Quietly, head coach Tom O'Brien has become a consistent winner as the head coach of Boston College. After taking the helm in the wake of an embarrassing gambling scandal in Chestnut Hill five years ago, the coach has a 32-27 record, including wins in two consecutive bowl games. He even beat Notre Dame in South Bend, something Tyrone Willingham was unable to accomplish during his Stanford tenure. And while the Big East has two perennial national contenders in Miami and Virginia Tech, Boston College has now joined Syracuse as the conference's other steady, though unspectacular, winner.
Last week, BC looked more like the Keystone Kops throughout most of the game against UConn. The Huskies, a team that next season will replace Temple in the Big East, played some inspired ball despite being 32-point underdogs. On a day that saw the likes of Alabama, South Carolina, and Penn State struggle in winning efforts against lightly regarded foes, Boston College held on to a 24-16 victory after falling behind 16-3 at halftime. Sloppy play by the home team was the norm through three quarters: the Eagles fumbled a punt, threw two interceptions, and had only 78 yards rushing until the game's final 15 minutes.
So what's to make of this BC team? Their second All American running back in five years, William Green, decided to skip his senior season in favor of the NFL. They've made a living out of beating up on weaklings, while losing to established teams (their victory over Georgia in last year's Music City Bowl was their first win over a ranked opponent since 1995). Nonetheless, an experienced winner playing on their home field should not be taken lightly. Boston College welcomes 16 starters back this season, and is in search of a fourth consecutive bowl berth.
Tailback Derrick Knight steps in to fill the shoes of the departed Green. Last week, he rushed for over 100 yards and caught a touchdown pass. He ran for over 300 yards a year ago, including 79 yards against West Virginia (on only 10 carries), and 78 yards against Miami. At 5-feet, 9-inches tall and 205 pounds, he's not easy to bring down. Knight will be spelled by fellow running back Horace Dodd, while J.P. Comella is now BC's starting fullback. A talented and experienced offensive line will be opening the holes for the Eagle backs, a group headed by Outland Trophy candidates Dan Koppen and Marc Parenteau.
Brian St. Pierre enters his senior year as one of the winningest passers in school history. In 2001, he eclipsed Doug Flutie's BC record of season touchdown passes, but his most famous pass last year was a key interception in the waning moments of the Miami game. Stanford shackled him last year to the tune of only 15 completions in 38 attempts for 190 yards. He's not much of a prolific passer, as he passed for just over 2,000 yards a year ago.
His main targets will be a pair of senior receivers, Keith Hennings and Jamal Burke. Hennings caught a touchdown pass a week ago and is finally getting his due after coming to BC as a highly recruited prep All American from suburban New Jersey. Listed at just over 6-foot-2, he's the tallest Eagles wide receiver. Tight end Sean Ryan should also get some balls thrown his way. He might end up playing on Sundays next season, judging by his stats from last season (16 catches and an average of 14.5 yards per reception).
Eight starters return from a defense that gave up more than 20 points in a game on only three occasions, in a victory over Navy and in losses to Stanford and Syracuse. Tri-captain Antonio Garay is one of the team's more talented and experienced defensive linemen, while redshirt freshman Mathias Kiwanuka is the lightest member of the starting line at just under 250 pounds.
The linebacking corps will be anchored by Vinny Ciurciu. The Eagles play a standard 4-3 defense, while their greatest strength is the secondary. Ralph Parent was an All Big East performer at free safety a year ago. Joining him will be fellow seniors Trevor White (CB), and Doug Bessette (SS).
The kicking game is solid at Boston College, thanks to the return of junior PK Sandro Sciortino and senior punter Kevin McMyler.
Prediction: Boston College rarely loses at home against non-conference opponents, while Stanford hasn't won a season-opening game on the road since beating Texas in 1986 (Coincidently, BC defeated Cal at Alumni Stadium on that same day 16 years ago). Nonetheless, if Stanford can avoid the turnover bug while limiting the BC ground game, the Cardinal should be able to sneak out a win. 31-27 Stanford.