Boston Colleges: Football

BC hires Hutzler to fix special teams

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
6:52
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Searching for a cure to his team’s special-teams struggles, Boston College coach Steve Addazio has hired Coleman Hutzler as his new special-teams and linebackers coach.

Hutzler replaces Sean McGowan, who will not return after coaching a special-teams unit that struggled badly in 2014 -- three place-kickers combining to miss eight point-after attempts and finish dead last nationally at 81.4 percent on PATs.

“Coleman is a passionate coach who brings tremendous experience working with special teams and linebackers,” Addazio said in a statement on Tuesday. “He is a great addition to our staff and will be an asset to our program.”

Hutzler, 30, spent 2014 as special-teams coordinator for former Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp, following two seasons as special teams/outside linebackers coach at New Mexico.

He was on the Florida staff in 2010-11, when he first got to know Addazio and offensive line coach Justin Frye.

“I am excited to join what is a great staff at Boston College,” Hutzler said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with Coach Addazio and Coach Frye again and I can't wait to work with Don Brown and the defensive staff. I am excited to be a part of this team and this great university.”

In Hutzler’s one season in charge of special teams at Florida, the Gators missed just one PAT and five field goals (tying for No. 32 nationally with a 79.2 percent conversion rate on field goals).

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

Addazio's success a mix of style, substance

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio has wished out loud, on more than one occasion, for just one more year of eligibility for quarterback Tyler Murphy.

The feeling is mutual.

“I think the team will be even better next year,” Murphy said. “Even though they’ll be young, I think they’ll be even better because a lot of these young guys are getting a lot of reps and [are being] forced to play in game situations. And Coach Addazio and the coaches are really doing a great job of just developing these kids into young men and really helping them grow.

“I wish I had a few more years to play, because they’re gonna be competing for championships in a few years.”

Heck, Bobby Vardaro has been on campus in Chestnut Hill for five years and he’s not ready to leave yet, either. The team finally has a coach who seems to be a perfect fit for it, and the fifth-year offensive lineman would love to be a part of what’s to come from that marriage.

“He’s all about the grind,” the North Reading, Massachusetts, native said. “What do they say? ‘I’ll coach ya hard and I’ll love ya hard.’ BC is kinda the perfect place for him in that aspect, because he can really grind us -- we’re workers, we’re like the blue-collar work mentality with the white-collar education.

“So I think he’s at a great place for his coaching style and he’ll only get better in the future.”

After back-to-back seven-win regular seasons despite just one recruiting class to Addazio’s name at BC, there's good reason to believe in the Eagles' future.

***

Before the 2014 season kicked off, Addazio told anyone who would listen just how precarious the Eagles’ perch was.

Yes, they had a successful first year -- winning seven games, producing a Heisman finalist (Andre Williams) and the team’s first bowl berth in three years, hard on the heels of a 2-10 season.

But Addazio, who came to Chestnut Hill after two seasons at Temple, knew 2014 could have followed a different tack.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised because I know it’s fragile in here right now,” he said. “We’re just a couple of games away from nine wins. I think this year the way it played, we’re not really a couple of wins away from five. But going into this season, I didn’t know.

[+] EnlargeMurphy
AP Photo/Charles Krupa"He's real. If he says he's gonna do something, he's gonna do it. He's one of those guys you love to have on your side," BC quarterback Tyler Murphy said of Addazio.
“Honestly. I’m a realist about things. Unknown quarterback -- I mean, I knew him but no one else did. We replaced three of five offensive linemen. Everybody’s talking about, ‘Oh, you’ve got this veteran offensive line.’ We replaced three out of five starters. So there were some gaps in here.

“And next year we’re gonna have to replace our offensive line,” he said. “That’ll be a challenge. But our skill players will be another year more experienced. We’ve gotta replace our quarterback but we feel good about our young guys. But here we go again. We’re still really unknowns. And that’s where we are in this program right now. I know the powers that be, the people that matter, know that.”

After the coach’s name surfaced in regard to high-profile coaching openings at Florida and Michigan following the Eagles’ second straight seven-win season and bowl berth, the BC brain trust decided to reaffirm the school’s commitment to Addazio by tacking a two-year extension onto his original six-year contract. Now, instead of his deal being up after 2018, Addazio is under contract in Chestnut Hill through 2020.

There are reasons to quibble with the coach's record in his first two seasons, including at-times-questionable play calling (both too conservative and too aggressive) and an inability this season to solve costly special-teams problems.

Following Nate Freese's graduation after last season BC has used three place-kickers in 2014, finishing the regular season tied for No. 104 nationally after converting just 61.1 percent of field goals (11-for-18) and No. 128 and dead last in point after percentage, just 82.1 percent (32-for-39). The Eagles lost three games by four points or fewer, with missed kicks featuring prominently in all three.

But the overall trend in the past two seasons is positive and the extension is a public affirmation of something Addazio talked about earlier in the week, the alignment between the coaching staff and the administration.

“You talk about evaluating the job that you have, the alignment is really, really important,” he said. “For you to succeed, there’s gotta be great alignment. Everybody thinks, ‘Some guy is gonna come in with some great scheme and they’re gonna fix everything.’ Nothing is further from the truth. I know fans want to hear that, I guess. But it’s all about managing, developing a program, leading men.

“Plays are plays, schemes are schemes. When you start getting caught up in all that, thinking that that’s how you build your program or that’s how you get your program right, usually you’re heading down a bad path in my opinion. Really, the great coaches that I’ve been around and the programs that have succeeded are done with guys that have great vision, leadership, development of men, recruiting. Those are the most important. Nowhere in there did it say, ‘Run three great football plays.’

“I think we’re aligned here with the right values, the values that represent the university and where we want this program to be. I think that’s what makes this a pleasure.”

***

There were two Steve Addazios on the “SportsCenter” set this past Friday.

One sat in a black suit over a white shirt and a maroon-and-gold-striped tie, calmly discussing the inaugural College Football Playoff. The other stood before his smiling players, gray BC T-shirt soaked, pointing at the camera and bellowing a challenge.

How did the 55-year-old manage that?

The second Addazio was a photo from this past summer, when the coach accepted the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” The juxtaposition of the fierce Addazio (close to life size) over the shoulder of the measured one provided a glimpse behind the passionate coach’s public persona.

Addazio knows how to modulate. He’s not in the supermarket sweating and screaming about finding the best produce.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAddazio admits that going into the 2014 season, he wasn't sure what to expect from his team.
“You’d have to be around Steve all the time to know that while he’s an inherently passionate person, its like anyone,” BC athletic director Brad Bates said. “None of us are the same personality 24-7. What you might see on national TV on the sideline isn’t what he’s going to be every day, every hour.”

When Bates hired Addazio at BC two years ago, he’d done his homework. He knew that the Eagles were getting a meticulous planner, a diligent manager and a good football mind.

“Probably more meaningfully,” Bates said, “he’s a genuine person who cares about staff and people he’s around.”

Addazio stays up to date on the other teams in Chestnut Hill, and when a team pulls off a big win or suffers a particularly painful defeat he’ll stop by that coach’s office to check in.

The coach has a similar relationship with his players.

“He’s real. If he says he’s gonna do something, he’s gonna do it,” Murphy said. “He’s one of those guys you love to have on your side, because he’s always gonna have your back no matter what the situation is. He’s always gonna stand by your side and defend you and be there for you in tough times.”

The Addazio the team sees at “family dinner,” when the players dine with their position coaches and their families, is very different from the one it sees at practice or during games. And that’s important.

“[He’s] not totally different. The emotional spectrum is still there,” Vardaro said. “He can kinda fire himself up even at family dinner. But he is a little more low-key, which is nice. You can tell he really cares about us off the field.

“You can go into his office and just kinda talk to him about life. It is nice to have that, not different personality but those two different things to kind of play off of. Definitely need the energy on the field, and it’s nice to have that calmer version of him off the field so you can talk to him about things that need to get done.”

***

In his four decades at the school, Barry Gallup has worked for seven different Boston College head coaches. He’s seen just about every management style and coaching philosophy and the accompanying success or failure.

When Addazio was hired, Gallup saw someone who as a Northeast native understood the institution and knew what needed to be done to revive its proud tradition.

“It was an easy transition, his style was exactly what was needed at the time,” Gallup said. “The program needed energy, it needed discipline. He certainly provided that.”

He also brought in a talented and well-suited staff and empowered them. Addazio calls each position coach the head coach of that unit, and holds them responsible for their players on and off the field and for recruiting the next generation at each spot.

Recruiting efforts have been redoubled -- Gallup says the staff spends more time on recruiting than any other he’s been on at BC. And as recently as Dec. 10 the Eagles’ 24-member 2015 class was ranked in ESPN Recruiting Nation’s top 40, at No. 36.

Already a number of Addazio recruits have made an impact, led by freshman running back Jonathan Hilliman. The 6-foot, 215-pounder carried the ball 185 times (a new BC rookie record) for 712 yards and 12 TDs.

Addazio also implemented key off-the-field changes, switching to morning practice to minimize interruptions for both football and school and establishing new traditions like wearing blazers and ties to games, attending pregame mass on campus and singing the alma mater in the locker room after wins.

“Now does that win games?” Gallup said. “Not by itself, but those things build pride in BC football.”

Following a few down years, that definitely was needed.

“They just needed leadership and direction. They were anxious to win,” Gallup said. “It’s not a criticism [of former coach Frank Spaziani]. Steve was in the right place at the right time and he’s the right person.”

***

As the Eagles prepare to play Penn State on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) at Yankee Stadium in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Addazio is as involved as ever.

In one practice, midway through preparations, Addazio went from drill to drill, position to position, stepping in and doing them himself when he felt they weren’t being done correctly.

That’s another big difference between Addazio and some of his predecessors, like Spaziani and Tom O’Brien. While those coaches were more likely to stand on the 50-yard line and watch, Addazio is right there in the middle of things.

“He jumps right in, he’s not an observer, he’s a participant,” Gallup said. “He loves it.”

addazio I'm a micromanager, for sure. I'm involved in everything. On the field, off the field, recruiting. I just kinda feel like when you're at a place like BC, you gotta operate all the machines in the factory.

-- BC coach Steve Addazio
The players do, too.

“It’s a little intimidating, not gonna lie,” Vardaro said with a chuckle. “Obviously you know his energy is extremely high. Especially he loves to get in there with the offensive line, because he used to coach them. [He loves] coaching us. We do a lot of re-dos.

“Coach Addazio is an incredible offensive line coach. He’s a great teacher and we’ve just been able to kinda follow exactly what he’s told us, and as you can see it’s done pretty well for us.”

BC’s offensive line helped the team finish the season tied for No. 8 nationally in rushing attempts per game at 49.08 and No. 15 nationally in rushing offense, producing 251.83 yards a game and 3,022 total rushing yards for the season.

Two years after the Eagles finished No. 119 nationally with 90.92 yards a game rushing, it’s clear that Addazio’s stylistic and philosophical changes have had a dramatic effect.

“I’m a micromanager, for sure,” Addazio said. “I’m involved in everything. On the field, off the field, recruiting. I just kinda feel like when you’re at a place like BC, you gotta operate all the machines in the factory. So I’m the boss and I’ve got a great staff -- this is no slight toward any of [them] -- but I just think as the head coach here I think you’ve gotta be hands-on. Other people could tell you something differently, but that’s my style. That’s the way I’ve always felt it has to be.

“My guys I trust and they’re great. But I still want to know what’s going on, and I want to be in the middle of it. In every decision. There’s nothing that’s gonna happen in that building that I don’t have my fingerprints on. Nothing.”

That Addazio has left a mark on the team in his first two seasons doesn’t surprise Bates, though he does admit that, “Relative to our recent history, I think he’s certainly far exceeded most people’s expectations.”

Murphy’s not surprised, either.

“He’s just one of those guys that if he doesn’t get it right the first time he’s just gonna keep working until he does,” the QB said. “He’s very relentless in what he does. I’m not surprised at all.”

Though no one can see the future, for now Addazio and the Eagles appear to be very well matched.

“I’m very, very comfortable here,” he said. “I’m a round peg in a round hole.”

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

Murphy, BC glad they found each other

December, 22, 2014
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Sometimes, the fit is just right.

Have you ever met someone who was just perfectly suited to his or her environment? Who had the exact right skill set and temperament to do what they were doing, where and when and with whom they were doing it?

Talk to just about anyone around the football program in Chestnut Hill these days, and it quickly becomes clear that’s Tyler Murphy and Boston College.

”Tyler Murphy has made a huge difference,” associate athletic director for football relations Barry Gallup said. “He’s been unbelievable. He’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. He’s come in and done so many little things.”

Things like seeking out teammates to work out with during the summer, sitting with younger players during meals and always responding quickly to messages -- no matter what he has going on at the time.

Gallup has been around BC football a long time; he's now in his fourth decade with the program in some capacity. He says he’s seen a lot of good kids come through the Eagles program, including star quarterbacks such as Tim Hasselbeck, Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Ryan.

But in all his years at BC, he’s never seen anything like Murphy.

The fifth-year graduate student, who transferred to BC after getting his degree from Florida, won the William J. Flynn Award as the team’s most valuable player, certainly no big surprise. After receiving the award at the team’s banquet, Murphy went to Gallup with a request that went something like this:

“Can I ask you a favor?” he said.

“Sure, Tyler, what is it?” Gallup responded.

“Can you give me an email address so I can send a thank-you note?” Murphy said.

Gallup was floored -- he’d never gotten a request like that before. “They said that’s the first time in 20 years anyone’s ever sent a thank-you note,” he said.

Stories like that about Murphy are a dime a dozen. Athletic director Brad Bates has one too.

Early in the season, the team held a luncheon to bring together some of the players and the alumni who had endowed their scholarships. Bates went up to Murphy during the event and asked him a question.

“I just asked him what was different about Boston College and his experience here,” Bates said. “He looked around the room and said ‘This, the engagement with alums. It’s really such a family here.’

“It was particularly meaningful to me how he articulated that.”

[+] EnlargeMurphy
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsIn addition to running for 1,079 yards and throwing for another 1,526, Tyler Murphy made quite an impression off the field in his lone season at BC.
Murphy also has had little trouble expressing himself on the field. He set an ACC rushing record for a quarterback with 1,079 yards (and 10 TDs), shattering the BC single-season and career records along the way. He’s also thrown for 1,526 yards and 11 TDs, offsetting 10 interceptions.

He’s been a star -- the right player in the right place at the right time.

But it took a long time for him to get here. Lightly recruited as a junior in high school in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Murphy started working with QB coach Travis Meyer in hopes of improving his game enough to attract more attention.

The pair worked to improve Murphy’s throwing mechanics, and Meyer put together a film reel to win over skeptical coaches.

“There are a couple of reasons,” Meyer said of the lack of recruiting interest in Murphy. “Being in Connecticut, it’s partially because of the state. Connecticut is not a hotbed for football and especially for quarterbacks.

“I think the perception is that the level of talent he was playing against wasn’t as great as other states. The line of thinking was he might look great on film, but he’s playing against subpar athletes.”

He drew some interest from home-state school UConn, as well as Temple and a few others.

“I know Fordham was trying to get him,” Meyer said. “They loved him, they thought he was extremely talented. I remember talking to the coaches once or twice, they never said it, but I had a feeling that if they could get him they felt they were getting a steal because he was being overlooked.”

The offseason of work helped drum up more interest.

“His junior film was OK, but it wasn’t anything like you saw in his senior film,” Meyer said. “There was vast improvement, as a quarterback but also as an athlete. He flourished.”

Murphy committed to Al Golden and Temple, but then Meyer connected him with two coaches he knew at Florida -- Scot Loeffler and Steve Addazio.

Addazio -- then the Gators’ offensive coordinator -- is a Farmington, Connecticut, native and happened to go to high school with Murphy’s aunt. So the coach and the quarterback bonded, Florida offered him a scholarship and Murphy jumped at the chance.

“I don’t know, who knows where I would have been?” Murphy said, when asked where he might have ended up without Meyer’s help. “I’m just happy that he was there on my side to help me out and I tell him that all the time. I thank him all the time for that.”

Even though the on-field experience at Florida -- which involved more bench time than playing time, and ended with a shoulder injury derailing his shot at the starting job -- didn’t work out exactly as he’d hoped.

“It was tough for him to deal with, I think,” Meyer said. “But I think anytime I talked to him, I almost felt like I was more upset for him than he seemed to be. Because I felt like he should have been playing.

“He took a big risk going down there, I helped him go down there. He always had spirits up about it, but at the same time wasn’t going to settle for not playing.”

Now that he’s reunited with Addazio and just an hour and change away from home, Murphy is making the most of his last go-round.

He goes home whenever he can, visiting family and sometimes stopping in at Wethersfield High to see his former coaches and speak to the players there now.

“I just told them to keep working hard and that everybody in the town is proud of them,” he said of a recent pep talk. “Just keep doing what they’re doing and just have fun and enjoy it, because you look back and sometimes you wish you could be back in high school, putting on a high school jersey and wearing it around the school hallways.”

Soon, Murphy may feel the same way about wearing his college jersey. He’ll don the maroon and gold one final time when the Eagles play Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

The fact he’ll be playing his final college game just a few miles from Fordham, one of the first schools to really want him, is fitting. It’s also something Murphy is not spending a lot of time thinking about.

After all, he’s already found the right place for him. Now he’s just trying to get everything he can from the experience.

“It kind of really hasn’t hit me yet that it’s my last college game,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to trying to make the best of it and just approach it like any other big game. Just take care of the ball, just execute and have fun.”

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

Perseverance pays off for BC's Bordner

December, 17, 2014
12/17/14
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Josh Bordner just wanted to get on the field for Boston College.

After three seasons as a backup to quarterback Chase Rettig, the Sykesville, Maryland, native found himself at a career crossroads following the 2013 season.

Rettig was graduating, but with touted freshman Darius Wade and fifth-year Florida transfer Tyler Murphy coming in it seemed unlikely that Bordner (eight career pass attempts) would be the choice under center.

So, Steve Addazio asked him, would you be willing to try your hand at wideout?

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder jumped at the chance and spent the summer and spring learning the position -- from route running to blocking -- and developing chemistry with Murphy.

Bordner was elected a captain before the season, showing how much his teammates value his leadership, work ethic and perseverance. After leading the team in catches (26), receiving yards (342) and tying for the lead in receiving TDs (three), Bordner received another honor when he was named the 2014 Scanlan Award winner at the team’s award banquet on Sunday.

“It means so much to me,” Bordner said at BC’s bowl media day on Tuesday. “It’s just an award where you don’t really understand what it means until you have people come up to you and talk to you about it.”

The list of past winners, which the senior ticked off, includes some of the biggest names in BC history: Matt Hasselbeck, Tim Hasselbeck, Mike Mayock, Bill Romanowski and Matt Ryan among them. Named after Thomas F. Scanlan -- who played for BC in 1916, ‘17 and ‘19, missing the 1918 season to serve in World War I -- the award is given to “the BC player who best exemplifies the ideals of scholar, athlete, gentlemen and friend.”

“He was the hands down, clear favorite to win that award,” fifth-year center Andy Gallik said. “When I think of the Scanlan Award, I think of Josh Bordner. There’s nobody that should have won that other than him.”

“He just embodies everything that the Scanlan Award is about,” fifth-year offensive lineman Bobby Vardaro said. “He’s a great player, great athlete, great on and off the field.”

The two offensive linemen appreciate the fact Bordner’s biggest contributions this season may have come from his blocking, of which he did quite a bit.

Gallik said that when the team watched film after wins, it seemed like four of every five plays included a good Bordner block to give Tyler Murphy or one of the backs more running room.

“It’s something that’s not really talked about and I’m actually kinda glad you asked us about this,” Gallik said of Bordner’s blocking ability. “He’s always working hard, he’s always hanging onto his block a little longer, he’s always diving at people’s legs, he’s doing whatever he can, scrapping and clawing to get his blocks done. Having him as a great blocking fullback-slash-tight end has helped us tremendously in the run game this year.”

The Eagles finished the season ranked No. 15 nationally with 251.83 yards a game on the ground.

“Everyone always said that Josh probably should have played a different position,” Vardaro said. “Linebacker was the one that everyone said, because he’s extremely athletic, he’s a big body and right now, as you can see, he’s doing really well -- catching, blocking, whatever he needs to do, he’s getting the job done.”

Asked how he’d rate Bordner’s blocking ability, Vardaro joked, “I don’t know, what’s the scale? I’d rate him pretty high.”

“The funniest thing was -- I think it was after Game 3 or 4 -- when he figured out that he could cut [block]. ... After the game he came up to us and he was like, ‘Oh, I like never knew how much fun blocking was! I can actually go and cut people.’ And you can see him on film just laying people out all over the field. He’s just a great player, great athlete and a great friend.”

And heading into his last game as an Eagle against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Bordner hasn’t just found a way onto the field -- he’s put his name among some of the most treasured in school history. A fact not lost on the player who not long ago stood at a crossroads and wondered which way to go.

“It really humbles me,” Bordner said. “I’m extremely honored to be the recipient of this award.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
With the regular season in the books and a bowl game on the horizon, it's all about the here and now for Steve Addazio and Boston College.

The Eagles held a news conference after practice at Alumni Stadium on Tuesday to discuss the team's 2014 season, the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State, what they’re looking forward to doing most in New York City next week and the coach’s name being mentioned in regard to other coaching openings across the country.

First down: That last point should probably be addressed first -- toward the end of a nearly 30-minute session, a reporter asked Addazio if he had any response to his name being mentioned in connection with openings elsewhere.

“No,” Addazio answered without hesitation. “I’m worried about playing this bowl game right now. My complete focus is into our football program, this bowl game and Boston College. I’m really, really thrilled -- it’s hard to wipe the smile off your face.

“These are great moments, they really are. [Being in a bowl is] what your players and what everybody works for. It’s just so darn exciting right now. I can’t wait. When we break this press conference, you got me all fired up I gotta go back in there and [game plan because] we gotta make sure we score a few points.”

After leading the Eagles to back-to-back 7-5 regular seasons and bowl berths, it’s only natural that Addazio would hear his name mentioned in connection with other programs -- some boasting high profiles -- having the kind of struggles BC had prior to his arrival (2-10 in 2013).

Though he clearly wanted to be talking about anything else, including watching the Rockettes, dining in Little Italy and touring Ground Zero -- which are all on the Eagles’ itinerary for NYC -- Addazio was pressed on whether his name cropping up in rumors could be a distraction for the team.

“I don’t pay attention to anything [like that],” he said. “There’s no distraction. To me it’s the nature of the business. When you have success, these things happen -- they pop up. But the reality of it is, my whole career, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always had one belief and one belief only: Just go about your business, work really hard and give everything you have to your players, to your university. And that’s my mindset.

“I’m not one of these guys who’s ever really paid much attention to what goes on out there. Never have. Not wired like that. I guess there are people out there that do, but I really don’t. Right now, I’ve got the greatest job in the world, I’m working it and I’m excited and not interested in any conversation outside of my team and this bowl game right now. Because that’s what the most important thing is.”

And according to a few of the players who spoke Tuesday, it hasn’t been an issue in the locker room.

“He hasn’t mentioned anything to us,” wideout and offensive co-captain Josh Bordner said of Addazio addressing his name coming up in rumors. “I don’t see him leaving. I’m sure if he had any indication of leaving, I’m sure he would bring it up to the team. I think he’ll be here for the long run.”

Second down: Mark Holtzman, the executive director of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, was in town Tuesday for the news conference, and said demand for tickets was high.

“Once we announced these teams, Boston College and Penn State, we sold out in literally 36 hours,” he said. “And, you know, Yankee Stadium is not a small place. And that’s a tribute to both the Boston College and the Penn State fans.”

Holtzman wouldn’t talk about how many tickets have been sold or what exactly the allotments were for Boston College and Penn State, but said he expects to be “at capacity” for the game on Dec. 27 (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“Two renowned, historical programs playing in one of the great venues in America in Yankee Stadium,” Holtzman said, “it’s going to be just a very special day.”

Third down: The Eagles are well into their 15 allotted practices -- which Addazio said is like getting another full spring session -- before the game with Penn State, but with the game still more than a week away they’re also looking forward to the game-week experiences that await them.

Bordner said he can’t wait to get to New York.

“I’ve only been there once, and it was for a couple days,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing the city.”

“I’m looking forward to visiting Ground Zero, that museum -- I heard it’s amazing,” linebacker and defensive co-captain Sean Duggan said. “That’s gonna be a pretty cool experience.”

The Eagles, of course, got one of their biggest wins of the season after the Sept. 11 anniversary this year, knocking off then-No. 9 USC in the red bandanna game honoring BC 9/11 hero Welles Crowther.

“Having that connection, meeting his parents was pretty inspirational,” Duggan said. “It’s gonna be emotional for the team.”

The Eagles will be off this weekend, free to spend time at home with their families before reconvening in Chestnut Hill on Monday night, practicing early Tuesday and then boarding buses for the four-hour drive to New York.

Out: Finally, after a bit of a hiatus during the season, the “Dude” is back. And he really wants BC fans to make it to Yankee Stadium for the game:

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

Coaches vote six Eagles for All-ACC honors

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
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The coaches have voted and the results are in: Boston College produced six All-ACC performers, led by center Andy Gallik on the second team.

That BC’s four-year starter at center fell on the second team rather than the first team, as he was voted by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association roughly a week before, is one of the biggest differences between the media’s results and the coaches’ results.

Miami’s Shane McDermott got the coaches’ nod as first-team center, after receiving an honorable mention from the media. Coaches can’t vote for their own players, and McDermott received 22 points to Gallik’s 21 points.

The other Eagles who earned All-ACC honors from the league’s 14 head coaches are Jonathan Hilliman (third team), Josh Keyes (third team), Bobby Vardaro (third team), Connor Wujciak (third team) and Ian Silberman (honorable mention).

BC tweeted congratulations to the players who earned All-ACC honors:

Hilliman, a freshman running back, and Wujciak, a senior defensive lineman, also received third-team honors from the ACSMA. Keyes, a senior linebacker, and Silberman and Vardaro, graduate student offensive linemen, received honorable mentions from the ACSMA.

The Eagles (7-5) will return to the practice field on Thursday to prepare for the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State (6-6).

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

BC's Gallik finalist for Rimington Trophy

December, 8, 2014
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Boston College fans were watching one of the best in the business when they turned on the Eagles on Saturdays this fall.

If they were watching the offensive line, that is, as center Andy Gallik on Monday was named one of six finalists for the 2014 Rimington Trophy.

The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Gallik is a four-year starter who this season helped the Eagles finish No. 15 nationally in rushing offense at 251.83 yards per game.

Boston College congratulated the Evergreen Park, Illinois, native on Twitter:



Gallik has already been named to the ASCMA All-ACC first team, and has accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Alabama.

The Rimington Trophy goes to the consensus All-American center pick from three existing All-America teams, by the Walter Camp Foundation, the Sporting News and the Football Writers Association of America.

Auburn’s Reese Dismukes, Georgia’s David Andrews, Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Michigan State’s Jack Allen and Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu are the other Rimington finalists.

The winner will be announced live during the ESPNU “Red Carpet Special at The Home Depot College Football Awards” on Dec. 11, immediately preceding the ESPN “Home Depot College Football Awards” show.

Former Florida State center and current New England Patriots offensive lineman Bryan Stork won the Rimington in 2013.

Gallik and the Eagles will play Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 at Yankee Stadium.

“Everyone is excited to go to Yankee Stadium and play a team that I grew up watching,” Gallik told reporters after the bowl announcement on Sunday, according to a transcript. “I grew up in Big Ten territory [outside Chicago] so I grew up watching Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, all those teams. I am very familiar with that team. It will be really cool to step onto the field with Penn State.”

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

Six Minutemen named to All-MAC teams

December, 3, 2014
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After a three-win season that represented a two-win improvement on the team’s win total from each of its first two seasons at the FBS level, six UMass Minutemen landed on All-Mid-American Conference teams on Wednesday.

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, tight end Jean Sifrin and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox were named to the All-MAC first team, while cornerback Randall Jette was named to the second team and linebacker Stanley Andre was named to the third team. The MAC awards are voted on by the league’s coaches.

The six all-conference honors set a new UMass record, after the Minutemen landed three players on the teams in 2012 and just one in 2013.

Mark Whipple’s Minutemen started the season 0-6 before winning three of their next four games and finishing the season 3-3 in the final six games and 3-9 overall. Five of the team’s nine losses came by seven or fewer points.

Frohnapfel, a senior transfer from Marshall, led the MAC in passing yards (3,345) and passing yards per game (334.5), and finished second in passing TDs (23) and yards per completion (13.88) despite missing the final two games due to injury.

A 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior, Sharpe led the MAC in receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,281), ranked fifth nationally in receiving yards, eighth in receiving yards per game (106.8) and 12th in receptions per game (7.1). He had four 100-yard games, two 13-catch games (tying the school record) and scored seven TDs.

Though he didn’t become eligible until Week 2, Sifrin made a big impact this season. The 6-7, 250-pounder finished with 41 catches for 637 yards and six TDs.

Santos-Knox finished third nationally with 143 tackles, recording double-digit tackles in eight of 12 games and piling up a career-high 19 at Akron. He led the Minutemen with 8.5 tackles for a loss, had two sacks, three forced fumbles and six pass break-ups.

Jette set a UMass single-season record with 18 pass break-ups, which was good for third in the MAC and fifth nationally. The junior led UMass with four interceptions and added 67 tackles.

Andre was second on the Minutemen with 128 tackles, ranked 11th nationally with 10.7 tackles per game and had five games with 10 or more tackles.



Of the six players honored, only Andre won’t be eligible to return to play for UMass in 2015.

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

Four Eagles voted on All-ACC teams, three get honorable mentions

December, 1, 2014
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Andy Gallik was one of seven members of the 7-5 Boston College team honored by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association on Monday, as the fifth-year center landed on the ACSMA’s All-ACC team for the second straight season.

Gallik, a 6-foot-3, 304-pound three-year starter from Evergreen Park, Illinois, was the only Eagles player to land on the first team (he was on the second team in 2013). Graduate student left tackle Seth Betancourt, senior defensive lineman Connor Wujciak and freshman running back Jonathan Hilliman all were voted to the ACSMA’s All-ACC third team.

Graduate student offensive linemen Ian Silberman and Bobby Vardaro and senior linebacker Josh Keyes received honorable mentions.

Betancourt, Gallik, Silberman and Vardaro combined to start all but one of the Eagles’ 12 games this season (Vardaro missed the Colorado State game due to injury) on the offensive line, leading a running game that finishes the regular season ranked No. 14 in yards per game on the ground at 251.83.

The group, which also included 11 starts by Aaron Kramer, allowed only 20 sacks (tied for No. 39 nationally) of quarterback Tyler Murphy this season.

Keyes started every game at strongside linebacker this season, finishing first on the team with 11.5 tackles for a loss and third on the team with 63 tackles (43 solo). Wujciak started every game on the defensive line and finished with 7.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and a blocked field goal against Virginia Tech.

The Eagles finished No. 4 nationally in run defense (allowing 94.83 yards per game), No. 12 nationally in total defense (312.8 yards per game) and tied for No. 19 nationally in scoring defense (20.5 points allowed per game).

Hilliman, a 6-foot, 215-pounder, set a BC record for carries by a freshman with 185, breaking Montel Harris’ record of 179 set in 2008. The Plainfield, New Jersey, native scored 12 rushing TDs in 2014, good for a tie for 10th in a single season in BC’s record book.

BC is bowl eligible for the second straight season under coach Steve Addazio, and awaits its bowl assignment after this coming weekend’s conference championship games.

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

Three-and-out: Tyler Rouse's redemption

November, 29, 2014
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- In toppling their rival Syracuse 28-7 in their final game of the regular season Saturday, the Boston College Eagles didn't only walk away with a statement win heading into their upcoming bowl.

The day was also marked by milestones for several of the team's players, including a feel-good story involving an unrecruited player who has earned the admiration of head coach Steve Addazio.

[+] EnlargeRouse
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesTyler Rouse runs for a 42-yard touchdown versus Syracuse.
First down: The Eagles' website lists sophomore running back Tyler Rouse's hometown as Baldwinsville, New York, but Baldswinville is probably better known as a village suburb of Syracuse.

Rouse was passed up by many coming out of high school before landing with the Eagles, and on Saturday, against his hometown university, he took a career-long, 42-yard touchdown run to the house in the fourth quarter to cap off the Eagles' scoring on the afternoon.

"It felt really great," Rouse said succinctly.

Rouse described the play as redemption, a reference to his costly drop in the end zone late against Clemson on Oct. 18 that likely cost the Eagles a conference win (after the play, Clemson ran out the clock to seal their 17-13 victory). For moving on from the mistake and not allowing it to bog him down, Rouse earned high praise from Eagles senior quarterback Tyler Murphy, as well as his head coach.

"Tyler Rouse is one of those guys that shows up with his lunch box and gets right to work," Murphy said. "He never complains and gives 100 percent no matter what it is. He holds guys accountable and makes sure that they're doing the right thing, but he also leads by example and sets the way. We need to bring in more guys like Tyler because not only is he a great football player, but he's also a great guy."

Addazio took that sentiment a step further.

"He stands for absolutely everything that's right in college football," the BC coach said. "If that's not a great story, honestly, I don't know what a great story is.

"It was great for him today. It was without question the highlight of my day."

After the touchdown, Rouse was greeted with excitement by his teammates as well as Addazio, who was among the first to congratulate him.

"It was great. He gave me the opportunity to come here, and I appreciate that. I'm so thankful for that," Rouse said. "Coming to the sideline with him there really just solidified everything. It was indescribable to have the guys surrounding me. They know what I've been through with the Clemson thing. Just to see them surround me after I scored that TD was amazing."

Second down: Murphy is another guy who has made the most of his opportunities with BC. On Saturday, he put an exclamation point on his remarkable season as the Eagles quarterback, rushing for 20 yards to bring his season total to 1,079, a new Atlantic Coast Conference record at the position.

"I would say I am a little surprised," Murphy said when asked about the record. "I didn't know what to expect coming in to this season. My goal was just to find ways to win."

With Murphy under center, the Eagles enjoyed one of their most successful offensive campaigns in recent memory, due in large part to his prowess on the ground. Addazio has often lamented that he was able to have Murphy as his quarterback for only a season, a point he reiterated on Saturday.

"Tyler is a great person," Addazio said. "He is a fantastic human being, a guy you love to be around. He stands for everything that's right. He's a graduate student embracing his master's degree. He's a leader for our team. I just love the kid, and so do our players."

For his efforts in the team's win, Murphy was the recipient of the Chuck Scarminach Memorial Award, an honor presented to the MVP of a BC-Syracuse matchup. A great memento in a season of success that isn't over yet.

"It was a fun year and I ran a lot more than I thought I would, but I'm happy we were able to get seven wins, and we are looking forward to eight," Murphy said.

[+] EnlargeMyles Willis
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsMyles Willis celebrates after taking the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
Third down: One of the things Murphy talked about in his postgame news conference was his excitement to take the field immediately after BC elected to receive following their coin-toss win. However, that moment didn't come because return man Myles Willis took the opening kickoff 95 yards to the house for a quick-strike score.

"I was kind of looking forward to getting on the field early because it's not often we get the ball first and he took it back so I was just like, 'Thanks, Myles,'" Murphy said.

Willis took advantage of poor kickoff coverage by Syracuse, whose kicking team left the entire middle of the field wide open for him. He ran through untouched and set the tone for the game early on.

"That was a huge play," Addazio said. "It was a momentum boost. It was great. We've worked so hard on that, and to finally hit it on the last game of the regular season was fantastic."

Out: As seniors took the field at Alumni Stadium for the last time, captain and defensive back Dominique Williams was announced as the recipient of the school's Jay McGillis Memorial Scholarship.

The award, initially received by Williams back in April, is given annually to a BC defensive back who exemplifies leadership and dedication, among other qualities. McGillis, a starting defensive back in his time at BC, passed away from leukemia in 1992.

In his honor, Williams wore McGillis' jersey number, 31, during the game instead of his usual No. 9. Like McGillis, Williams is from Brockton, Massachusetts, so the award surely meant a lot to him.

Eagles outclass Orange, avenge 2013 loss

November, 29, 2014
11/29/14
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- To understand the significance of Boston College's 28-7 win over rival Syracuse on Saturday in the Eagles' regular-season finale, one must look back to their regular-season finale from a year ago.

Against the Orange in Syracuse, New York, the Eagles lost on a heartbreaking touchdown with six seconds remaining. As time expired, with the final score 34-31, Syracuse players took to the field to celebrate their come-from-behind win. And Eagles players were left with a sour image burned into their mind.

[+] EnlargeSherman Alston
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesSherman Alston, No. 6, celebrates with BC teammates after his second-quarter touchdown.
"The way we lost, and then after we lost, the way they acted when they won, just celebrating on the field -- not good sportsmanship on their part toward us -- left us with a bad taste in our mouths," captain and senior defensive back Dominique Williams said. "It was important to beat Syracuse this week."

In doing so on their home turf Saturday, the Eagles responded appropriately to that loss. With a 7-5 record, BC is bowl-eligible for the second straight season and will get another chance to vie for their first eight-win campaign since 2009.

But unlike last season, when they were blown out by the Arizona Wildcats in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, the Eagles will be heading into their bowl game on an upswing.

"It was very important for us to finish on a strong note," captain and wide receiver Josh Bordner said. "For the team, it was all about beating Syracuse this week. They're our rival. We really don't like them. They don't like us. So getting this win was huge, not only for this team, but for this program."

If you needed proof that these two teams really don't like each other, you got it early in the game. With the score stalemated at seven toward the end of the first quarter, the Eagles suffered a costly fumble that the Orange recovered. On their first play of the following drive, running back Prince-Tyson Gulley was brought down for a big loss while off to the side some Eagles players were getting into it with members of the Orange. Soon, a full-fledged skirmish broke out near the Orange bench, featuring plenty of pushing and shoving, a slew of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and the ejection of Syracuse defensive tackle Ryan Sloan for leaving the bench to join the fight.

Williams was on the field for BC during the entire incident and later offered his account of what happened.

"In the first quarter during the first series, one of the [Syracuse] linemen jumped at [linebacker Sean Duggan's] back and hurt him pretty bad. He had to leave," Williams recalled. "And then the [Syracuse] tight end pushed, I think it was [defensive back] Ty-Meer Brown, in the back, and it just escalated from there."

The Eagles offensive players needed to be held back to their sideline by officials so they wouldn't join the scuffle.

"We were being told not to go out there," Bordner said. "[Quarterback Tyler Murphy] started right out there, but the ref acted like he was about to pull some flags and he just turned around and run.

"They were chippy all game. We knew that coming in. They had nothing to lose [the loss dropped Syracuse to 3-9]. They were going to be arrogant, and we decided not to retaliate."

It was that composure that impressed Eagles head coach Steve Addazio when all was said and done.

"I'm proud of the way our team played," Addazio said. "We played with dignity and class. We played the way BC players should play -- physical, tough, hard-nosed -- but wouldn't allow ourselves to stoop down and get involved in anything, which I was really proud of."

From the fight on, the Eagles ran away with the game. They scored three more touchdowns while the defense kept the Orange to 67 total yards of offense for the remaining three quarters.

The Eagles don't figure to dwell on the win as much as they seemed to dwell on last season's loss to Syracuse, though. As of now, the focus is completely on their bowl game, which Addazio outlined as a process that starts as soon as Sunday. Soon, they'll figure out who they will play, and from there, it will be "full bowl," according to the BC coach.

Tough news for their opponent, as the Eagles are sure to be flying high over the next couple of weeks heading into that game.

"Wherever that bowl takes us, whomever we play, we have a chance to go get win No. 8," Addazio said. "So we have meaningful snaps ahead of us going into the end of December. I'm really happy about that."

Instant Analysis: BC 28, Syracuse 7

November, 29, 2014
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The Boston College Eagles finished off their regular-season schedule on Saturday with a rivalry-renewing 28-7 win over the Syracuse Orange at Alumni Stadium.

How it happened: It took all of 12 seconds for BC to put seven on the board. The Eagles elected to receive after winning the opening coin toss, and returner Myles Willis took advantage of brutally blown coverage by the Orange on the opening kickoff, going 95 yards up the middle untouched for the score.

Syracuse tied things up at seven four drives later before things got heated during the Orange's next possession. After their defense recovered an Eagles fumble, Orange running back Prince-Tyson Gulley was brought down for a big loss, sparking some extracurricular activity at the end of the play. A skirmish soon broke out near the Orange bench, with plenty of pushing and shoving taking place between the two teams.

At the end of the play a slew of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties was handed out, and Orange defensive tackle Ryan Sloan was ejected from the game for coming off the bench during the brawl.

From that point onward it was all BC, as the Eagles scored three more touchdowns -- one through the air and two on the ground -- to take a commanding lead.

The Orange's offense stumbled all day long, amassing 128 total yards and converting only one of their 11 third-down opportunities. Eight of their 12 offensive drives ended in three plays or less.

More marks for Murphy: BC quarterback Tyler Murphy's spectacular regular season ends on a high note as his 20-yard rushing performance brought his single-season total to 1,079, a new Atlantic Coast Conference record. The old record was 1,062 yards, set by Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler in 2001. Earlier this year, Murphy shattered Doug Flutie's school record for career rushing yards by a quarterback, needing only one season to do so.

What it means: The win was BC's first against Syracuse in ACC play since the Eagles dropped last year's matchup 34-31. It was the Eagles' first win against the Orange since 2010 and brought the lifetime record between the two schools to 29-19 in favor of Syracuse.

BC finishes the regular season at 7-5, matching its win total from last year. Syracuse, on the other hand, ends its season with a 3-9 mark, its worst record since 2008.

Up next: The Eagles will sit and play the waiting game, as their record has them bowl-eligible for the second straight season under head coach Steve Addazio. Last year the Eagles took on the Arizona Wildcats in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, where BC lost 42-19.

Meanwhile, the Orange will not participate in postseason play for the first time since 2011.

Eagles eye revenge against Syracuse

November, 28, 2014
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The numbers six, 31 and 34 have been prominently featured in the Boston College locker room this week.

With Syracuse (3-8, 1-6 ACC) coming to Chestnut Hill this weekend for the season finale, it’s not hard to figure out why.

Last season, the Eagles (6-5, 3-4 ACC) led the Orange 31-27 late at the Carrier Dome. Then Terrel Hunt led the hosts to a game-winning TD with six seconds to play, producing the 34-31 final score.

“They have the score posted everywhere. Six seconds left, all that stuff in the locker room,” BC left guard Bobby Vardaro said. “It was devastating then, it’s still devastating now.”

The loss snapped BC’s four-game win streak and denied the Eagles an eighth win and momentum going into their bowl game (a 42-19 loss to Arizona).

“We all thought we had it at the end,” Vardaro said. “And then they scored with six [seconds left]. It was crushing. We gotta go and get our seventh win this season.”

You can break down all the X’s and O’s you want, analyze how Syracuse’s rushing defense (ranked No. 33 nationally) can stop Boston College’s rushing offense (No. 11). How the Eagles’ D -- top 20 nationally in total defense (No. 17), top 10 in rushing defense (No. 6) -- can stifle the Orange O (No. 120 nationally, averaging just 18 points per game).

But this game, everyone involved in it seems to be saying, is about attitude. That’s why BC coach Steve Addazio (who had a stint on staff at Syracuse early in his career) is bringing in as many people with experience in the revived rivalry as possible this week.

On Tuesday, BC running backs coach (and former BC defensive lineman) Al Washington addressed the team about what playing the Orange meant to him.

“Coach Wash said today that through his years of playing Syracuse, the tougher team always won,” Tyler Murphy said. “It really didn’t come down to X’s and O’s and things like that, it was just the tougher team won. We’re gonna have to make sure that we buckle our chin straps a little tighter, strap our shoulder pads a little tighter and really be ready to go.”

“They’re a tough team, actually kinda like our defense,” Vardaro said of Syracuse. “A lot of blitzes, real fast, just a real tough, hard-nosed team. It’s gonna be a real workman’s game. We’re just gonna have to be tougher than them.”

The Eagles have been stuck on six wins since Nov. 1, when they went on the road and squeaked by Virginia Tech. They’re bowl eligible, sure, so this weekend’s home finale won’t be the last game they play.

But it’d sure be a boost to go into that bowl game on a one-game win streak, rather than a three-game losing streak.

“It’s been an interesting year. We’ve played a very challenging schedule and really done well,” Addazio said. “We swapped Louisville for Maryland. We swapped Colorado State for New Mexico State. ... We’ve battled. We’ve had some roller-coaster rides, as I knew and said from the beginning we would.

“We have played our very best against some of our very best opponents. ... [It would be] nice to close it out with a good, strong showing here on Saturday.”

A lot of credit for that success has to go to the stout D and to the transfer QB.

With 1,054 rushing yards through 11 games Murphy needs just seven rushing yards to tie Clemson’s Woodrow Dantzler (1,061) for the ACC single-season record by a QB. Asked about making his mark on the conference in just one season in it, Murphy answered in typical BC fashion.

He talked about pretty much everyone else on his offense other than himself -- the offensive line, the receivers and backs throwing blocks upfield -- then allowed himself a moment to reflect before getting back to the message of the week.

“They’ve made my job really easy, opened up a lot of wide holes where I’m able to run for touchdowns,” Murphy said. “So I’ve had a lot of fun with them.

“It definitely feels good [to be close to the record]. It kinda is a reward, I guess, for all the hard work. But my No. 1 concern is to find a way to end this losing streak, beat Syracuse and have some momentum going into a bowl game.”

And if the Eagles manage to exact some measure of revenge for six, 31 and 34, they’ll have a new numbers to think about: seven, as in wins for the 2014 regular season, and eight, their possible win total overall with a bowl win.

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 prepping for Syracuse

November, 26, 2014
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Coming off a near-miss against No. 3 Florida State, the Eagles got back to work before the last game of the regular season with a full-padded practice in Alumni Stadium on Tuesday.

Coach Steve Addazio is expecting BC (6-5, 3-4 ACC) to find a tougher game against Syracuse (3-8, 1-6 ACC) than the records might suggest.

First down: “You play these games, to me you throw the records out,” the BC coach said Monday. “It will be a real Northeast, knock-down, physical contest. We gotta have a great week of practice getting ready for it. Keep ourselves focused.

“It’s gonna be a short week full of distractions, obviously, with the [Thanksgiving] holiday and everything it’s a little bit out of the normal routine, and we have to do a good job managing it.”

Second down: Now that the last week of preparation is here, the fact the end is near has begun to settle in for BC’s many seniors and graduate students.

“Yeah, just knowing that this was my last Tuesday, full-pad practice during the season it kinda hit me,” fifth-year center Andy Gallik said. “This was our last chance this season to put full-speed preparation into the game.”

Gallik joked that he has been trying to put off talking about the season finale, which has been hard on his parents as they try to plan for his return to Chicago. The center’s trying to keep his mind on the present, because he knows Saturday’s going to be emotional.

“The hardest thing is gonna be knowing it’ll be my last game at Alumni with my offensive line guys,” he said, “just knowing all the hard work we put in the last five years, we’ve all been best friends and this is our last go-round in the stadium.”

Third down: The numbers show a matchup of strength against strength this weekend.

BC enters the season finale ranked No. 11 nationally with 261.8 yards per game rushing, while Syracuse comes in ranked No. 33 nationally in rushing defense after allowing only 139.0 yards per game on the ground.

Ball control will also be important for the Eagles, since the Orange have proven adept at both forcing fumbles (14, tied for second in the ACC) and recovering fumbles (11, tied for fourth). The Eagles are first in the ACC and tied for second nationally with only two fumbles lost this season.

Out: Recent history is not on BC’s side in this former Big East rivalry.

Terrel Hunt beat the Eagles with an 8-yard TD pass with only six seconds left in 2013. Syracuse is 1-0 against BC with both teams members of the ACC, is 4-2 in the past six and leads the overall series 29-18.

Just in case anyone on the roster from last year has forgotten, the coaches have plastered the final score (34-31) and time of the game-winning touchdown (six seconds) throughout the locker room.

“They’ve got Syracuse stuff all over the locker room, just to kinda piss everyone off,” left guard Bobby Vardaro said with a laugh. “And it’s working.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
Andrew FischerJared Wickerham/Getty Images
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- After 21 years at Harvard, coach Tim Murphy thought he had seen it all. But he hadn’t seen anything like this.

Seeking a perfect season, an outright Ivy League title and, perhaps most important of all, an eighth straight win over rival Yale, the Crimson entered the third quarter trailing the Bulldogs by four.

They’d had a too-many-men penalty that helped lead to a Yale touchdown. They’d had two potential touchdown passes fall short with receivers running free. And they’d fumbled away possession in position to score.

But luckily for the Crimson, their defense is one of the best in the country. And to the Bulldogs’ bane, it buckled down to force Yale to punt on seven of its first eight drives.

“We’re not happy. I feel like we had a ton of missed opportunities in the first half,” Yale coach Tony Reno said. “I feel like we left a lot of points on the field today.”

[+] EnlargeAndrew Fischer
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesHarvard receiver Andrew Fischer leaps into the end zone for the winning touchdown against Yale.
The Crimson found those points in the third quarter, locating the end zone three times in three very different ways -- a long drive, a trick play and a record-breaking defensive play.

The third and perhaps most emphatic came on a 90-yard pick-six, Connor Sheehan stepping in front of Morgan Roberts’ pass, ripping it away from the intended receiver and running it all the way back (his Harvard-record third pick-six of the season).

Just like that, the Crimson went from down 7-3 to up 24-7 and in complete control.

The Game, it seemed, was all but over.

But that would’ve been too straightforward. And though it may seem so, Harvard’s season has been anything but. There have been comebacks. There have been backups subbing in for starters and thriving, as quarterback Scott Hosch did when Conner Hempel was out.

And so Yale, which came into the game as the country’s No. 4-ranked offense, scoring 43.0 points per game, roared back. Roberts hit two big pass plays to set up short touchdowns and cut the lead to three, then the Bulldogs tied it after a Harvard fumble gave them a short field.

“There’s a part of you, no matter what, when we fumble late in the game,” Murphy said, “that says, ‘We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate, we’ve won 12 out of the last 13, maybe this just isn’t our day.’”

After nearly 56 minutes of play, it was essentially back to where it started, the score deadlocked.

And though the momentum was all in Yale’s hands, the ball was going back into Hempel’s -- with a chance to win the game and the title, the perfect season on the line. Never mind that, as it turns out, it was an achievement for Hempel just to be on the field considering the state of his injured shoulder.

“From my standpoint, Conner’s performance was inspirational,” Murphy said. “He was not 100 percent, he was nowhere near 100 percent. He wouldn’t admit that. He practiced a day and a half, [after] he’s been out for a month. Just a tremendously gutty performance.”

Although a field goal would do, with the clock winding down, Hempel and the offense had only one thing on their minds.

“Our coaches put us in that situation every single week in practice,” the senior QB said. “So we know how it feels, we know what type of plays we’re gonna be running and what we’re looking to do, and that’s to score a touchdown.”

He hit Paul Stanton for 6 yards, then ran for 5. Stanton ran for 7, then 13 on a third-and-3. Hempel hit Andrew Fischer for 12 down to the Yale 35, the clock ticking down toward a minute to play.

[+] EnlargeConner Hempel
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesConner Hempel led the Crimson to victory despite a shoulder injury that reduced him to much less than 100 percent.
Then Hempel said he pulled his running back aside and declared, “Make your block, because this is the play that’s gonna win the game.”

The play call was for a slant and go, Fischer on the outside of the formation going up the sideline. The same kind of play they ran on their first offensive snap, when Hempel’s pass was just a little short and Fischer just couldn’t bring it in, a sure score ahead of him.

“I had full confidence in Fisch,” Hempel said, “that he was gonna beat his man and come down with the ball.”

Fischer threw a double move at Dale Harris, flew by him and caught a perfectly placed ball from Hempel for the touchdown, sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy.

The Hollywood storyline was seemingly complete: Injured quarterback overcomes mistakes, wills team to victory over archrival.

But Yale wasn’t done. Roberts moved the ball efficiently up the field, bringing the Bulldogs all the way to the Harvard 26-yard line with about as many seconds left to play. Could the visitors really rebound, once again?

Zach Hodges and the Crimson D had the answer.

“We’re the best defense in the country,” Harvard’s all-time sack leader said. “Most of us, we didn’t even watch the offense go down the field. When we knew it was our time to step up, it was our time to step up. We like that. That’s what we’re here for.”

So as Roberts dropped back to pass once more, Hodges willed his way to the sack and pushed the Bulldogs back a little farther. And when Roberts tried one last time to write his own amazing comeback story, Scott Peters picked him off.

The Crimson took a knee, the clock hit zero and the 31-24 Harvard win, the 10-0 season and the outright Ivy title were officially complete. The home half of the 31,062 fans rushed the field, the bitter cold that persisted throughout the day entirely forgotten, and mobbed the celebrating players.

“Honestly, this game makes my career,” Hempel said. “Couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”

As anyone in the 111-year-old building Saturday would tell you, that’s all too true. Because this game, with all the twists and turns and all its storylines, was one you had to see to believe.

And now that Murphy has seen it, the coach would just as soon never see this kind of drama again.

“Any championship, any time you beat Yale is unique and very special,” Murphy said. “But I don’t think they’ll ever get more exciting than this one -- this was way too exciting.”

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

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