As Boston College came into the season, everyone around the program used the phrase “take the next step” so often it became the company line.
The Eagles had every reason to believe they could. They still had one of the most ferocious defenses in the nation. They had a tuned-up offensive scheme that could churn out yards in chunks. They were awaiting the return of quarterback Anthony Brown, who had a breakout season cut short a year ago because of a knee injury. And they had a bona fide star in the backfield in running back A.J. Dillon.
They could see the vision coming into focus midseason when they won seven of their first nine games, were ranked 17th in the nation, sewed up a bowl berth for the fifth time in six years and had ESPN’s “College GameDay” on campus.
The goals they set for themselves were much higher, but losses to Clemson and Florida State put them out of reach.
They went into Saturday’s rivalry game against Syracuse with the hopes of finishing the regular season with eight wins for the first time since 2009. But a 42-21 loss left the promise of the preseason unfulfilled.
“Definitely a disappointment,” said receiver and return man Michael Walker. “Coming into the season, we wanted to win an ACC championship. That was the goal. We were up for that playing Clemson earlier in the year and, I mean, it hasn’t gone our way the past few games.”
With three straight losses to end the season, the Eagles watched the ambitions they had for the season go up in smoke.
For the fourth time under coach Steve Addazio, the Eagles finished the regular season with seven wins. But for a program facing the possibility of finishing 7-6 for the fifth time in the past six years after pulling itself from the depths of an ugly 2-10 run in 2012, the most immediate question is whether it has reached its ceiling.
“I wouldn’t say [the loss] takes away from it, but it shows you how hard it is to be a great team,” Brown said. “Not taking anything for granted in practice or your extra time, being in the film room, anything that can possibly help you get better or this team get better will be the next step.”
Addazio tried to step back and give some context to the season.
“I mean, we did take another step,” Addazio said. “We came in here and a week ago Saturday we’re the No. 19 team in the country. We had ‘GameDay’ here. Why did we have ‘GameDay’ here? Because we were, at that point, playing for the conference championship just two weeks ago. So we took a big step. A lot of good things have happened.
“Are we disappointed in the last two games? For sure. No doubt about it. Would we like to have overcome all those injuries and all the things we had and still taken this? You’re darn straight we’d like to. But we’re playing a high-caliber team today, and it’s hard to do that when you’re in that situation. So we did take another step, and we still have a chance to win our eighth game of the season in the bowl game.”
With the stakes high, the Eagles were uncharacteristically mistake-prone, sabotaging themselves with four turnovers and six penalties. Brown completed just 17 of his 37 passes for 251 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Highlights | Syracuse at Boston College pic.twitter.com/zWAQVSMfwg— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) November 24, 2018
“It’s hard to talk right now because really today was uncharacteristic,” Brown said. “Just things that we need to clean up as a team because if we clean those things up, we’ll have a different outcome today. There’s no doubt in my mind. There’s so much that we left on the field and we need to make sure we finish this thing off right, get to this bowl game and attack it.”
Still hampered by an ankle injury, Dillon rushed just 12 times for 56 yards, never seeing the field in the second half. The Eagles took two more blows on defense when defensive ends Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen both went down with injuries.
“You can’t lose all your firepower on both sides of the ball like that,” Addazio said.
The Eagles’ defense gave up a season-high 559 yards. Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey threw for 362 yards on 21-of-34 passing with three touchdowns and one pick. Running back Dontae Strickland piled up 129 yards on 20 carries. Receiver Sean Riley caught five passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles still await a decision on which bowl they’ll head to. Projections have them landing everywhere from the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit again to the Music City Bowl in Nashville to the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
“Right now we want to go get win No. 8,” Addazio said. “We play in a very competitive conference in a very competitive environment, and there’s a fine line in there. We certainly had our crack this year to get one or two more in there, and we didn’t get that done. But that doesn’t demean what we’ve done.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.