Click here for the introduction and an explanation of the rankings.
Trouble Spot No. 7 – Boston CollegeI could have easily dropped BC to eighth in the Trouble Spot rankings, but the Eagles should be in prime, non-conference upset mode entering this late-November contest.
Situation (date, time, location): November 19, Senior Day in South Bend, kick-off time set for 4:00 ET.
BC/Irish Game Slot: Boston College concludes a two-game home stand with a preceding contest against NC State (prior, ACC favorite Florida State hits Chestnut Hill). They travel to Miami after South Bend to take on the Hurricanes.
Notre Dame returns from a neutral site game in Landover, Maryland vs. the Terrapins, and then hit to the road to face Stanford on Thanksgiving Saturday to conclude the regular season. The Eagles draw the Irish on Senior Day in South Bend.
Numbers/National View of Boston CollegeLindy's ranks the Eagles as its 50th best team, 8th in the ACC, while Athlon's projects the Eagles 45th nationally, and No. 5 in the ACC Atlantic. Phil Steele picks BC to finish 4th in the ACC Atlantic.
My View of the Eagles: Better than they showed in last year's Irish beating in Chestnut Hill, but not as stout up front as in the recent past.
BC brings known commodities at linebacker and running back while featuring a veteran, polished secondary, and for the first time since Matt Ryan left campus in 2007, might receive solid play under center.
The early-season Eagles of 2010 were hopeless offensively, but pieces are in place with nine returning starters including sophomore QB Chase Rettig – a player overwhelmed by the Irish defense and the moment in Notre Dame's conquest of Boston College last October. To be blunt, the QB position as a whole was terrible last season in Chestnut Hill, with three scattershot efforts from a trio of overmatched signal-callers.
The Eagles beat the Irish six straight because they owned scrimmage – that won't be the case this season, but Boston College is a much better team now than it was last October, and will improve through the season thanks to a relatively tough ACC slate prior to its trip to South Bend.
Coaching ElementFollowing a tough 20-16, 2009 defeat in South Bend, Frank Spaziani offered one of the most gracious, engaging post-game interviews from an opposing head coach during my time covering the Irish, but a 15-10 mark with two bowl game losses in his two seasons at the helm won't win over the masses, not after nearly a decade of 9-win campaigns (highlighted by an 11-3 finish in 2007) and eight consecutive bowl games victories preceded him.
Respected offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers was hired in the off-season to run the show offensively, and Spaziani has pieces in place for at least eight wins this season – the old Eagles would have found a way to squeeze out nine, due largely to unlikely upsets including their stranglehold on the Irish. The latter no longer exists, but the team's former defensive coordinator and current leader should produce a quality squad this fall, will likely encountering an underdog role in seven 2011 contests.
Trap Game PotentialThe good news: it's Notre Dame's first home game in three weeks. The bad news? It's Senior Day vs. Boston College. I'd prefer Navy; or even, ahem, Syracuse; or ideally, the #14 Utah unit that cordially took its beating last November.
The Eagles ruined Notre Dame's senior send-off in 1993, 1999, and though it preceded the official Senior Day by one home date, in 2002 as well. 1993 (especially) and 2002 served as program-killers. BC has enjoyed ample success in South Bend, winning in 2004 and 2007 as well – once as a heavy underdog, once as a prohibitive favorite.
A ranked Irish squad should be favored by more than 8.5 points…and therein lies the rub, as the Irish have lost three of five as home favorites over the Eagles in their last five meetings (1999-2009).
Key elements to the Eagles' Defense/OffenseThe experienced Eagles boast two of the most productive players in college football: reigning 2010 tackles leader and national runner-up as a true freshman in 2009, Luke Kuechly (183 stops last season; 158 in ‘09), as well as the NCAA's No. 1 active rusher, Montel Harris (3,600 rushing yards and 30 TD over three seasons).
After a 120-yard effort vs. Notre Dame as a freshman in '08, Harris has been held in check by the Irish defense, managing just 38 net rushing yards in '09 and only 28 last fall (Harris has amassed just 66 yards on 37 carries in back-to-back losses vs. Notre Dame since his breakout freshman.
Kuechly was rarely blocked in 2009, a 20-16 Irish victory in South Bend, totaling 14 tackles (one for loss) and an interception. Notre Dame's front five and tight ends fared much better vs. Kuechly in last year's Chestnut Hill route, though he still managed 14 stops (another for lost yardage) and a fumble recovery. The difference? Irish blockers actually laid a hand on Kuechly and the bulk of his tackles (11) occurred after the Irish grabbed a 21-0 lead en route to a 31-13 victory.
Kuechly will star again this November; Harris' effort will help determine the game's outcome.
Advantage Irish? The inexplicable mental hex the BC program held over the Irish is irrelevant to Notre Dame's current roster, few of whom have participated in a loss to the Eagles in their collegiate careers with two straight victories.
Relevant StorylinesBoston College…late November…Senior Day…ring a bell? The Eagles will be searching for win No, 7 or 8 at kick-off. Notre Dame? Anywhere from No. 8 to No. 10 – the latter placing the pressure squarely on the Irish in search of BCS riches.
Puncher's Chance for an upset? Senior Day has intermittently burned the Notre Dame program, especially when the Irish entertain a team with a pulse. I think Boston College will play inspired football and bear little resemblance to the team that the Irish took to the woodshed last October, but it's no longer a major upset if BC defeats a favored Notre Dame team, as they've done so on three of the last five occasions, plus three times previously, twice in program-altering fashion.
Nevertheless, the Eagles will likely be the nation's trendy upset pick in late-November should the Irish enter ranked among the nation's Top 15.
Final Verdict/PredictionUltimately I think the Irish will struggle more at Purdue (Trouble Spot #8) than in this matchup, but that's how the Eagles have made their wares vs. past Irish teams: when they're doubted, they rise to the occasion, thanks largely to stout play from scrimmage, timely turnovers, and the overlooked toughness quotient.
The Irish defensive front seven is now far superior to the Eagles rebuilding offensive front, and head coach Brian Kelly's squad showed but one instance of questionable toughness – the 35-17 hammering at the hands of Navy – a game Kelly referred to as "an aberration."
Accurate or not, there's no need to question this battle-tested Irish unit's toughness: they'll show up ready to hit each week.
If you're a Notre Dame fan, the Senior Day battle vs. BC ranks among the last games you want to see close entering the final quarter, when pressure historically bites the Irish. (Notre Dame is 3-7 in Senior Day match-ups decided by a touchdown or less since 1990…BC has registered two of those victories, and that doesn't include a November upset of an 8-0 Irish team.)
I was completely wrong in my ND/BC game prediction last season, forecasting a mild Eagles upset – let's hope I'm not in 2011, too.
The Irish will pull away from the Eagles in the second half, winning handily to set up a BCS elimination game at Stanford the following Saturday.