Beyond the knots of stress that come with a bottomless pit of a season, there’s reason for Boston College to look at the year Notre Dame is having and be bitter.
Too many reasons.
It’s not just the Fighting Irish’s undefeated record, No. 4 ranking, or national title hopes. It’s not just the requisite hatred of the Holy War and that the Irish have won the last three meetings. For some of the Eagles, the ones who grew up in the Midwest, where everything’s Irish, part of it is personal.
Tackle Emmett Cleary is from Arlington Heights, Ill., about 40 minutes from Chicago and 2½ hours from South Bend, Ind.
He followed the Fighting Irish, but wouldn’t go so far as to say he was a fan.
“The way Notre Dame fans are in Chicago, it can kind of push you the other way,” he said. “I was probably firmly in the other category by the time I came out of high school.”
Cleary was all-state honorable mention in high school. Notre Dame gave him a passing glance, but never offered him a scholarship.
“I don’t know if I even would have gone or not,” he said.
For BC linebacker Nick Clancy, a native of Plainfield, Ill., Notre Dame was his dream school. But he was barely on their recruiting radar.
The perceived slights are still in the back of their minds. That’s why, even with BC’s postseason fate decided with three games left, Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame under the lights at Alumni Stadium on Saturday is their bowl game.
“This is a one-game season,” Clancy said. “That’s how we’re looking at it. This is it, man. This is the last opportunity we’re going to have to play a big-time team on a national stage. It would be really sweet if we could knock them off, so I could rub it in all my friends’ faces back home.”
Standing in the rubble of a 2-7 season that seemed doomed before it started, this is what’s left for Boston College. It doesn’t have a bowl game to play for. It can’t play its way out of last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. All that’s left for the Eagles to play for is whatever pride a woeful season hasn’t stripped from them already.
“I think all the games we have left are now our bowl games, obviously, this one being on the biggest stage,” said BC quarterback Chase Rettig. “We’ve just got to approach the week like we have, but with more intensity.”
Notre Dame has dodged bullets all season. BC wants to be the one team that doesn’t miss.
“We always want to go to a bowl game,” Cleary said. “But I would rather knock Notre Dame out of the national championship than play in the toilet bowl or wherever.”
BC is a 19-point underdog, and having beaten just one FBS team, that pointspread is justified. But at this point, a nothing-to-lose mentality is the only one that makes sense for the Eagles to adopt.
“The whole team is convinced that we can do it,” said Clancy. “The question going around is, ‘Why not us?’ ”
There are a few reasons.
The Irish are 9-0 for the first time since 1993. Their defense is elite. Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson is 7-0 as a starter. They win close games (5-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including a triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh last week).
But this is the kind of series where numbers often don’t matter. The two times undefeated Notre Dame teams ran into BC, their seasons were shattered.
BC would love to play spoiler, and a 16-14 loss last year in South Bend to a Notre Dame team ranked 24th is evidence that it may be possible.
“There’s some of that, that nobody thinks we can win and everyone’s ready to crown them,” said Cleary. “But people forget we played them straight up at their place last year. So nobody’s seeing this as some monumental upset. We know we can play with this team because we’ve proved it in the past. This is a football game against a team we can beat.”
It wouldn’t wash away the losses they’ve suffered. It wouldn’t salvage the season. But this is an Eagles team that hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 2008, and Saturday night presents a chance to do so.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to play a team like this, this late in the season, for a long time,” said BC receiver Alex Amidon. “We’re looking at that. Something to take away from this season if we get this win.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.