Forget ACC, being big in Boston is Eagles' real problem
Feb. 12, 2005
By Dennis Dodd
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!
Suddenly, Boston College's move to the ACC doesn't look so daunting.
Forget a super conference; football coach Tom O'Brien is surrounded by super teams and Super Bowls. Good bud Bill Belichick seems to be doing OK with his New England-based NFL team. Word has it that the local major-league franchise seems to have ended some sort of curse.
Boston College has won its past five bowl games, the best streak in the nation. (AP)
From early December to mid January, BC's basketball and hockey teams combined for exactly no losses. Men's basketball started a Big East-record 20-0. The hockey team is ranked No. 1.
So how hard can Miami, Florida State, etc. be? The pressure to live up to Boston's best begins when he leaves the house.
"Now it's time to challenge ourselves," O'Brien said. "I'll give you a Belichick answer. I was trained that way."
Oh yeah, The Bill, reigning king of New England -- at least until pitchers and catchers report. Belichick and O'Brien trace their relationship back 30 years when both coached at Navy. They are so thick that the BC staff routinely heads over to the Patriots facility for X's, O's and lunch. Belichick, then a gopher with the Colts, once got O'Brien tickets for a first date/hot date to see a Baltimore exhibition game. O'Brien ended up marrying Jennifer Byrd.
2005 ACC Football
North Carolina State
The connection, then, is both technical and emotional. But as the No. 4 sports option (maybe) in the nation's sixth-largest media market, BC sometimes struggles to get column inches.
The move to the ACC might help it in that struggle. The story has everything tabloids are looking for.
Critics say BC has abandoned its Northeast roots to play in the now widely scattered ACC. O'Brien already admitted he struggled to recruit in traditional ACC hotspots in the Carolinas and Virginias.
BC is the last addition to an at-times contentious expansion. That extra year in the Big East led to angst that filtered down to fans. It seemed as if O'Brien faced at least one question every week about the next conference road game, where fans were ready to unload with invective.
"I told the AD, this is all well and fine but I'm walking the point out here," O'Brien said. "The (other Big East) administrators set the tone. By them setting the tone, it trickled down (to the fans).
"The (Big East) coaches will never admit it, but privately they would say, 'Hell, if we had the opportunity we'd go.'"
Football Schedule 2005
Sept. 3 at BYU
Sept. 10 Army
Sept. 17 Florida State
Sept. 24 at Clemson
Oct. 1 Ball State
Oct. 8 Virginia
Oct. 15 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 5 at North Carolina
Nov. 12 North Carolina State
Nov. 19 at Maryland
Beginning next year the league will split into two six-team divisions and stage a championship game. Superpowers Miami and Florida State are/were expected to rule the landscape, but it was Virginia Tech that took the first expanded ACC title.
"The thing that was surprising, everybody thought Miami was going to go in and win the league and Virginia Tech did," said O'Brien (57-39), beginning his ninth season.
"For us knowing that we went down there and beat (the Hokies) in their last Big East game (34-27 in 2003), that helps us psychologically. Playing North Carolina in a bowl game and winning that game, from a psychological standpoint, that will help this football program. Yeah, we can compete in this conference."
BC starts in great shape. O'Brien, the former Marine, started his coaching career at Navy with Belichick's father, Steve. Some of the Patriots' excellence has had to rub off. The BC-New England staffs interact regularly.
"The best thing that's happening to them," O'Brien said, "their locker room polices a lot of things now. It's not handled at the coaching level or the GM level.
"When you pick up a paper on Mondays and Tuesdays and they're saying the same thing you were saying to them Sunday in meetings, then you know we're all on the same page. I'm sure that's the way the Patriots are."
Of all the so-called "academic" schools, BC might be doing the best at football right now. At a time when grad rates are being tied to scholarships, BC is graduating 100 percent of players -- which is nothing new. O'Brien can't get enough credit for leading the program out of the gambling scandal in the mid-'90s.
The 2004 Eagles won at least eight games for the fifth time in six years (9-3). The program has won 12 out of its past 15. The victory over the Tar Heels in the Continental Tire Bowl was the program's fifth in a row in the postseason. That streak continues to lead the nation.
They did it with typical BC grit. Quarterback Paul Peterson broke his leg in the fourth quarter of the 37-24 victory. As Peterson was being wheeled off the field, he saw the Eagles score on a fake field goal.
Surrounded By Excellence
New England Patriots Super Bowl champs
Boston Red Sox World Series champs
BC men's basketball 20-1, ranked No. 4
BC women's basketball 15-6, ranked No. 19
BC men's hockey 17-3-6, ranked No. 1
Boston Celtics 25-25, 1st in Atlantic
* - Records are through Thursday
"In no way, shape or form would we ever compare him to Doug Flutie," O'Brien said, "but he was our Flutie. Twenty years later you have the same type of quarterback running around BC."
Seventeen starters return, including senior quarterback Quinton Porter, who redshirted last year after starting the first 10 games of 2003. And, no, we're not forgetting that the Eagles fumbled away a chance at their first BCS bowl in a depressing loss at home to Syracuse.
"I was reading about ACC basketball knocking each other off," O'Brien said. "That's probably going to be the way it is in football. The way we look at the Big East was -- there's always Miami and Virginia Tech at the top. Then you can take us, West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt throw us in a hat and pick us out.
"Now maybe that's going to be the case in the ACC."
Love it or hate it, when the ACC decided to expand, it was almost a mortal blow to the Big East. The conference recently lost an Orange Bowl anchor for its champion. There is no assurance the Big East will have an automatic BCS berth in the future.
Meanwhile, the ACC doesn't look like the Everest it did when BC agreed to join two years ago. The future looks more like The Heights.