For Boston College football fans, seeing is believing.
Friday night’s 35-3 blowout of Florida State was the first time that current freshmen, sophomores, and juniors had witnessed a home ACC win. The only opportunity seniors had to watch a conference victory was over Thanksgiving break against Syracuse in 2014. In total, it had been 972 days since fans had seen a men’s basketball or football win while school is in session. I can’t imagine there was a longer such streak anywhere else in the country.
That’s why Superfans stormed the field after the Eagles crushed a struggling Seminoles team that hasn’t been the same since losing star quarterback Deondre Francois in the season opener. It wasn’t about handing unranked FSU its worst loss of the Jimbo Fisher era, or effectively ending the powerhouse’s 35-year postseason streak. It felt more personal than that.
You see, there was pain and suffering and years of fighting the temptation of apathy toward BC sports bottled up in that crowd. They had to watch an overtime loss to Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl on a missed extra point, a headset-smashing 3-0 embarrassment at Wake, and more of the same to start this season before finally seeing a conference win at Alumni. For an entire generation of BC students, the defining memory of their college fandom had become the infamous 0-for-the-ACC season—until now.
It’s not who the Eagles have beat so much as how they’ve done it. Louisville and FSU are regarded as the two biggest disappointments of the ACC this year, and Virginia was probably a bit overhyped, in retrospect, given its 31-14 loss to Pitt on Saturday.
But an offense that hasn’t put up more than 10 points over its first three ACC games has suddenly become—dare I say it—explosive. For the first since since 2003, the Eagles scored 35+ points in three-straight ACC wins, averaging 465 yards of offense per game over that span. Not even Matt Ryan & Co. accomplished such a feat during their 2007 campaign.
And they have the freshmen to thank. BC is the only team in the nation with a freshman leader in passing (Anthony Brown), rushing (A.J. Dillon), and receiving (Kobay White). In the two position groups most decimated by injury, linebacker and offensive line, true freshman Ben Petrula and redshirt freshman John Lamot have stepped up to fill the voids. By all measures, the foundations for sustained success appear more stable now than they did at the end of last year’s winning streak.
Now fans are confronted with new questions after a three-week whirlwind of excitement almost certainly saved head coach Steve Addazio’s job. Was the Dude a secret genius all along? Should we embrace him—hot solar eclipse takes, beautiful predictions, and all? Or are there still issues surrounding play calling and clock management that will inevitably resurface?
While the play calling has undoubtedly improved, most of the credit for the Eagles’ turnaround goes to the 6-foot, 245-pound behemoth in the backfield. In just nine career games, Dillon has proved to be arguably the most impactful recruit of the last decade for the Maroon and Gold. The true freshman ranks fourth among rookie running backs with 843 rushing yards, more than Heisman favorite Saquon Barkley. He has even made a case for ACC Offensive Player of the Year despite easing into the offense and not hitting 20 carries until Week Five.
With Dillon, it’s the little things that matter. He churns his legs and drags defenders for extra yards, setting up manageable 2nd-and-5 situations that were previously 2nd-and-longs. Against FSU, he forced four missed tackles and gained 104 yards after contact en route to his third career 100-yard game. His consistent positive yardage makes life a lot easier for Addazio and the rest of the offense, giving them the luxury of attempting more deep shots and trick plays.
Dillon and BC are riding a wave of momentum so high that it’s not crazy to wonder whether they could run the table and win out. The bye week couldn’t come at a better time, as they’ll try to nurse Brown and Harold Landry back to health before NC State comes to town. The Wolfpack are unbeaten in ACC play, and even after Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame, the team could keep its playoff hopes alive with a win next week versus Clemson. But there’s also a chance NC State comes limping into Chestnut Hill on a two-game losing streak and run into a well-rested Eagles team riding a three-game winning streak with more confidence than they’ve had in years.
Next up after that is a cupcake matchup at Fenway Park against UConn. Then BC closes out the regular season at Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in what always seems to be a toss-up game. Still, the Eagles have a legitimate shot at eight wins, less than a month after bowl eligibility was thought to be out of reach. Even if they lose two of their last three, they’ll still make a respectable bowl.
So, like it or not, Addazio is probably here to stay. Luckily, so too is the youthful trio of Brown, Dillon, and White. And after finally seeing BC close out a victory at Alumni with my own two eyes, I’m starting to believe that students won’t have to wait another 1,000 days to storm the field again.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor