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BC uses Clemson as springboard

Eagles could get cozy atop league

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.

Hurting unit
Clemson lost not only a game Saturday, but another defensive starter in sophomore safety Michael Hamlin, who broke his left foot and will be out 4-6 weeks. He is the third defensive starter to go down on coach Tommy Bowden's team. Senior linebackers Tramaine Billie (broken foot) and Anthony Waters (torn knee ligaments) are already out, so the Tigers will be shorthanded for Saturday's game against Florida State . . . Miami coach Larry Coker finally had some nice things to say about his offense after a 51-10 rout of Florida A&M last week in which the Hurricanes ran for 339 yards, which was 337 more than they had in a 13-10 loss to Florida State in the opener. ``We've got a lot more work to do," said Coker, whose team was helped by the return of leading running back Tyrone Moss. ``I'm proud of our offense. We didn't make any mistakes. Guys made plays." With a trip to No. 11 Louisville Saturday, the Hurricanes will have to make lots of plays to avoid a 1-2 start. Miami hasn't started that poorly since 1997.

Mounting trouble
Don't expect to see Virginia playing many Mountain West teams in the future. Going into last Saturday's game against Wyoming, Virginia was 0-2 against MWC teams in the last six years, with losses to BYU and Colorado State. The Cavs beat Wyoming, 13-12, in overtime and it took a missed extra point to do it . . . Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is still shaking his head after the Seminoles' 24-17 victory over Troy, which wasn't sealed until Joe Surratt's 4-yard TD run with 1:56 left. ``They deserved to win the game as much as we did," said Bowden. ``They might have deserved it more, but it didn't happen." . . . How bad are things at Duke? A 13-0 loss to 1-AA Richmond in the opener was followed by a 14-13 loss to Wake Forest, sealed when a 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked by the Deacons on the game's final play. The Blue Devils' next five games: at Virginia Tech, vs. Virginia, at Alabama, vs. Florida State, and vs. Miami.

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