Enter Boston College, which should be considered a good story in part because it has a workhorse back in A.J. Dillon, is averaging 52.7 points per game, has some interesting defensive pieces (ends Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray come to mind) and is 3-0 for the first time since Matt Ryan was flinging it around in Chestnut Hill.
The Eagles are considered a good story that is actually getting attention mainly because this week they made their first appearance in the Associated Press poll in nearly a decade. To be precise, their first since Nov. 30, 2008, according to the indispensable College Poll Archive.
But let’s be clear: This isn’t an out-of-nowhere team. Dillon rushed for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman. Boston College won five of its last six regular season games a year ago, including a 35-3 obliteration of Florida State. It ended up 7-6 for the fourth time in Coach Steve Addazio’s first five seasons.
What appears to be different this season is notable progress from sophomore quarterback Anthony Brown, who has thrown for nine touchdowns against no interceptions and has completed 68.8 percent of his passes. He was 16 of 25 for 304 yards and five touchdowns at Wake Forest last week, easily Boston College’s toughest test yet.
(The emergence of a passing game is a relatively new development for the Eagles. They threw eight touchdown passes the entire 2015 season. A year later, Boston College managed four touchdown catches in eight ACC games. Last season, Brown had 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 51.9 completion percentage).
Now comes the matter of turning a perceived breakthrough into a real one, a quest that will continue Saturday at Purdue (noon, ESPN2). The glaring question facing the Eagles all along was how were they going to navigate what looked like a brutal final seven games: at N.C. State, Louisville, Miami, at Virginia Tech, Clemson, at Florida State, Syracuse.
That’s still an issue — drawing Miami and Virginia Tech as Coastal Division crossover opponents isn’t ideal — but the vulnerability of Louisville and Florida State provides a more obvious path to flirting with a nine- or 10-win season than existed a month ago.
As for the next Boston College? Per College Poll Archive, these are the 10 Power Five programs with the longest active absences from the AP top 25.
Sept. 20, 1994
Sept. 30, 2007
Nov. 11, 2007
Oct. 12, 2008
Oct. 18, 2009
Oct. 16, 2011
Nov. 20, 2011
Nov. 18, 2012
Kentucky would almost certainly crack the rankings if it can upend Mississippi State on Saturday. The Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 SEC) already ended a 32-year drought against Florida this month, so nosing back into the top 25 for the first time since Andre Woodson’s heyday would be a mild accomplishment in comparison.
It’s probably time to discuss Notre Dame, which has yet to leave South Bend during its 3-0 start. It has knocked off Michigan, Ball State and Vanderbilt, all by eight points or less.
(Odd bit of trivia: The last time the Fighting Irish opened a year with three victories by eight points or less was 1939).
The very basic scouting report on Notre Dame is it boasts enviable defense and a questionable offense. It also refuses to do itself in with silly mistakes, boasting a plus-three turnover margin and an average of four penalties for 41 yards per game.
The combination of running back Dexter Williams’s ongoing absence and (more importantly) the graduation of two offensive linemen who were selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft have scuttled the Irish’s rushing attack. Last year, Notre Dame ranked seventh nationally with 269.3 yards per game on the ground. So far, the Irish are a pedestrian 76th in the FBS at 164.7 rushing yards a game.
The next three weeks should sort out how credible the Irish are. They visit Wake Forest on Saturday (noon, ABC), before playing host to Stanford and then traveling to Virginia Tech.
Speaking of which, this is the fifth year of Notre Dame’s scheduling arrangement with the ACC, and the Irish are 13-7 against the league (and 22-12 against everyone else).
ND vs. ACC
Duke, at N.C. State, Virginia Tech
at Florida State, Louisville
Return to form
There was much consternation Saturday out of the land of Legends and Leaders, which saw seven teams (Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin) tumble in nonconference play.
It was a lousy collective weekend, even with Ohio State surging past TCU, and it revealed a dip relative to last year.
Only here’s the thing: Last season was the outlier for the Big Ten.
When league games (including the conference championship) are removed, the collective winning percentage is at its lowest point since the Big Ten expanded to add Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. But it’s not far off the mark from two years ago.
W-L vs. non-Big Ten
That number won’t change much between now and December. There are only six nonconference games remaining on the Big Ten schedule, including a guarantee game that Nebraska added on Thursday to replace the Cornhuskers' canceled opener against Akron.
Tulane at Ohio State
Buffalo at Rutgers
Boston College at Purdue
Central Michigan at Michigan State
Bethune-Cookman at Nebraska
Notre Dame at Northwestern
There are two ways to evaluate conferences, and people do have a penchant for using the one that suits their argument best. One is a top-to-bottom approach, and the other is to prioritize a comparison of elite teams. With Ohio State and Penn State still undefeated, it’s understandable why Big Ten partisans would point to a pair of national title contenders.
Fair or not, a middling bottom half of a league tends to be forgotten when two or three schools manage to win 11 or 12 games (the SEC of 2017 is a fine example), while a league with a bunch of 8-4 and 9-3 with only a couple duds gets dismissed (think of the ACC in most seasons between 2001 and 2012). Chances are, Saturday’s collective face plant is largely forgotten if there’s two or three one-loss Big Ten teams standing heading into December.
Five games to watch
No. 2 Georgia at Missouri (Saturday, noon, ESPN): The Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) get one last crack at Missouri QB Drew Lock in what could be one of Georgia’s trickiest remaining regular season games. After facing the Tigers (3-0, 0-0), the Bulldogs will play only two true road games (Louisiana State and Kentucky) the rest of the season.
No. 22 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): Is this Jimbo Fisher’s “Welcome (back) to the SEC” moment? Or could the Aggies (2-1) actually pose a threat to Alabama (3-0, 1-0)? No one has come close so far.
No. 7 Stanford at No. 20 Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC): In the first seven years of the Pac-12 title game, the winner of this contest has gone on to claim the North Division five times, including last year when Stanford beat the Ducks. RB Bryce Love is expected to return from a one-game injury absence for the Cardinal (3-0, 1-0).
No. 18 Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Fox): Somebody has to win the Big Ten West, and these are probably the two best candidates. The Badgers (2-1) remain the presumptive favorites despite last week’s loss to Brigham Young, while the Hawkeyes (3-0) are giving up just eight points per game and are always a good bet to create major headaches for visiting teams.
Arizona State at No. 10 Washington (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN): The host Huskies (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have surrendered 31 points in three games. Arizona State (2-1) is yielding just 16 points a contest. Maybe this will provide standard #Pac12AfterDark wackiness, but a game similar in substance (if not necessarily in outcome) to the Sun Devils’ 13-7 defeat of Washington last year is very much in play.