Syracuse vs. Boston College: We Meet Again

Back in August, Brian of BC Interrruption and myself did a chat in order to reacquaint ourselves the Eagles and Orange. Part I of the chat is over at his site and you can see Part II right here.

Just so you know, I predicted SU would be "either be 6-5 or 5-6" while Brian thought BC would be "8-3 or (don't laugh) 9-2." Oh, I'll laugh sir...

Now it's game week and we decided to check back in and find out what's been happening since then. Here's Brain's answers to some questions I posed. He'll be posting my answers shortly on his side...

The ACC kinda lucked out this year with the Big East being so terrible so not too many people noticed how mediocre things are. But make no mistake, I noticed! What's going on over there? Where are the dominant programs?

To be fair, I don’t know how mediocre things are over here in the ACC. With a huge assist from our engineering friends down at Georgia Tech, they tell me that the ACC currently has the ninth best non-conference winning percentage since 1978 (33 seasons). So there’s that. Also, the ACC is currently 3-1 head-to-head against the Big East, including Miami crushing Pitt, N.C. State dispatching Cincinnati and a shorthanded UNC squad surviving at Rutgers. West Virginia owns the only win over an ACC club, but Maryland is a hollow 7-4, notching their four conference wins against the four worst teams in the conference.

So I’m not sure if the two conferences are really that close this year.

Still, the lack of a dominant program is certainly weighing down the national perception of both the ACC and the Big East this season. Virginia Tech is the closest thing the ACC has to a dominant program, and they are now within a game of becoming the first ACC program to go 8-0 in the regular season in conference play since 2000. If the Hokies, winners of 9 straight, hadn’t lost to James Madison, they would probably be getting more BCS at-large love than they currently are.

The Atlantic Division, on the other hand, is a mess. Maryland benefitted from an easy schedule, BC imploded and Florida State isn’t all the way "back" under first year coach Jimbo Fisher. Two high-profile beatdowns – Oklahoma’s thumping of FSU and Ohio State’s beating of Miami – also haven’t helped matters.

Boston College is 6-5, how does that line up with your preseason expectations? And did you think it could be a whole lot worst during that five-game losing streak?

BC’s season falls far short of expectations. BC was gifted one of the easiest ACC schedules they’ve had in years – four straight home games to start the season, an extra week to prepare for Virginia Tech, Duke and Virginia from the Coastal Division (and missing North Carolina, Miami and Georgia Tech). The opportunity to win the Division was this year.

Due to some inconsistent offensive line play, the coaching staff’s inability to recognize that Chase Rettig was the most talented QB on the roster, and a Rettig sprained ankle, the Eagles squandered an otherwise manageable slate of games. Combine this with the fact that it seems like nobody wants to win the Atlantic Division, and this season feels like an especially wasted opportunity.

The easy sledding comes to an end starting next year. BC has road games at Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami, just six home games and a schedule that will likely include 9 bowl teams from this season (including programs like Northwestern, UCF and Notre Dame, all likely on the rise). Basically, the schedule gets much tougher and quickly.

Things looked pretty bleak during the five-game losing streak, particularly after the loss to Maryland. The way we had lost those last two weeks though, at Florida State (by 5 points) and Maryland (by 3 points), you got the sense that BC was slowly starting to get it together. Did I think it could have been much worse? Yes, especially with a home game against Clemson where the Eagles went in as a touchdown underdog. Luckily for us, Clemson is coached by Dabo Swinney.

Freshman QB Chase Rettig seems to be progressing and getting better each week. Are we looking at the BC QB for the next four years or is he just a stopgap for the next guy?

I think the Eagles have found their QB of the future. Rettig has gotten better each week and it would have been interesting to see just how much further Rettig would be along if he was afforded the opportunity to start earlier in the season.

That said, Rettig could turn out to NOT be the guy for the future. If that was the case, I think BC would either turn back to backup Mike Marscovetra or try (once) again with highly touted QB recruit Christian Suntrup.

The Eagles have the No. 1 defense in the country against the run. Is that more a function of the pass defense being so bad or is the roster that fantastic? Looking across the field at Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey, who needs to step up to shut them down?

Unlike past seasons where BC had 300+ run-gobbling NFL Draft picks on the defensive line, this season the Eagles D has been effective against the run due mostly to the linebackers. Guys like All-American LB Luke Kuechly just fly to the ball and he has great instincts and a high football IQ. Kuechly gets so many tackles, he’s on pace to break the single-season school record for tackles and is threatening to break the single-season NCAA record for tackles. Kuechly is supported by Mark Herzlich – you may have heard of this guy – and freshman Kevin Pierre-Louis.

I wouldn’t say the pass defense is that bad – the Eagles are tied for third in the country with 18 interceptions on the year – but rather opposing offenses scheme around the BC D’s strength (rush defense) and focus less on establishing the run, partly on the reputation of the defense as a run-stuffer. It also has helped BC’s D, at least statistically, that they’ve played a bunch of teams like N.C. State, Weber State and Duke that employ a pass-first offense. In other weeks, BC has been effective in stopping some very good rushers, including Virginia Tech’s Darren Evans and David Wilson, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott and Clemson’s Andre Ellington.

This will be the first of many games for the Orange and Eagles over the coming seasons. Conference allegiances aside, do you feel like the rivalry will be officially renewed soon?

I think the rivalry will take time to develop once against after its six-year hiatus. But I think it’s a great rivalry that is destined to be great game over Thanksgiving weekends to come. Doug Marrone seems to have Syracuse on the upswing and BC football has been nothing but consistent for the last decade. The two programs recruit in the same areas and high schools and have student bodies that draw on the same areas of the country.

As soon as one of these BC-Syracuse games has BCS or bowl implications, I think both programs we’ll quickly fall back into rivalry mode. Get your popcorn ready, and all that good stuff.

And a prediction from you?

BC has started to put things together in the second half of the season (even though the schedule lightened up considerably down the stretch) and I think it’s high time the Eagles exact their pound of flesh from the Orange for our last meeting in 2004. Whatever the under is, take the under. Both defenses are too good and both offenses too ‘meh’ for this one to be a barn burner. If pressed for a final prediction, I’ll say Boston College 23, Syracuse 21. It won’t be pretty and the Eagles will certainly miss the services of all-conference RB Montel Harris, but BC gets the job done and exorcises the ghost of Diamond Ferri rushing performances past.

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