November 30, 2007

BCS or bust

#5 Virginia Tech (10-2, 7-1) vs. #11 Boston College (10-2, 6-2) Jacksonville, Florida (1PM, ABC)

Fast Facts:

In just its third year in the ACC, Boston College is headed to Jacksonville for a chance to play for the Orange Bowl. The Eagles are up against a tough Virginia Tech squad, who are looking to avenge a devastating loss to BC earlier in the year. Had the Hokies scheduled a cream puff instead of LSU or had they not coughed up an onside kick against BC, then Frank Beamer's team would have been well positioned for a shot in the BCS title game.

Last weekend, BC removed the 23-year-old monkey from its back by taking out a downtrodden Miami team. The Eagles won the game 28-14 and ended a 15 game losing streak to the 'Canes. Matt Ryan led the Eagles throwing for 369 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 for 43 attempts. Rich Gunnell had a career day, hauling in 9 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. The BC defense held Miami to just 281 yards of total offense and continued their reputation as one of the top rush defenses by holding Miami running backs to to just 83 yards.

Virginia Tech beat Virginia 33-21 last weekend. In their last three games, the Hokies have averaged 39 points and 394 yards of total offense. Over the last two, Frank Beamer has deployed a two quarterback system that has paid dividends on the field. Virginia Tech is rolling.

This is the first time in BC history that the team has had back to back 10 win seasons. This is the ninth consecutive year that the Eagles have been bowl eligible.

A win on Saturday puts BC in a BCS bowl game for the first time in school history.

Vegas has BC as a 5 point underdog.

Players to Watch

Boston College - Matt Ryan - Gerry Callahan said Thursday morning that if Ryan has a big game Saturday he will put Matty Ice on his Heisman ballot - and you have to imagine this is the sentiment of a lot of other writers as well. More importantly, Ryan has a chance to lead BC to their first BCS title game in school history. Last time he played the Hokies, Ryan was invisible for the first 56 minutes, but when it counted Ryan came through. Anthony Castanzo - Last time out Castanzo had his hands full against V Tech's Chris Ellis. Castanzo has played remarkably as a true freshman and certainly has a very bright future. On Saturday, he will be put to the test again agaisnt a top flight defense. The BC Secondary - With Dejuan Tribble doubtful for Saturday's game and the V Tech quarterbacks playing some of their best football of the year - this unit has to step it up for BC to prevail. While we don't know if Tribble will be playing this Saturday, I have a feeling that he'll be on the field.

Virginia Tech - The two headed quarterback monster of Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon. Over the last three games Taylor has rushed for 147 yards on 32 carries and has scored 3 touchdowns. Taylor did not play against BC last time out but expect him to cause all sorts of problems for the Eagle defense. This defense has yet to play against a truly mobile quarterback this season so it will interesting to see what Frank Spazani comes up with to stop Taylor. Glennon has been efficient over the last two games and has completed 60% of his passes and thrown for two scores. Chris Ellis & Barry Booker. The BC offensive line had all sorts of problems containing these two guys last time out. Ellis and Booker combined for three sacks and numerous other hits on Ryan. Eddie Royal. Eddie Royal scored a touchdown and was responsible for setting up V Tech's other 3 points the last time these two teams met and with Dejuan Tribble doubtful for Saturday's game the BC secondary could be in for a long day. Also returning to action for the Hokies will be standout linebacker Vince Hall, who returned last week and did not play in the Eagles' victory in Blacksburg.

What the Eagles need to win: Protect Matt Ryan. As we've seen with BC all year, this offense will move the ball on anyone and they will score points. The few times they have run into trouble (at VT, Clemson, and Maryland and at home against FSU) have been the result of relentless pressure on Matt Ryan. Gosder Cherilus and Anthony Castonzo can finally shake those nightmares of Chris Ellis terrorizing them in Blacksburg because they get another opportunity in a far more important contest. How Coach Jags and Logan decide to protect Ryan will go a long way in determining the winner of the ACC Championship. Do they keep a back/tight end in to chip the defensive end or do they move more to a short rhythm passing game? I have a feeling we'll see a mixture of both as the BC offense attempts to keep the VT pass rush off balance.

What the Hokies need to win: Continued success with the dual QB attack. While the old dual quarterback adage ("if you got two QBs playin' that means you don't have one") has proven right more often than wrong, the Hokie offense has defied this description in the last few weeks. Glennon, the strong-armed passer, and Taylor, the athletic red zone threat, have given defenses fits with their explosive diversity. Taylor has consistently made plays when it seemed like nothing was there, while Glennon has pushed the defense with a vertical passing attack, augmented by a stable of big and fast wideouts. When playing to their potential, it's hard to imagine a more dangerous offense. Yet all is not necessarily hopeless for the Eagles D; both quarterbacks have played erratically and neither have played in a game with this type of pressure. If they don't start out well, will the constant substitution keep them out of rhythm? Taylor has a tendency to lock into his receivers, so don't be surprised to see the Eagles dare the Hokies to pass when he's in the game. If the Hokies are to get the Orange Bowl bid, they're going to need their QBs to play very well.

Outlook: Well, we're finally here-the game that both of these teams have been playing towards in every game this season. Both BC and V-Tech head into the contest playing with substantial momentum: Virginia Tech unbeaten since the loss to the Eagles in October while BC is coming off huge victories in Death Valley over a dynamic Clemson team and last week's exorcising of the Miami demon in Chestnut Hill. Both teams are the best in their respective divisions. So, who will walk home with the Orange Bowl bid?

Every prognosticator in the country is predicting the Hokies to win following everything that has changed since the first time these teams met. The Hokies' offensive line, previously inconsistent, has gelled into a cohesive unit and the passing attack has improved significantly since moving to the dual quarterback system. Defensively, Hall's return has fortified an already strong linebacking unit and the defensive line is as dynamic as ever. All of this has propelled Virginia Tech back into the driver's seat as the ACC favorite. Yet, I'm not sure the edge is as decisive as the predictions suggest; while the Hokies seem to have the edge on the d-line, in the secondary, at wideout, and in the Special Teams department, I'd give the Eagles the edge at running back and along the offensive line. Ohh, and of course at quarterback…which is again where the game will be won.

I'll be honest. I didn't want to play the Hokies again. I believed all the talk that "it's much harder to beat an opponent twice" and that they would be enraged from the manner in which they lost in Blacksburg. Yet in reading the quotes coming from the Eagles locker room, it occurred to me that this team has every bit the same motivation, if not more. This is THE game that many of these BC players have been playing for throughout their four years at the Heights. They're talking about "bringing the program to the next level" and culminating their careers with the biggest win in BC's history. They seem every bit as motivated, every bit as focused, and every bit as confident. And most importantly, they're a far more relaxed team than the prior versions that have fallen just so cruelly short. That's been without a doubt the biggest difference between Coach Jags and Tom O'Brien. All of this is why this Eagles team has played so well as an underdog all year. They've been able to understand the gravity of every moment and they've managed to win the most important battles in the most important games this year. That perspective has allowed them to stay close in those games where they were undermanned and less talented, leaving the game to their All American quarterback in the fourth quarter. That's how championships are won; a smart, motivated, talented, and a veteran team with the best player on the field at the most important position triumphs over perhaps the more talented and more athletic opponent. And that's why the Eagles will win on Saturday. Not because they're more talented. Not because they look better on paper. But because they've played all year with the cool confidence that stems from their icy QB.

BC: 24
VT: 20

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