The swings in momentum, the swings in emotion, and the swings in overall outlook have been dramatic for the Boston College football team.
The Eagles won their season opener at Northern Illinois and looked at it as the first brick laid in building on the success of last season. Then they lost four of their next five games.
They had key pieces in place, both for this year and the future, with All-America defensive end Harold Landry returning for his senior season and redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown taking the reins on offense. Then they watched injuries chip away at their core as center Jon Baker and linebackers Connor Strachan and Max Richardson all went down for the season and Landry was week-to-week with an ankle issue.
Sitting at 2-4 with a decimated roster a month ago, the Eagles seemed closer to spiraling than salvaging their season. Then they rattled off three straight wins and put themselves in position to return to a bowl game.
Then, just as they seemed to be on the uptick, Brown suffered a season-ending injury last week.
The highs and lows have come in equal doses this year, but the Eagles have learned to manage both.
“It’s been a crazy, roller-coaster year,” said tight end Tommy Sweeney. “But it’s definitely taught us how to handle stuff. It’s college football. Crazy things happen all the time, and we’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen. So it’s almost become, not second nature, but we’ve seen it and you kind of get used to it.”
With two games left in the season, beginning with a Gridiron Series matchup against Connecticut Saturday night at Fenway Park, the Eagles (5-5, 3-4 ACC) need one win to secure their fourth bowl berth in five years.
Despite so many road spikes, they’ve been able to keep their goal within arm’s reach.
“You’ve really just got to have what they call tunnel vision, man,” said defensive end Wyatt Ray. “You can’t really see a whole bunch of stuff on the outside. You’ve got to kind of focus on the one goal. The one goal is to get to a bowl game and be as good as we can.
“We just try to keep going, man. Nothing’s given easy. There’s always going to be adversity. So we handle it whatever way we can. Just keep our foot on the gas and keep going.”
They’ve kept their postseason hopes alive by perpetually plugging holes that threatened to sink their ship.
The offense has taken its share of hits, and the defense has been just as shorthanded but also just as stout, taking the “next man up” mentality.
Landry has missed the past two games and hasn’t practiced in three weeks since suffering an ankle injury against Virginia Tech in October. Since he’s been sidelined, Ray has gone from being a rotation player on the defensive line to a starter. His versatility as a pass rusher, run stopper, and coverage man on third down has helped steady the defense.
“We all try to implement that mind-set into guys on our team that your number can be called on any play, so you’ve always got to be working,” said Ray. “You can’t be lackadaisical, just on the sideline in la-la land, because you know your number could be called at any time.
“I think that dudes on our team have done a really good job at that. It’s a bunch of dudes on our team that when guys went down, they’ve come in and really filled the role and there’s really no dropoff.”
The Eagles have a good chance of securing bowl eligibility against a UConn team (3-7, 2-5 American) they’ve never lost to in 13 meetings over 109 years (11-0-2). If they do, it will be yet another emotional swing. At this point, they’re used to it.
“We’re down the home stretch of the season, so we’re just trying to sprint these last 100 meters that we have,” said offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. “So we’ve just got to focus and try to finish this thing out.
“We’ve been through so many bumps, grinding through things this year, so pushing through this will just be another challenge that we’ll have to endure and I think we will.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.