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Weary Eagles roost after a 2-year flight

Boston College begins life in a new conference, the ACC.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 16, 2005


For nearly two excruciatingly long years, Boston College was connected to two conferences without seemingly belonging to either. That ends Saturday night.

After enduring litigation and indignation from their former Big East partners, the No. 17-ranked Eagles land as full-fledged members of the ACC with their first league football game against visiting No. 8 Florida State.

Welcome to the ACC.

Finally.

"There's definitely a buzz," coach Tom O'Brien said. "This has never happened at Boston College. We're breaking new ground."

Sure, the Eagles have won a football national title (in 1940) and can boast a Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie (1984).

Sure, the Eagles have played host to other perennial powers, including Notre Dame and Miami.

But for the first time, ESPN's College GameDay will originate from the campus nestled in the idyllic, ritzy neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. And for one of those rare moments, Boston College football is sharing the attention of fans in the sports-crazed region with the revered Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.

"It's intense," senior defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said of the atmosphere enveloping this game.

"Actually, all summer long there's been people talking about us going to the ACC," senior quarterback Quinton Porter said. "That's great for us. We've been working really hard to get some Boston fans interested in us and it seems like it's working."

* * *

The ACC's road from nine to 12 members, a move it hoped would solidify its position as a football league as well as allow it to hold a lucrative championship game, looked as bumpy and hopeless as Tampa's Malfunction Junction.

Miami, BC and Syracuse seemed headed from the Big East, then Virginia Tech joined the conversation as a possibility before the league invited UM and Virginia Tech in June 2003. Four months later, BC, once out was back in the mix, but the Big East wouldn't let the Eagles fly the coop until the 2005-06 school year.

"It wasn't a very popular move by us to leave," O'Brien said. "I think they could live with Miami leaving and even Virginia Tech, but being one of the founding members of the Big East, there was a lot of hard feelings still up there."

A handful of Big East football schools sued BC as well as Miami and Tech. Needless to say, the lame duck Eagles weren't exactly popular visitors to Big East schools last season.

At one stop, the Boston College banner was removed from the row of Big East members. At others, fans threw "stuff" from the stands at the players and, once, the BC buses were cut off and passengers hurled trash at them, O'Brien said. That included the buses carrying the band and cheerleaders.

"It wasn't too hard to put it out of our mind because we knew we had no control over it and anybody taking their aggression out on us were being ridiculous," Kiwanuka said. "(But) we definitely noticed it."

Senior receiver/return man Will Blackmon said he still receives e-mails with pictures of Syracuse's 43-17 upset at BC that prevented the Eagles from winning the Big East outright.

"I find it kind of funny," he said. "It's just fans backing up their teams. It really doesn't bother me."

O'Brien, however, is less genteel, less forgiving about the hostility directed toward his players.

"We went through a year and half that wasn't very pleasant," said O'Brien, adding he won't be scheduling any Big East teams with the exception of Syracuse, but not for maybe a decade. "The bad part was the lead came from the administrators in the Big East, which obviously gave the fans the go-ahead to do anything they wanted. Nobody stepped up and said anything. We're just happy it's over."

* * *

For the first time in school history, BC sold out its home games for men's basketball, hockey and football before those sports' seasons began.

The league debut against the Seminoles, the longtime standard-bearer of the ACC, has kicked up the interest on the outside. From inside the program, the Eagles are using this game as crucial recruiting as well as a measuring stick.

"We're going to find out how we match up starting Saturday night in the ACC," O'Brien said. "Our former Big East brethren and a lot of the ACC schools said that we wouldn't stand a chance because of our skill level. We're going to find out."

The Seminoles can't wait, either.

They feel like they have something to prove.

"We feel we should be welcoming everybody," junior tailback Lorenzo Booker said. "(If) they've been here for 10 years then we need to let them know that nothing's changed and if they're just in, we need to let them know about the years to come. ... We want to let them (the fans) know this: This is not the Big East. It's that simple."

Welcome to the ACC.

Finally.