Harvard hoops in line for future success?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
It’s a simple question with a complicated answer: Which college basketball programs will have the most success over the next three seasons (2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17)?

ESPN Insider recently set out to find an answer to that question, asking a panel of experts -- including Paul Biancardi, Jay Bilas, Eamonn Brennan, John Gasaway, Jeff Goodman and Andy Katz -- to rate programs on a scale of 1 to 10 in five categories: coaching, current talent, recruiting, program power and stability.

The result is the Future Power Rankings, the 25 teams most likely to have success in the immediate future.

There were a number of surprises, but perhaps the biggest one is Harvard coming in at No. 20 (Insider subscription required) -- ahead of teams such as Pittsburgh, Memphis, Georgetown and VCU.

Here’s what John Gasaway sees as the dilemma when it comes to Tommy Amaker and the Crimson:

Harvard, Yale and Princeton once dominated college football, but following World War II the Ivies made a considered decision to opt out of college sports' (already) rapidly escalating arms race. Now Amaker has transcended that decision rather surprisingly and spectacularly. But can Amaker -- or any coach -- really stay in these rankings at an Ivy League school?

Gasaway isn’t the only person wondering if the Crimson will be able to stay in the CBB Future Power Rankings. Seth Greenberg, for one, believes the Crimson (Insider) were ranked too high to begin with.

The former coach and current ESPN analyst explained his reasoning in part by saying the following:

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has done an incredible job. His teams are well-coached, aggressive, talented, athletic, tough and confident. Amaker has also been good at identifying qualified student-athletes who can compete at a higher level. Over the past two seasons, the Crimson boast wins against Cincinnati and New Mexico in the NCAA tournament. It speaks volumes to Amaker's work. However, it’s hard to see the Crimson as a future top-20 program, considering the small pool of potential prospects and the small margin of error in the evaluation process.

The Crimson have played in three straight NCAA tournaments, winning a game in each of the past two, and return the core of last season’s team -- led by point guard Siyani Chambers and do-everything guard Wesley Saunders. The 2014-15 Harvard season tips off Nov. 14 at Lavietes Pavilion against Cambridge rival MIT.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Addazio gives Crowther's parents game ball

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16

Following Boston College’s upset victory over No. 9 USC on Saturday night -- during which the team paid tribute to former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther, who was killed saving lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- coach Steve Addazio presented a game ball to Crowther’s parents.

“We celebrated this game because we celebrated Welles. We celebrated him as a BC man,” Addazio said in front of his football team in a video posted by BC on Tuesday (above). “We celebrated his selflessness, and his ability to put other people ahead of himself. Service to others, it’s what our university stands for. Someone who had an opportunity to do something for other people and he paid the ultimate sacrifice to do that.”

BC honored Crowther by putting red bandanna patterns on its helmets, cleats and gloves and on gear worn by the coaching stuff. The red bandanna was Crowther’s signature, and something he was wearing as he saved the lives of a dozen people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center before he was killed in its collapse.

Crowther’s father, Jefferson, said receiving this football meant even more to him than the Emmy presented to him for ESPN’s OTL segment -- “The Man In The Red Bandanna” (video below) -- which told the story of Welles’ heroism of Sept. 11.

“For you guys to present this to us tonight is incredible,” he said.

After Jefferson mentioned how much he liked the way the cleats looked, one of the BC players -- Manny Asprilla -- gave him the shoes off his feet.


Three-and-out: UMass makes changes

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Three weeks in, and we’re at two heartbreaking losses for UMass and counting in 2014.

The Minutemen went to Nashville on Saturday and led Vanderbilt for most of the afternoon before giving up two fourth-quarter TDs -- including one on a blocked punt -- to lose the lead and then missing a 22-yard field goal to tie and losing 34-31.

What happened immediately after Blake Lucas' kick sailed wide left may turn out to be the enduring image of UMass' season, barring a turnaround.

As the Minutemen kicker stood dejected, Commodores lineman Adam Butler threw his arms in the air in celebration right next to him. Spotting Lucas, Butler dropped his arms and gave Lucas a quick hug.

It's been that kind of year for UMass (0-3).

First down: There will be changes on special teams for the Minutemen.

On Tuesday, the school announced that special-teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach Ted Daisher has been dismissed. Head coach Mark Whipple will oversee the special teams for the duration of the season.

And on the depth chart for this weekend’s game at Penn State, the Minutemen list Lucas or freshman Matthew Wylie at place-kicker.

Second down: Starting running back Jamal Wilson, lost to an ankle injury in the first quarter against Vandy, may have dodged the worst damage.

"It’s maybe not as bad,” Whipple said in his weekly MAC conference call. “I don't think he’s gonna have to have surgery, so we’ll just kinda play it by ear. He won't be ready this week so that’s kinda the focus. We have to see where it’s at."

With J.T. Blyden also injured, Lorenzo Woodley led the Minutemen in rushing against the Commodores with 22 carries for 43 yards and two TDs. He also had a Blake Frohnapfel pitch kick off his hands and tumble into the UMass end zone where Butler recovered it for a Vandy TD.

“Lorenzo Woodley was the best option and he did some good things,” Whipple said. “Jordan Broadnax was the next guy, so it looks like those two guys, and J.T. ran around a little bit [Sunday] night. Those are the guys we've got."

Regardless of who starts at running back on Saturday, the Minutemen have their work cut out for them. Penn State ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense (allowing just 65 yards a game) and 11th in both total defense (272.3 yards per game) and scoring defense (12.3 points per game).

“I'm not sure if we had Jim Brown we'd be able to run the ball against Penn State's front anyway,” Whipple said with a laugh, “so there's other concerns that way."

Third down: Receiving fullback/tight end Rodney Mills had a big day against Vandy, finishing with three grabs for 76 yards and two scores.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior leads the team in receiving TDs, with three.

"He's a really good football player and we knew that in the spring right away,” Whipple said. “He could play defense for us, he's a good special-teams player. Not a real big guy, but just a good football player that’s got some suddenness to him, captures the ball well. We've got to try and get him the ball a little bit more because he makes the most of his opportunities and that's a nice thing to have.

“We play him at fullback, we play him at wideout, and we play him at the `U' position and move him around. So we will continue to do that and try to get him a few more touches."

Out: Wideout Alex Kenney, a graduate student transfer, is listed as one of the starters for Saturday’s game.

Why is that notable?

Because Kenney transferred to UMass from Penn State, where in three seasons he caught 20 passes for 197 yards. So while he has just one catch for 14 yards this season, Kenney will get the start for the Minutemen against his former team.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Asprilla gives cleats to Crowther family

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. –- Manny Asprilla wasn’t looking for any gratification when he approached the father of the late Welles Crowther with a pair of his cleats following Saturday night’s 37-31 upset of No. 9 USC. In fact, the Boston College cornerback didn’t even introduce himself.

"I just shook his hand and gave him the cleats," Asprilla, an Everett native, told ESPNBoston.com. "He was surprised at first, like 'Oh, this is for me?' I said 'Yeah', shook his hand and then I went to his wife and did the same, shook her hand."

[+] EnlargeManny Asprilla
Anthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesEverett native and Boston College cornerback Manny Asprilla gave his cleats to Welles Crowther's parents after his terrific performance in the Eagles' upset of USC on Saturday night.
The Eagles, of course, were playing with plenty of emotion before a red-clad crowd at Alumni Stadium that night, pounding away at the Trojans for their first upset of a Top-10 team as an unranked squad in 12 years. BC dedicated the game to Crowther, a former lacrosse player, in honor of the 13th anniversary of his death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Crowther became a hero that day for running back into the South Tower of the World Trade Center to help a dozen people escape, including carrying an injured woman down 15 flights of stairs. Since that day, he’s been known as “The Man In The Red Bandana” (see video above).

BC honored that legacy on Saturday by putting red bandanna patterns on the players' helmets, cleats and gloves, as well as coaches' pullovers. Following the win, head coach Steve Addazio gave the game ball to Crowther’s parents, Allison and Jefferson, and let them speak to the team.

That was when Asprilla noticed Jefferson eyeing everybody’s cleats. And so he only did what he thought was most fitting.

"I just felt like, not that I didn’t need them or deserve them, but me having them after a couple years [the meaning] would just die away," Asprilla said. "What the red bandanna cleats stood for, I felt like they would have a longer emotional effect on him and his family, so I just decided he deserved the cleats."

Three-and-out: BC moves on from USC

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
The big upset didn’t end until late Saturday night, and technically the postgame interviews didn’t wrap up until early Sunday morning.

Yet, just a few hours later, Boston College players were back at practice in helmets and shoulder pads.

If that’s all you knew about the situation, you would think the Eagles had been the ones getting upset instead of the ones doing the upsetting of then-No. 9 USC. Why else would they be back at work so soon after such a cause for celebration?

Because that’s how business is done under Steve Addazio, and the Eagles had to put in their work before they did their final toasting of the 37-31 triumph over the Trojans (with a team dinner at a downtown Boston steakhouse).

“If you can’t enjoy the great moments, then to me you start to lose sight of what you’re doing,” Addazio said in his weekly Monday news conference. “And I know the paranoia of the whole thing, that, ‘Well, yeah, maybe USC celebrated too much [after beating Stanford the week before].’ And OK, yeah, you might be right.

“But you’ve gotta get your team wired so they know how to enjoy those moments -- not too much, but enough -- and then you’ve gotta be ready to get back to work.”

Addazio hopes he has a team that can strike that balance, but he’ll find out for sure after the players return from their off day Monday.

“The simple answer is, we’re gonna go like hell on Tuesday,” he said. “And our staff is gonna go like hell. That’s the simple answer of what we’re gonna do.“

First down: College football coaches, as a personality type, trend toward the perfectionist.

Addazio is no different. Consider one of his opening remarks from Monday’s session:

“The overarching theme was we had to win up front. And we did, on both sides of the ball. And our kids played with really great energy and great passion. They’re a really good football team. So you walk away from that game and you’re extremely ecstatic, about how your guys responded and how we played.

“And I look at it and I’m like, ‘I wish we would’ve played that same way a week ago.’ And then I also look at it and I say, ‘Let’s make sure we don’t end up having this conversation next week about how we didn’t play with that same energy.’”

Clearly, Addazio isn’t over the 30-20 loss to Pittsburgh. And he’s certainly not looking past this weekend’s opponent, Maine, even though the Black Bears hail from the FCS.

“Maine is a highly capable team that can come in here and beat us in our home stadium,” he said. “And that’s a fact. I know exactly who we are. And for us to have success, we’ve gotta play at a high, high level or we’re not gonna be better than anybody.

“I’m glad I got it figured out; now we gotta make sure the kids got that figured out.”

Second down: How impressive was BC’s upset win Saturday night? Impressive enough that not one, not two, but three Eagles were named to the ACC’s Player of the Week list.

Tyler Murphy was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week, Andy Gallik was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week and Josh Keyes was named ACC Linebacker of the Week.

Murphy did most of his damage on the ground, rushing 13 times for 191 yards and a 66-yard TD to seal the Eagles’ win. Gallik was part of an offensive line that paved the way for the Eagles’ 452-yard rushing performance and a 506-yard total for the game -- BC’s second 500-yard outing of the season. And Keyes had one of the Eagles’ five sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss.

Third down: The Sept. 27 game against Colorado State, which will wrap up BC’s four-game homestand this month, will kick off at 12:30 p.m. ET. Television coverage of the game has yet to be announced.

The Rams are 2-1, after beating UC Davis 49-21 on Saturday, and will be coming into the matchup off a bye week. Senior QB Garrett Grayson has his Rams ranked No. 14 nationally in passing yards per game (340.0) through three weeks, passing for 993 yards and eight TDs.

Out: A look at the Eagles’ upset of No. 9 USC, in animated form (via Chris Morris):

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Addazio's call for all-out effort answered

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio had a simple request for his team prior to Saturday’s nationally televised, prime-time matchup against No. 9 USC.

“I said to our team going into the game, ‘All I ask is we play with relentless effort. And we play really, really hard. … and have faith. Have faith in each other,’” Addazio said. “And they did that. They responded.”

Did they ever.

The Eagles ran the ball 54 times for 452 yards and five TDs in the 37-31 upset. Quarterback Tyler Murphy may have finished just 5-for-13 passing for 54 yards, but those totals are deceiving. He had a number of catchable balls dropped, and made more than enough plays with his feet to do what he set out to do: move the chains, keep the clock running and put points on the board.

BC’s new signal-caller finished with 13 rushes for 191 yards, including one that shook Alumni Stadium to its foundation.

With the Trojans finally waking up after the Eagles scored 24 straight points, Cody Kessler marching them down the field and hitting Nelson Agholor for a 10-yard score to bring USC within six at 30-24, the Eagles needed an answer. There was still enough time left, four minutes and change, for the Trojans to rally if the hosts couldn’t respond.

So, as he did all night, Murphy took things into his own hands. On second-and-4 from the BC 34-yard line, Murphy took the snap, stuck the ball into the gut of running back Jonathan Hilliman and peeled off. Two Trojans defenders, screaming into the backfield, bypassed Murphy and wrapped up the big back at the line of scrimmage.

But Murphy had fooled everyone again, and the ball was still in his hands.

“The front line did a great job,” Murphy said. “I made one guy miss and I saw the end zone.”

The fleet QB burst through the line, sped past the stunned Trojans and sprinted straight up the field for a 66-yard score that had the 41,000-plus in attendance so fired up the stands shook.

“It’s been a long journey,” Murphy said in the interview room after the Eagles had been mobbed by fans on the field. “It means a lot to me. It’s pretty easy on my half because when you have guys that are willing to work and willing to sacrifice for each other, it makes it easy for the quarterback.

“We really just try to stick together as a team and outplay teams and really put everything on the line on every play.”

The Eagles certainly outplayed their more talented opponent Saturday night, the Trojans struggling on special teams (with a muffed snap on a punt, a shanked punt on another), biting on play-fakes on defense and struggling to string drives together against BC’s aggressive defense.

A key stat? The Trojans finished with 29 carries for a grand total of 20 yards rushing.

“They could not run the ball six inches against us tonight,” BC defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “If you can’t stop the run, then you can’t take all the shots that we’re taking and do all the stuff that we want to be able to do on third down.

“The reality of it was, that’s an outstanding skill group [for USC]. Even during the game, I was kind of like, ‘Wow, did you see how fast he came across that field?’ But our guys, the arrow’s up on our guys now.”

“Tyler Murphy played like a big-time player here tonight,” Addazio said. “We sacked ‘em. We harassed ‘em. We played relentlessly on defense. This is our first win over a top 10 opponent in 10 years. We just kept coming and kept playing. And I’m most proud of that.”

But because he is who he is and because the season’s far from over, Addazio praised his team in one breath but also cautioned it against a letdown next week against Maine.

“This game doesn’t make a year, but it’s certainly a great springboard as we move forward to wipe that taste of a week ago out,” he said. “But college football is unforgiving. You’ve got to get ready next week because you’re right back in it.

“You honor and celebrate the wins, and then you get back to work.”

Fresh off a career day, Murphy sounded ready for more.

“It just goes to show that we’re a team that when we’re at our best, we’re tough to beat,” he said of the upset. “Our job is to bring that each and every week. So we have to refocus and have a good week of practice because the same thing can happen to us next week.

“It’s a big win for our program and we’re taking things in the right direction.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Who was that 5-foot-6 freshman?

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Allow me to make the necessary introductions.

Sherman Alston, meet America. America, meet Sherman Alston.

Chances are you had no idea who the 5-foot-6, 163-pound Boston College wideout was before Saturday night. But if you watched the Eagles upset No. 9 USC 37-31 on national TV before a packed house at Alumni Stadium, you know him now.

The hosts trailed 17-13 late in the first half when the Eagles’ D forced USC to punt from its own 36. Kris Albarado’s punt went awry, though, and fell out of bounds at the BC 46.

BC lined up with three wide receivers, quarterback Tyler Murphy in the shotgun. Alston started lined up in the right slot. At the snap, he ran left through the backfield and took the ball on a reverse. The speedster motored around the left edge, picking up steam as he went and screaming up the field, past the 50, the 40, the 30 and into the red zone.

BC wideout Charlie Callinan -- all 6-foot-4, 220 pounds of him -- was blocking his man up the sideline, allowing Alston to clear that hurdle and scoot toward the end zone.

[+] EnlargeSherman Alston
AP Photo/Michael DwyerSherman Alston's 54-yard TD run late in the first half put his team ahead and helped change the game's momentum.
When he saw the field open ahead of him, the freshman had just one thought: “Just gotta go,” he said. “Gotta go. Gotta get in the end zone.”

USC linebacker Anthony Sarao had a shot at Alston as the wideout and kick returner neared the end zone, but the slight sprinter threw a stiff-arm into the 6-foot, 220-pounder and hit paydirt.

Chestnut Hill nearly exploded, the vast majority of the 41,000-plus in attendance temporarily losing their minds and maxing out their lungs.

One play, 54 yards and 11 seconds later, the Eagles led the mighty Trojans, 20-17.

“Sherm Alston is a freshman, he was back there for the first time returning punts and making plays,” BC coach Steve Addazio said after the upset.

And while Alston’s electrifying play put the Eagles up for good, he wasn’t the only freshman to make a mark against the Trojans.

“It was all over the field,” Addazio said. “It was really a team effort tonight. And what we talked about was, ‘We gotta make plays. You’re gonna get X amount of plays and shots in this game, and you’ve gotta make those plays.’”

On the first series of the game, freshman Christian Lezzer scraped through the USC line and sacked Cody Kessler. After Tyler Murphy moved the Eagles into the red zone, freshman Jonathan Hilliman scored on a sweep -- the first of two scores for the four-star prospect on the night.

“He played fantastic,” Alston said of Hilliman, who finished with 19 carries for 89 yards and two TDs. “We’ve been talking to each other, because that’s my roommate, and we just said, ‘When we get in, we just have to make plays for coach to trust in us.’”

The duo certainly did that.

But while the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Hilliman was a highly sought-after recruit, Alston found himself unable to attract the interest of his home state school.

“That was my focus coming in, like playing early as a freshman,” Alston said. “I just wanted to prove to all the schools [that didn’t offer me a scholarship] such as Rutgers -- I wanted to go to Rutgers -- that them guys made a mistake.”

Though Alston finished his high school career at New Jersey’s St. Joseph’s Regional with 2,656 yards rushing, his slight stature scared off most big-time programs, including Rutgers.

“Growing up and playing football in Jersey, Rutgers is always like the dream school to stay close to home,” he said.

But no offer came.

Then he went to camp at BC, and a few weeks later he got an offer from the Eagles and committed that day.

After all the work of training camp and the first few weeks of the season, Alston got a shot to show what he can do. And there was that run.

“It felt like everything,” Alston said. “Everything I’d worked for since I was a little kid. Playing big-time, Division I football. It was just a blessing and I just felt so appreciative when I finally got that score.”

The fact his score helped put the Eagles over the top, knocking off the Trojans?

“It wasn’t because of me, it was just an overall team effort,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates blocking.”

Then, after a beat, he said with a smile, “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Three-and-out: BC remembers Crowther

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- To say that the Eagles had a little extra motivation this week would be cliche.

It would also be true.

First down: Thursday marked the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City that claimed the lives of so many, including former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther.

Crowther had become an equities trader after graduation, working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and on that day he died trying to save others. So on Saturday, the team wore his trademark accessory -- a red bandana -- on their cleats, gloves and helmets. The school handed out 6,000 red bandannas to the crowd.

His parents were introduced in the second quarter, and received a rousing ovation. His mom waved a red bandanna to the crowd.

And after it was over, and Boston College had upset No. 9 USC 37-31, defensive coordinator Don Brown talked about what it meant.

“As a New England guy, growing up, you always wanted to coach at BC. That’s what it was all about,” he said. “And it was not just the night, although that was spectacular. To have a person of that caliber [come from BC] ... [that] impacted us. Coach did a great job of presenting it to the team today.”

The team watched ESPN's “Outside the Lines” feature story on Crowther (embedded below), and Steve Addazio talked to his players about Crowther’s story.


“This red bandanna game meant a lot,” Addazio said. “We talked a lot about Welles Crowther. We talked a lot about who he was and what it takes to be a BC man. Our guys really dug deep in this. This was a great win.”

And after the game, the team presented one of the game balls to the Crowther family.

“It was extremely emotional,” Brown said.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBC's defense held USC to 20 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
Second down: Maybe the biggest upset of the night. The Eagles scored 37 points, piled up 506 yards of offense and 31:54 of possession, yet they finished just 2-for-11 on third down.

USC was just 5-for-16, as BC’s defense did a number on the Trojans when it mattered.

Josh Keyes had a hand in more than a few of those plays, winding up with eight tackles and a sack.

“He was unbelievable tonight,” Brown said. “That’s the guy that I’ve seen since spring. Did he do that last week? No. ... He took care of his business tonight and took it personal and was a leader on the sideline.”

Typically unassuming, Keyes credited his teammates.

“It’s really not about me, it’s about the entire defense,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my teammates.”

The Eagles finished with five sacks of Cody Kessler and 16 tackles for a loss. (Meanwhile, USC managed only one sack of Murphy and seven tackles for loss.)

Third down: The 37-31 win was BC’s first over a Top 25 team since Nov. 15, 2008 (No. 20 Florida State) and the first over a Top 10 team in more than a decade (No. 4 Notre Dame in 2002).

It snapped an 11-game losing streak against ranked teams, and a four-game losing streak against USC. The Eagles are now 1-4 all time against the Trojans.

“It meant a lot,” QB Tyler Murphy said of the win. “Especially after last week’s loss. Coach really challenged us as a team this week and we really went after it. It just goes to show that if we really set our mind to something and we play as a team, the sky’s the limit.”

Out: Andy Gallik has been at BC for a while. The fifth-year senior, voted a co-captain this season, has seen a lot. He has seen bowl games and 2-10 seasons.

But what he saw Saturday night at the Heights, when the fans stormed the field after the nationally televised upset was complete? That he was still processing.

“Personally, it still hasn’t hit me yet,” he said, drawing laughs. “I’ve been through a lot of games, a lot of ups, a lot of downs. I can honestly say this is the highlight of my career.”

At least, the highlight to date. After all, Gallik and the Eagles still have four games left to play against opponents who entered the night ranked.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BC's ground game wears down USC

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- If ever there was a Boston College game, this was it.

The opponent had more talent, and just as much bulk. There was a slight chill to the air, and a cold rain fell most of the afternoon. The spotlight was shining brightly, but the operator didn’t have to worry about swinging it over to the BC sideline.

The only reason the Eagles found themselves on national TV on Saturday night? No. 9 USC was in town.

The script was relatively simple: The cameras would roll, and so would the Trojans.

And with the deck seemingly stacked against them, the oddsmakers giving them chances somewhere between slim and none, the Eagles promptly fell behind their high-powered opponents 17-6 in the second quarter.

“That position was not anything that was gonna shock anybody,” BC coach Steve Addazio said. “It was what we talked about all ... week ... long. ‘You’ve gotta keep swinging. You’ve gotta hang in there, and you’ve gotta swing. And we’ve gotta have great energy.’

“And we sustained that energy and made some plays and then turned that tide.”

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy completed just 5 of 13 passes for 54 yards, but he ran for 191 of BC's 452 rushing yards.
As it usually does for BC, it started from the ground up.

“Running the ball has always been our identity,” center Andy Gallik said. “We always take pride in it, whether it’s working or whether it’s not, we always try to get back to it.”

Tyler Murphy got the BC run game going.

After a USC field goal pushed the lead to 17-6, Murphy kept the ball and ran around the left side. Seeing a Trojans defender closing fast, the QB stuttered his feet and pointed to a phantom receiver, slowing the defender enough to slip by him and gain the sideline for the first-down yardage plus a few extra.

Later on the drive, with the line stacked heavy to the left, Murphy faked the handoff and ran right. He gained the edge and ran upfield, juking left and then right to spin a Trojans DB around before finally being forced out at the 3.

Freshman Jonathan Hilliman punched it in, trimming the USC lead to four.

“It was early in the game when they got up on us,” Murphy said. “Coach always says that we are going to stick to the game plan, try to get it to the fourth quarter and win there. So we just kept believing and we just kept taking it one play at a time. There was a lot of football to play, and anything can happen.”

And after the defense buckled down -- led by a big effort from linebacker Josh Keyes (eight tackles, 5.5 for a loss and a sack) -- and slowed USC's explosive offense, the Eagles got a quick strike of their own.

Sherman Alston stands just 5-foot-6 and weighs just 163 pounds. But when he gets going, the Jersey kid causes more motion blur than an action movie on a cheap LCD.

So when the Eagles lined up with Alston in the slot and two receivers split wide, the attention might not have gone to the little guy at first. But when he broke into the backfield, took a toss from Murphy and jammed on the afterburners, he had all 41,632 souls in Alumni rapt.

He sped around the left side, used his blocking up the field and sped to the end zone. And just like that, the Eagles had the lead.

“Before the play, I was just thinking, ‘I’ve gotta get in the end zone,’” Alston said. “As soon as I caught the ball, I saw blocking from my wide receiver, Charlie Callinan, and I just exploded. It felt good.”

Little did any of the delirious fans in the stands know it, but BC had the lead for good. After falling behind 17-6, the Eagles scored the next 24 points and withheld a late rally by the visitors for the 37-31 upset.

And when the final horn sounded, the fans stormed the field, mobbing the Eagles on the BC logo at midfield. The spotlight was fully on them now, and not on the celebrities on the USC sideline (Will Ferrell among them).

“It’s a great night for our team, for our players,” Addazio said. “They played really hard. They came off a rough week last week [with a 30-20 loss to Pitt]. We had a really hard week of practice. There was a lot of people second-guessing them. But they had a real steel resolve.”

The Eagles ground down the Trojans’ defense, finishing with a massive edge in rushing yardage. BC ran the ball 54 times for 452 yards -- the most that USC has given up since 1977 -- and five TDs. The Eagles got help from their defense, which held the Trojans’ explosive offense to short drives and kept Troy's defense on the field.

“Waking up this morning, just knowing that it was going to be a night game, it was going to be a little rainy, it was going to be a BC-style football game,” Gallik said. “Those are the kinds of things I’ve heard about ever since I came here. … Those were the type of games BC was winning -- when it’s cold, it’s wet and you’re playing against a tough team.”

It was a true BC game, and the outcome -- while shocking to many -- wasn’t shocking to the Eagles themselves. It won’t change much for them, either.

“This game doesn’t make a year, but it’s certainly a great springboard as we move forward to wipe that taste of a week ago out,” Addazio said. “But college football is unforgiving. You gotta get ready next week, because you’re right back in it.

“You honor and celebrate the wins, and then you get back to work.”

It doesn’t get any more BC than that.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Here’s what we learned in the ACC following the Week 3 slate of games. One thing we already knew -- and which the ACC proved again Saturday -- is that this can often be a befuddling league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Smith celebration
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsEast Carolina's stunning upset of Virginia Tech knocked the Hokies out as a College Football Playoff contender.
1. Two more ACC schools are knocked from the College Football Playoff discussion.
And that could change again by the end of next week, as No. 23 Clemson travels to No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 20. With Saturday’s results, the ACC turns its eyes to you, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Pittsburgh. And to be honest, most aren’t considering Duke or Pitt legitimate contenders just yet, considering each school’s nonconference schedule. Virginia Tech offered hope that a Coastal team might be able to crack the playoff four, but the Hokies laid an egg in the first quarter against East Carolina and were knocked off. Considering it came a week after their big road win at Ohio State, it leaves a sour taste in ACC mouths. Louisville was loading up the hype train after a nice win against Miami in a prime-time setting, but the Cardinals’ offense was suffocated by upset-minded Virginia. Pittsburgh has a manageable schedule and would almost certainly get in if undefeated, but the Panthers don't have the look of a team destined for a spotless record just yet. So once more, the ACC is looking to you, Clemson and FSU.

2. The ACC Coastal: 'Bring your brooms, because it’s a mess.'
Marty Huggins from “The Campaign” said it best, and there’s really no need to compound on what he said as far as the ACC Coastal goes. Following last week, it seemed Virginia Tech was the team to beat in the division. It certainly could still be that team as the East Carolina loss was out of conference, but there isn’t nearly as much confidence in the Hokies any longer. Pittsburgh was the flavor of the hour last week after a dominating win on a Friday night, but the Panthers struggled against a terrible Florida International team. Georgia Tech is 3-0 but has been less than impressive in all three wins. North Carolina hasn’t looked great, either. Right now, it is only Duke quietly taking care of business, which is what it did last season, too.

3a. Boston College was a bunch of Dudes on Saturday. So was the Virginia defense.
That is Steve Addazio’s motto for his team, and that is an apt way to describe what we saw from the Eagles against No. 9 USC. Many felt the Eagles had a chance to keep it close, but few felt they would be able to upset a USC team coming off a win at Stanford. Boston College followed the lead of its quarterback, Tyler Murphy, beating up the Trojans on the ground to the tune of 452 rushing yards. After a lopsided loss to Pittsburgh last week, it seemed Boston College was destined for a down year, but now the Eagles have the look of a bowl team. They’re not going to win the Atlantic, but that defense is nasty, and with Murphy running the option, the offense is efficient enough that this might not be the last upset the Eagles pull off in 2014.

In the aftermath of the BC win, we almost forgot the effort from Virginia, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia deserves the recognition, and while it doesn’t use the same "Be A Dude" motto, you can certainly apply it to that Cavaliers defense after its performance against Bobby Petrino’s Louisville offense. All afternoon, quarterback Will Gardner was harassed and made uncomfortable. He was hit, chased and had passes batted back into his face. Eventually, Petrino turned to his backup quarterback. And just like Boston College, the Virginia offense never gave Louisville the ball back in the final minutes after forcing a Cardinals punt. If the Cavs can get any help from their offense, this is a bowl-worthy team. Good for Mike London and his team, which went winless in the ACC last season.

3b. The ACC owns prime time.
Virginia Tech last week. Boston College this week. Just let us have this one.

4. Speaking of Pitt and Georgia Tech, what do we make of their scares?
That one depends on the team. First, there is something to be said to still being undefeated at this point even if the competition is not very good. Now that that is out of the way, I’d be much less concerned with Pitt’s first-half struggles in its 42-25 win than Georgia Tech’s second-half nightmare against Georgia Southern. The Panthers were playing in a noon game against a dreadful FIU team. They came out flat. It happens in college football, and it happens a lot. Ideally, a coach never has those performances, but they’re hard to avoid. Expect a much more focused Pitt team against Iowa. As for the Yellow Jackets, this is becoming a trend. They did not look great against FCS teams Wofford or Tulane, and Saturday they blew a 25-point second-half lead to Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech needed an 11-play, 72-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds remaining and earn a 42-38 victory.

5. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya can sling it.
The Hurricanes opened up the playbook a little more for Kaaya, and he responded with 342 passing yards, a school record for a true freshman. The Miami offense was balanced on first down, which allowed Kaaya to throw in situations in which defenses weren’t always expecting it. What really stood out to coach Al Golden in the Hurricanes' 41-20 win over Arkansas State was how Kaaya audibled into a new play at the line of scrimmage several times, including on two touchdowns. “Brad hits the quick out that Phillip [Dorsett] ends up taking. That’s all him. The other check that we ended up scoring on, the run, [it was] the same thing there. That was all him on the line of scrimmage,” Golden said. And the first touchdown was a deep throw, which Kaaya struggled with in the first two games. On throws of at least 10 yards in the first two weeks, he was 7-of-17 for 188 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

Boston College 37, No. 9 USC 31

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13

Boston College outrushed USC by 432 yards en route to a 37-31 upset.

Video: Boston College coach Steve Addazio

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13

Boston College coach Steve Addazio reacts to the Eagles’ upset of USC on a night honoring 9/11 hero Welles Crowther.

Rapid Reaction: BC 37, No. 9 USC 31

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- After hanging tough early, Boston College ran through, over and by No. 9 USC in the second half on a sodden field in Alumni Stadium, upsetting the Trojans 37-31 on Saturday night.

How it happened: Things went according to the script early on.

The Trojans, one of the best teams in the country, jumped out to a two-score lead on a pair of Cody Kessler passes -- a short post to George Farmer in the end zone and a screen pass that Javorius Allen turned into a 51-yard score -- and a 52-yard field goal by Andre Heidari.

And the Eagles, not one of the best teams in the country, managed to get into the end zone after a 52-yard scamper by Myles Willis set up a short option score (Tyler Murphy pitching to Tyler Rouse for a 4-yard TD), but couldn’t convert on the extra point.

Then it went decidedly off-script. The Eagles ripped off an eight-play, 75-yard drive for a TD (Jonathan Hilliman punching in a 3-yard TD) to make it 17-13. And a few minutes later BC capitalized on a shanked punt by USC’s Kris Albarado with an electric 54-yard score by Sherman Alston on a reverse.

All of a sudden, the Eagles had the lead on their nationally ranked foe -- on national TV, no less.

And when Josh Keyes and Brian Mihalik combined to sack Kessler on USC’s first possession of the second half, forcing a Trojans punt, Alston was ready. The speedster returned it 22 yards to the USC 41, and the Eagles pounded it down the field and in for a 10-point lead.

When the Trojans seemed to finally wake up in the fourth quarter, putting together a methodical drive and punching it in with a 10-yard strike from Kessler to Nelson Agholor, the Eagles needed an answer. And Murphy provided one.

The QB faked a handoff, exploded through a hole and streaked past everyone for a 66-yard TD that brought such joy to the 41,000-plus souls in attendance that Alumni Stadium shook.

The Trojans added another late TD, cutting the BC lead to six, but couldn’t recover the onside kick, and the Eagles ran out the clock.

What it means: The Eagles beat a ranked team for the first time with President Barack Obama in office. BC’s previous win against a Top 25 team came way back on Nov. 15, 2008, when the Eagles beat No. 20 Florida State 27-17.

BC improves to 2-1 (0-1 ACC), while USC falls to 2-1 (1-0 Pac-12).

Up next: BC will host Maine in the third game of a four-game September homestand. The Black Bears are 1-1, after a 13-10 loss to Bryant on Saturday.

The ESPN Football Power Index gives BC a 95 percent chance of winning against Maine -- which is in the FCS.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

It's time for BC to compete vs. Trojans

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio believes in the value of competition. Believes in it fervently, unabashedly.

"I think the most competitive times bring out the most competitive men. I believe in that," the Boston College coach said this week. "I love these big games because from the standpoint of it's a great way to get [your players] in there and let it roll. I think you'll see some young guys in these games make some plays, and you'll also see some tough moments, I'm sure.

"I think you can grow from those, and I don't want to miss these growth opportunities right now. Not one bit. I feel like I wanted to see more of that last week."

Last week, the Eagles (1-1, 0-1 ACC) didn’t do enough to beat a hard-charging Pittsburgh (2-0) team led by a bulldozing running back (James Conner) straight out of the Andre Williams playbook.

And when No. 9 USC (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) comes to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, for a prime-time, nationally televised nonconference matchup (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), the task doesn't get any easier. In fact, the competition level is only going higher.

"We're excited," BC left guard Bobby Vardaro said. "This is why you come out and play, right? To play the best."

The Eagles know all the pertinent facts: 701 yards and 52 points, the Trojans’ offensive output in Week 1; 11.5 points, the average the Trojans’ D has allowed through two weeks, including 10 in a Week 2 win over then-No. 13 Stanford.

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler has thrown for 529 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, completing 67.8 percent of his passes. Running back Javorius Allen has carried the ball 45 times for 287 yards and one TD, and wideout Nelson Agholor has 14 catches for 148 yards and two TDs.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, all 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds of him, has 18 tackles, two passes defended, one sack and one interception through two games.

"They're a very good team," Eagles linebacker Mike Strizak said. "They got good players all over, so we've gotta run our defense. We've gotta execute. It's huge."

Strizak, a junior from Fairlawn, New Jersey, will get his third career start against USC. The weakside linebacker set a career high in tackles against the Trojans last season with three.

The 6-2, 229-pounder has since set a new career high in stops, totaling seven against the Panthers. And with senior co-captain Sean Duggan doubtful, Strizak will be one of the young players asked to step up and slow down the high-powered Trojans.

He’s excited for the chance.

"Oh yeah, this just adds to the experience," he said of the bright-light, big-stage matchup. "It's a great opportunity for the whole team. We've just gotta capitalize on it."

How can the Eagles do that? It's pretty simple in theory, according to quarterback Tyler Murphy, though extremely difficult in practice.

"We have to really get the run game going, keep their offense off the field and keep their defense on the field," Murphy said. "They're pretty low on numbers on defense, so we have to try to take advantage of that and keep them on the field as long as possible.

"We really have to focus on just moving the chains, getting first downs, running the ball and letting the clock tick."

Of course, Stanford piled up 413 yards of offense, 21 first downs and 33:38 of possession in Week 2, but the Cardinal came up short in part due to two turnovers and eight penalties.

For the Eagles to do what the Cardinal couldn't, Murphy and his cohort of young weapons will have to show they're ready to play with some of the Pac-12's best and, crucially, avoid the mistakes that often accompany inexperienced players -- yellow flags following them like unwelcome security blankets.

Earlier this week, Addazio said you'll likely see a record number of freshmen against the Trojans because the coach believes those players are the future of the program, and the young Eagles need to take flight now and either soar or plummet earthward.

It’s time to compete, win, lose or draw.

"You don't grow if you don’t play," Addazio said. "Some people say, 'Well, you can take a young quarterback or something and you can lose their confidence.' … Well that's true, but what's the solution? If you're a competitor you'll get through it, you'll overcome it and you'll learn from it. Can it set you back a little initially? Sure, I guess it can.

"But if you’re one of those guys? It won't. It won’t. You just keep fighting."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass knows records can be deceiving

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
Sometimes it takes an outsider to put things in their proper place. Those inside an organization, be it a private business, a government agency or a football team, often are too close to see things as they really are. Problems can be magnified. Successes can be inflated.

So when a reporter from Tennessee asked Mark Whipple what advice he’d have for a first-year head coach struggling to get things going, the UMass coach had a good chuckle.

Reporter: “You’ve had success everywhere you’ve been in that first year...”

Whipple (interrupting): “... Well, we’re 0-2 right now and going to play in the SEC, so I don’t know if that’s success ...”

Derek Mason may have started off 0-2 in his first season at Vanderbilt, which will host UMass on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN3), but Whipple sees the Commodores for what they are.

"I think they’ve got talent everywhere I look,” he said. “Vanderbilt is more talented than the last two teams we’ve played. They’ve got people that can make plays, and their running backs are really, really special and their offensive line is pretty good, especially the interior guys. I'd take all their guys, I know that.”

Yes, the Commodores lost to Temple in their opener and to Ole Miss in Week 2, but only one of those L’s begs explanation as the Rebels were ranked No. 14 when the teams played last weekend.

"You watch the tape, and we’re not Mississippi. I know that for one thing,” Whipple said. “I see a lot of really good football players and a lot of real talent [on Vanderbilt’s roster]. They’re recruited to the SEC for a reason. It's a big challenge for us and another step.

“We proved we can't play in the ACC and proved we can’t play in the Pac-12, so we’ll see if we can maybe make a dent in the SEC this weekend."

After scoring just seven points in their opener against Boston College, the Minutemen scored 38 in Week 2 against Colorado. They still lost, but the scoreboard showed the team making unmistakable progress.

QB Blake Frohnapfel was 20-for-38 passing for 267 yards, 3 TDs and an interception. He hit newly eligible TE Jean Sifrin for two of those scores, including a one-handed catch that landed on “SportsCenter” top plays.

“We made a couple plays and guys believed a little bit more last week,” Whipple said. “But we just need to keep moving forward. ... What I see on tape is that [the Commodores] are going in the right direction, but maybe we’re lucky to play them earlier instead of later in the year.”

But really, Whipple’s spending more time on the Minutemen than he is on the Commodores.

“But we’re just more concerned about our guys,” he said. “We’re just still correcting a lot of the mistakes. ... Once again, we’re nine or 10 guys running the defense right, running the offense right, and we’re just working on getting 11 guys [on the same page]. The times that we do that we’ve got a chance to be successful, so that is our focus right now."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.