Don't look now, but Boston College has made a quantum leap in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sure, it's just two games into the season, but you can make an argument that Matt Ryan is the best quarterback in the league, and soon it may not be a stretch to put Tom O'Brien on the short list of the best ACC coaches.
Much of the optimism stems from one game, the Eagles' 34-33 double-overtime victory over Clemson this past Saturday. Seldom has 2-0 looked so much better than 1-1, but here's why there are lots of smiles at The Heights.
First of all, it was BC's first home victory over a ranked team in O'Brien's 10-year tenure. Hard to believe, but that has been BC's profile: beat lots of good teams, but never come up with a defining moment against a Miami, a Virginia Tech, or a Florida State at Alumni Stadium.
There's more. Look at the Eagles' remaining schedule: BYU at home, then at North Carolina State, vs. Maine, vs. Virginia Tech, at Florida State, vs. Buffalo, at Wake Forest, vs. Duke, vs. Maryland, at Miami. The ``Big Three" of the ACC still remain, but the conference seems different this year -- not as ferocious at the top and utterly woeful at the bottom.
Miami and Florida State do not look like top 10 teams, and Virginia Tech is still in a transitional stage as it rebuilds. The rest of the ACC opponents, plus 1-AA Maine and Buffalo, appear to be very beatable.
All of this suggests nine wins at worst and 10 or more if a few things go right, as they did against Clemson.
The common thread -- and it should be a comforting one to BC fans -- is the presence of O'Brien, who has quietly and steadily built a solid program, evidenced by six consecutive bowl victories, the longest such streak in the country.
Granted, the bowl wins have come against Boise State, North Carolina, Colorado State, Toledo, Georgia, and Arizona State in secondary games, and only Georgia of that group has been a perennial top 20. But O'Brien, who can become the winningest coach in BC history with a victory against BYU Saturday, still has done a fine job of building a program that fits what the BC administration wants: a solid football team, with a solid academic record as well.
Give credit to athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who has fashioned nonconference schedules that do not extend BC beyond its capabilities.
``We're coming along step by step," DeFilippo said yesterday. ``Everyone has played a part in it. Hopefully, there are better things to come."
Better things, obviously, mean an ACC championship, a BCS bowl, or a New Year's Day game.
Still, no one should get too cocky too soon. All you need to point out is a 43-17 loss at home to Syracuse two years ago when a victory would have given the Eagles the Big East title and a BCS bid, a stunning 17-14 loss to Wake Forest the same season, and a 16-14 loss at North Carolina last season.
BC is not quite at the point where it can win good games even with bad efforts, but it is getting closer. The win over Clemson was a major step forward in the direction the Eagles want to travel. And to show that someone is paying attention to the success on the hill, ESPN has asked the Eagles to move their game on Sept. 23 at N.C. State to an 8 p.m. start to be shown nationally on ESPN2.