Pitt went 7-6 last year and will likely be a solid team, but a beatable team.
The week after, on Sept. 13, BC will host USC and look to avenge the 2013 Los Angeles beat down. USC will be a tall order for BC. The Eagles played arguably their worst game of the 2013 season against the Trojans, blowing their 2-0 start to the season with a stagnant 35-7 loss, and Addazio’s Eagles will need to put points on the board to avoid a repeat defeat to the Trojans.
At this point in the journey, BC could easily be 2-1.
Following USC, the Eagles have two out-of-conference matchups-very winnable games against Maine on Sept. 20 and Colorado State on Sept. 27, Parents’ Weekend. While Maine should be a very easy game for the Eagles, Colorado State presents more of a challenge and an interesting matchup. Kapri Bibbs, Colorado’s sophomore running back responsible for 31 rushing touchdowns and 1741 yards in 2013, is headed for the NFL Draft, but Garret Grayson, a touchdown and interception-prone quarterback that threw for 3696 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 11 picks this past season, looks poised for a senior-year return.
Then, the real climb begins, and the Eagles head out on the road.
After Colorado State-BC’s last out-of-conference opponent of the regular season-and an Oct. 4 bye, BC has an Oct. 11 game at NC State. The Wolfpack was the victim of Andre Williams’ 339-yard, 2-touchdown explosion onto the national stage in November, and struggled offensively and defensively as it sputtered to a 3-9 overall, 0-8 ACC record.
A week later, the Tigers head north to Chestnut Hill. This past season, the Eagles dove into Death Valley and nearly emerged with a win, falling behind in the fourth quarter to then-No. 3 Clemson and ultimately losing by 10 points. Without senior quarterback Tahj Boyd, senior running back Roderick McDowell, and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the Tigers will look like a different team in 2014 but will likely present a quality opponent.
Post-Clemson, BC has Wake Forest on the road on Oct. 25 and then heads to Virginia to play the Hokies on Nov. 1. Despite a great 6-1 start to the season, VTech collapsed down the stretch in 2013 and is graduating senior quarterback Logan Thomas, but possesses solid freshman talent in running back Trey Edmunds-10 touchdowns, 675 yards in 2013.
The most difficult part of a climb is the end. Oxygen is low, muscles are shredded, injuries take hold, morale can die, and mistakes are made. Bowl eligibility may be in question, and the worst chunk of opponents for the Eagles is the last. To finish out victorious, reach the top, and maybe clinch bowl eligibility, the young BC players and newcomers will need to play like seasoned veterans in the final stretch.
On Nov. 8, Louisville comes to Alumni. Although likely a solid team next year, BC may be fortunate to play the 2014 Louisville incarnation rather than the 12-1, 2013 version of Louisville. Change is in the air for the Cardinals as phenomenal junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw for 3,970 yards and 31 touchdowns this past season, is headed for the draft, and head coach Charlie Strong jumped ship for the Texas job. Replacing him as the new head coach is old head coach, proven winner, and frequently troubled Bobby Petrino.
Then, after a Nov. 15 bye, BC heads to hell in Tallahassee, the deepest crevasse, the most brutal stretch of mountain this side of Everest.
BC’s most difficult contest will come against reigning National Champion Florida State University in Tallahassee. Back in September, the Eagles played the Seminoles hard at Alumni Stadium but lost their grip on the game following a back-breaking, last second 55-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston at the end of the first half. Pummeled by FSU’s offense in the second half, BC fell 48-34 to the undefeated champs.
Heisman-winner Winston will be back for his sophomore season in 2014, and barring injury, should only get better with experience. FSU is losing 14-touchdown scoring junior running back Devonta Freeman and 15 touchdown-catching sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the draft, but converted running back Karlos Williams-who ran for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns on 91 carries, an 8.02 yards per carry average-is sticking around. Returning with him is junior tight end Nick O’Leary, who grabbed seven touchdowns this past season, and junior Rashad Greene, who had 1,128 yards, and nine-touchdowns in 2013. Additionally, junior offensive lineman Josue Matias plans to return for his senior season.
On paper, FSU appears to be a deadly challenge for BC, but the Eagles will have to keep going.
Finally, to cap the regular season-to reach the summit-BC will play Syracuse, this time at Alumni. When Williams went down with an aggravated shoulder injury in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse capitalized, defeating BC 34-31. Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt was an absolute scourge against the Eagles, passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown. By all accounts, he’ll be back again next season, and the BC defense will need to find a way to contain the duel threat if the Eagles are to end the regular season with a victory at home.
All in all, BC’s 2014 schedule is one of must-win games and very little margin for error. The final stretch of the climb is daunting, and if the Eagles aren’t dominant before the going gets tough, multiple wins needed for bowl eligibility may be unachievable toward the end. The new-look offense will need to establish a rhythm quickly and effectively early in the season, and the defense will need to better contain the heavyweights if the Eagles are to be successful. From the bottom, it looks like a six- or seven-win season.
But then again, from the valley, it’s hard to see what twists and turns may lie ahead.