Sports, Column

Football’s Recent Performances Show it Deserves College GameDay

Two weeks ago, I was pretty sure that Boston College football was going to lose to Miami. The Hurricanes were entering the Friday night contest with one of the best defenses in college football, and, even in front of a packed Alumni Stadium, I just didn’t see the Eagles doing enough offensively to be able to win what I thought would be a defensive struggle. It didn’t help that, coming into the weekend, BC was just 5-24 all-time against Miami, and hadn’t beaten the Hurricanes at home since 2007. Well, after a 27-14 win in which the Eagles held Miami to 124 second-half yards, make that 6-24 all-time against Miami, and one lesson learned.

Clearly I didn’t learn the lesson very well. On Wednesday, before BC’s game against Virginia Tech—amid of all the whispers about how all the Eagles had to do for a realistic shot at being featured on College GameDay was defeat the Hokies—I was certain about what would happen. I am on record as saying: “I am 10,000 percent sure that VTech will win. Nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. BC is going to lose.” My expectations were wrong yet again.

It’s time to start dropping all of your preconceived notions about the Eagles: BC is an ACC title contender and more than deserving of College GameDay. In the past two games—against teams that have historically controlled the Coastal division—BC looked nothing like the team that got embarrassed in its home stadium on national television against VTech a season ago. In fact, no one could have reasonably watched the Eagles hold Miami scoreless in the second half and then go into Blacksburg and come away with a huge road win and say that this year’s BC team isn’t different.

But people around the country haven’t noticed. Check the replies to the tweet that the College GameDay account sent out announcing that the show would be coming to Chestnut Hill. The first reply: “That can’t possibly be the best game next week…” Scroll down a little further, and you’ll see replies of “That’s the best y’all could do?” and “Wow that’s a joke right?” Even after the past games, people still aren’t sold on BC.

Here’s a selling point: This team has gobs of talent. On the offensive side of the ball, A.J. Dillon—when healthy—is one of the best running backs in the country, Chris Lindstrom has a legitimate shot to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft, and the rest of the Eagles’ offensive line has been imposing its will on teams all season long. On defense, Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray are both draft prospects, and Lukas Denis, Will Harris, and Hamp Cheevers all have NFL potential as well—that talent was on full display against the Hokies and the Hurricanes.

Now, it’s only fair to point out that these are not the best iterations of Virginia Tech and Miami. After all, the Hokies are just 4-4, and Miami dropped to 5-4 after a loss to Duke Saturday. Regardless, these are two teams that, historically, have had the Eagles’ number, and started the season in the preseason AP Top 25. The Hokies were down just a point at halftime to Notre Dame earlier in the season, and Lane Stadium is one of the most intimidating venues in college football. Meanwhile, Miami is just one season removed from starting 10-0 and ascending to No. 2 in the country.

But still, these were the games that BC had to win at the beginning of the season to live up to the program’s preseason hype and be considered players in the Atlantic Division. The Eagles did just that, and looked markedly better than both Miami and VTech in the process. That’s been something of a rarity for this program.

BC’s history against the Hokies has been painful to say the least. Aside from the famous Matt Ryan comeback in Lane Stadium in 2007, the Eagles haven’t had much success against VTech. Entering Saturday, BC was just 8-18 all-time against the Hokies, a figure which included two painful ACC Championship losses in 2007 and 2008.

The past two seasons probably marked the pinnacle of the Hokies’ dominance over the Eagles. First, it was a 49-0 drubbing in Blacksburg in 2016, the program’s worst loss since 1950. In that game, the Eagles gave up seven touchdowns, and recorded just six first downs. And last year, in front of a national audience, BC lost, 23-10, to VTech, in a Saturday night affair that was anything but close. Josh Jackson shredded the Eagles’ secondary, throwing for 322 yards. On the other hand, BC’s only touchdown came on a trick play in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand. If not for a heroic performance from Harold Landry and Zach Allen, who combined for 21 tackles and four sacks, the 13-point loss could have been worse.

So when BC went down, 14-7, against the Hokies at halftime, and a fateful stat about Virginia Tech being 20-0 under head coach Justin Fuente was brought up on the television broadcast, I pegged the Eagles to a loss in Blacksburg. Yes, head coach Steve Addazio’s team was only down a touchdown, but—with a terrible history against the Hokies and an offense that netted just 20 yards in the second quarter—it was difficult for BC fans to be optimistic.

Yet here we are, a day later, and I still can’t really believe what happened yesterday. In the second half, the Eagles established a new rhythm, carving up defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s defense for 256 yards and 24 points in the second half, limiting VTech to just a lone touchdown. Perhaps most impressive were the adjustments that the Eagles made after the break.

After getting torn apart by running back and wide receiver screens in the first half, BC flew to the ball on screens in the second half, shutting them down effectively. Offensively, knowing that VTech was keying on A.J. Dillon, the Eagles turned a little more to RPOs, play-action, and the read-option to generate yardage and exploit the Hokies’ aggressiveness. One mark of a good team is the ability to make effective adjustments at halftime, and BC showcased the ability to do that throughout the entirety of the second half.

Tack on the program’s sixth-ever win over Miami, and first in seven years, and you’re looking at a special BC team. This is just the second time in 16 years that the Eagles have beaten both Miami and VTech in the same season. The other time? Ryan’s senior year in 2007.

It’s also remarkable that we’re talking about BC as ACC contenders given where the program was just a short while ago. We’re only 13 months removed from that infamous Steve Addazio “It’s going to be beautiful” press conference after the loss to VTech, and three years removed from a season in which the Eagles were winless in the conference and inept on offense.

Yet now, sparked by an offense that has finally diversified its playbook, an offensive line that has paved the way for a dominant running attack, and a defense full of playmakers that is tied for the conference lead in turnovers created, the Eagles have a chance to take down the class of the ACC in Clemson, and seize control of the Atlantic division. It’s a classic David vs. Goliath story.

It’s almost perfect that as soon as BC ascends to its highest ranking in 11 years, it gets its biggest test of the season. Clemson, the team that unseated Alabama to win the national championship two years ago, just hung 77 points on Louisville, and has both the best scoring offense and defense in the ACC, presents the ultimate opportunity for the Eagles. BC has grabbed national attention with the way it has played this season, and now gets the chance to show that, at least during this year’s campaign, Addazio’s vision has coalesced into a team capable of competing with the best in the country.

That’s not to say that if the Eagles lose to Clemson their accomplishments have been diminished. Very few teams in the country can reasonably expect to beat the Tigers, and BC, despite how well it has played, is not one of them. Barring a blowout of embarrassing proportions, the Eagles have certainly showed that they are capable of being a force in the ACC, and a loss to the No. 2 team in the country doesn’t modify that.

But the game hasn’t happened yet, so for now, Eagles fans should have the chance to get excited for the biggest regular season game in Chestnut Hill in the past 10 years and continue dreaming. The team’s turnaround has been nothing short of swift and remarkable, but watching them play this season has proved that it’s no fluke. And now, it appears the entire country is taking note. At least for the next week, BC can bask in the national spotlight, knowing that it’s performances the past couple weeks have earned all the attention that College GameDay brings to a program.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / For The Heights

November 5, 2018