One program in this contest generally attracts a handful, or two (and sometimes three) of the nation's best high school prospects.
The other, does not.
Boston College can be fairly characterized as an overlooked, under-recruited collection of athletes that develop into solid (and in some cases, outstanding) college football players.
Using Scout.com's recruiting rankings, here's a quick comparison between Boston College and the Irish, both on the field and according to two recruiting services.
Using SuperPrep's recruiting rankings as a guide for seasons prior to 2002 yields the following (N/A Denotes: Not listed among top 25):
- 1990: ND #1 BC outside top 25
- 1991: ND #16 BC outside top 50
- 1992: ND #7 BC #30
- 1993: ND #2 BC #28
- 1994: ND #7 BC #10
- 1995: ND # 1 vs. BC #19
- 1996: ND. #6 vs. BC #26
- 1997: ND #9 vs. BC outside top 50
- 1998: ND #3 vs. BC #41
- 1999: ND #8 vs. BC #18
- 2000: ND #12 vs. BC #32
- 2001: ND #14 vs. BC #32
Note: The recruiting rankings below are courtesy of Scout.com:
- 2002: ND #13 vs. BC #55
- 2003: ND #5 vs. BC #27
- 2004: ND #30 and BC #42
- 2005: ND #27 and BC #58
- 2006: ND #5 and BC #44
- 2007: ND #11 and BC #50
- 2008: ND #2 and BC #22
- 2009: Hardly relevant for Saturday, but ND #23 and (gulp) BC #81.
Conversely: Series Results…on the Field
Since 1992, ND and BC have met each season with the exception of 2005 and 2006:
- 1992: ND 54 BC 7
- 1993: BC 41 ND 39
- 1994: BC 30 ND 11
- 1995: ND 20 BC 10
- 1996: ND 48 BC 21
- 1997: ND 52 BC 20
- 1998: ND 31 BC 26
- 1999: BC 31 ND 29
- 2000: ND 28 BC 16
- 2001: BC 21 ND 17
- 2002: BC 14 ND 7
- 2003: BC 27 ND 25
- 2004: BC 24 ND 23
- 2007: BC 27 ND 13
- 2008: BC 17 ND 0
(The all-time series is tied at 9-9 with the Irish winning in '75, '83, and '87).
As the (new) saying goes: recruiting rankings aren't perfect…but neither are coaching staffs or college football players.
The German word, when broken down, simply means that the whole cannot be derived by adding the sum of its parts. This describes the program from Chestnut Hill, especially in its near-annual meeting with Notre Dame.
Each pre-season, Irish fans (and the national media) undervalue Boston College because the team generally lacks flash and overwhelming NFL talent among its skill position starters.
With the exception of QB Matt Ryan (2007) and RB William Green (2001), it's hard to recall a Boston College skill position player receiving pre-season accolades or the adoration of media outside New England.
But a look back shows myriad Eagles who've starred statistically vs. the Irish…it's not exactly a college football "Who's Who?" but the Eagles have regularly produced a ‘back, receiver, or efficient quarterback that has played at a high level against the Irish defense.
The continuous ugly string begins with the 120-yard rushing effort by freshman Montel Harris last year; to Andre Callendar (90 rushing/91 receiving in 2007); Larry Lester (118 receiving yards in 2004); Grant Adams (104 receiving yards in 2003); Derrick Knight (129 rushing in 2002); and the aforementioned Green (195 on the ground in 2001)...all in victories over Notre Dame. If you're a glutton (and still reading), the trend dates back to Justice Smith (147 rushing in 1994); and the original backfield surprise, Darnell Campbell (115 hard-earned yards on the ground in 1993)...all largely overlooked nationally but each shined vs. the Irish.
In fact, DE Mike Mamula, WR Clarence Cannon, TE Pete Mitchell and QB Glenn Foley (and the aforementioned Campbell) each played the game of his life in the upset of the No. 1-ranked Irish in 1993.
Anyone remember Josh Ott? The non-descript linebacker who found an errant, ill-advised, almost impossibly panicked shuffle-pass/attempted throw-away (courtesy of walk-on backup QB Pat Dillingham) land in his chest...71 yards later, Ott crossed the goal line to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead (and 14-7 win) over the then 8-0 and No. 3 BCS-ranked Irish in the infamous "No Need for Green Jersey" game of 2002.
The list of BC heroes vs. the Irish is long and distinguished, and even includes a personal friend of mine, Joel Hazard, who scored a touchdown in BC's comeback 24-23 win in South Bend in 2004.
BC plays up. ND plays down. And it's no longer a coincidence.
Meeting the Challenge
There is, of course, a common denominator regarding the players, games, and in some cases, puzzling outcomes listed above:
Boston College has generally been led by a well-coached, well-schooled, physically tough and mentally focused offensive line. A line that paved the way for 100-plus yard rushing performances vs. Irish defenses ranked anywhere from No. 4 to No. 10 to No. 39 to No. 96…regardless of Notre Dame's overall ability, the Eagles find a way to block better than the Irish tackle.
A similar line will be clad in maroon and gold in South Bend tomorrow and will attempt to bludgeon a blue-jerseyed crew that has improved vs. the run since the troubling gashing in Ann Arbor on September 12.
ND has held three of its last four opponents significantly below their collective season rushing average:
- Michigan State: Average 136; against Notre Dame 105.
- Purdue: Average 135; against ND 74.
- USC: Average 193; against ND 121.
Only Washington (averaging 117 but rumbling for 196 vs. ND, has consistently hurt the Irish on the ground over the last four contests).
Boston College has rushed for 170 (Wake Forest); 188 (Florida State); 45 (Virginia Tech); and 293 (NC State) over its last four games: a span that coincides with the ascension of freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie to a full-time starting role.
Shinskie offers the BC attack a semblance of balance, throwing for 228, 211, and 187 yards in wins over Wake, FSU, and NC State (while being overwhelmed at Va. Tech, completing 1-12 passes for 4 yards in his first career road start).
The Irish will see a healthy dose of the BC ground game Saturday, highlighted by two versions of the increasingly popular Wildcat look – a formation that helped sophomore RB Montel Harris gain 264 yards on 27 carries…five of which culminated in the end zone last week vs. NC State.
The Wildcat, a commitment to running the football, and an improving quarterback that can provide just enough balance from the pocket outline the chief concerns of the Irish defense Saturday.
All Good Things to Those Who Wait
Conversely, BC's front seven has yielded the following yards-per-carry (against the five BCS schools they've faced): Clemson (3.0); Wake Forest (4.6); Florida State (2.4); Va. Tech (4.6); NC State (2.9).
Notre Dame is capable of moving the ball on the ground vs. the Eagles tough, but undersized front seven. To do so, Irish head coach Charlie Weis must preach, and practice, patience. Facing BC's standard Cover 2 defense – a disciplined scheme (not to mention collection of defenders) that makes opponents beat the defense with sustained drives rather than quick hits over the top – Weis and quarterback Jimmy Clausen should first put the game in the hands of their newly-capable offensive line.
The continuous threat of an off-tackle or B-Gap run would soften the Eagles defensively, allowing Clausen time and his chief playmakers openings to beat a polished, deep BC secondary.
Over the last two seasons, BC has outrushed Notre Dame 335 to 93. But unlike the last two contests, Notre Dame enters the contest confident its front five and tight ends can block BC's front seven. It's up to the Irish coaching staff to give them the chance to do so for 60 minutes on Saturday.
Six straight isn't a coincidence. Yes, better Notre Dame teams inexplicably handed BC two of those victories ('02 and '04). But the Eagles were simply a better football team in 2001, 2007 and 2008. (Both teams stunk in 2003 and tried to give the game away. ND was just better at it.)
Only one Boston College player (25-year old freshman starting QB Dave Shinskie) was in high school the last time their program was defeated by the Irish, a ridiculous stat to be sure, but to be fair, BC is the nation's 13th winningest program over that same stretch.
The Eagles are playing with house money as a non-conference road underdog in a situation that, for some reason, the nation generally expects them to fail. Notre Dame is playing for its season; the future of its head coach and staff; and the shaken confidence of its fan base.
On July 27 I predicted Notre Dame would play "Eight Close and Late" by the end of the season.
By October 25 and the end of Week Eight, that forecast will be characterized as: seven down, one to go…