By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
As far as separations go, Boston College's divorce from the Big East Conference was an ugly one. While playing its last two seasons in the Big East, the Eagles football team was subject to chants of "ACC! ACC!" during road games. Some fans of opposing Big East schools taunted what they viewed as the school's greed in switching allegiances, throwing dollar bills at the Eagles players as they left the field.
So after two lame-duck seasons in the Big East, which ended with a 43-17 loss to Syracuse that cost the Eagles the outright conference title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, Boston College becomes an ACC neophyte this year. The Eagles officially became the ACC's 12th member school July 1, nearly two years after accepting an invitation to join the league. While former Big East schools Miami and Virginia Tech played in the ACC last season, Boston College had to wait another year.
"Last year, we felt like we didn't get a fair shake from anybody," Eagles defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "And what hurt the players the most was it was all out of our control. But we're used to having things thrown at us -- figuratively -- and that's what makes us work harder."
The only thing thrown at the Eagles during their first two months in the ACC has been high expectations. Boston College was picked to finish second in the ACC's Atlantic Division, behind 11-time league champion Florida State. The Eagles went 9-3 last season, losing at Wake Forest, 17-14, and beating North Carolina, 37-24, in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.
"We don't put any stock in that poll one way or another," Boston College Coach Tom O'Brien said. "I think it's a situation where you picked Virginia Tech so low last year and they kind of bloodied your nose with what they did that nobody wants to make the same mistake."
The Eagles certainly hope to follow Virginia Tech's lead in the ACC. Last season, the Hokies and Hurricanes played for the conference championship on the last weekend of the regular season. Virginia Tech won, 16-10, to claim a spot in the Bowl Championship Series against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
But Miami and Virginia Tech had already established themselves as perennial top 25 programs before joining the ACC -- the Eagles are still trying to get there. Boston College was largely a middle-of-the-pack program in the Big East, never winning an outright league title during the 14 seasons the conference competed in football.
Boston College is perhaps best known for producing 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and his last-second pass that beat Miami on Nov. 23, 1984, arguably the most memorable play in college football history. But the Eagles failed to capitalize on that magical season, finishing with a winning record only four times in the next 12 years. Then the program was rocked by scandal during the 1996 season, in which 13 players were suspended for betting on college and professional football games. Coach Dan Henning resigned, and O'Brien, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, former Marine and longtime Virginia assistant, was hired to rebuild the program.
The Eagles went 4-7 under O'Brien in 1997 and 1998. However, Boston College has won at least seven games in each of the past six seasons, winning its past five bowl games. The Eagles also have upset at least one ranked team on the road in each of the past three seasons, including a 34-17 win at then-No. 12 Virginia Tech in the 2003 regular season finale.
"People had better not underestimate Boston College," said Miami defensive end Thomas Carroll, who played against the Eagles in each of his first two seasons with the Hurricanes. "They are a tough, physical team. They are not going to back down from anybody."
During O'Brien's tenure, the Eagles have greatly improved their talent and facilities, and they hope greater exposure in the ACC will widen the program's recruiting base. O'Brien said he targeted faster players in each of his past two recruiting classes to prepare for the move to the ACC. In March, BC opened a new $27 million, 72,000-square foot athletic facility that houses the football offices, locker rooms and weight rooms.
BC's alumni and fans also seem excited about the school's first season in the ACC; for the first time, season tickets in men's basketball and football are nearly sold out before the season begins. The university hired a sports marketing firm to trumpet its move to a new conference and to educate its fans about all things ACC -- from Tobacco Road to Death Valley. In print, television and radio advertising, and even on the video screen at Fenway Park, BC is letting sports fans in Beantown know "There's A New League In Town."
"From BC's standpoint, we have a great media market -- we're definitely in Red Sox country -- and it's bringing a lot of attention back to BC football," Kiwanuka said.
2004 record: 9-3, beat North Carolina, 37-24, in Continental Tire Bowl
Returning starters: 15 (seven offense, eight defense)
Why they'll play in a BCS bowl: The Eagles nearly played in a BCS bowl game last season, but then quarterback Paul Peterson broke his hand and Syracuse blasted them, 43-17, in the regular season finale.
Why they'll play in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 28: The Eagles will have to prepare harder than any team in the league because everything is new to them. They play three of their last four games on the road, including a Nov. 19 finale at Maryland.
Tomorrow: No. 21 Iowa State.
Previously: No. 25 Alabama, No. 24 Texas Tech and No. 23 Virginia.
Series Index On the Web: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/sports/colleges/football/index.html