Posted: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013
By Dan Rubin
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Boston College had an opening game this weekend against Stony Brook University and the Seawolves football team. SBU, a school located on Long Island but a member of the FCS Big South conference, enters 2013 on the heels of a 10-3 record that included a win over an FBS program in Army. It was set to be the first ever meeting between a school trying to rebuild its lost success and one getting set to establish itself as an FCS regional power (SBU was moving this year to the Colonial Athletic Association, a better geographic fit).
That same weekend, Pittsburgh was set to open its season against cross-state opponent Villanova. The Wildcats, the national champion in 2009 and a playoff semifinalist in 2010, also made the FCS tournament as conference champion of the very same CAA Stony Brook was joining.
Pittsburgh then joined the ACC, which promptly announced the Panthers would play the Florida State Seminoles in the first week of the season. That left the conference with a conundrum; they would own a national television slot with Pitt's first game against FSU much like they did when ESPN's Gameday crew came to Chestnut Hill for the first time when BC opened up league play against the 'Noles. But in the process, they'd have to somehow find a way to compensate Villanova for the game that wasn't to be.
Enter the shuffle and the completely fascinating thoughts of what might've been.
In February, the league announced that Villanova would open the season at Boston College while Stony Brook's date would open up. In what was originally supposed to be a Friday night contest, the Eagles still got to open their season at home, and they'd still do it against an opponent from the FCS (a quality opponent from the FCS at that). SBU was jettisoned from the schedule, and the Villanova-BC rivalry would renew for a 46th edition. Stony Brook, instead of playing 12 games, will now host Ivy League opponent Penn in a scrimmage.
It's left us with a thought - what would've happened if the ACC didn't change its schedule to put Pitt-FSU in the opening weekend? What would've happened to all the schools involved, and more importantly, what was the ripple-down effect that this will have on the Boston College season?
Let's start with the obvious; the BC schedule changed. Stony Brook was a tri-champion of the Big South Conference a year ago, going 9-2 in the regular season and scoring wins over FBS opponent Army, Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern, and Gardner Webb. They dropped 77 on Division II opponent Pace (who was a terrible team in the Northeast-10 Conference in D2, but still). And they were ranked as high as #9 in the FCS poll. They hosted the first round of the FCS tournament as an at-large, still ranked in the top 10, and beat, of all teams, Villanova. They lost by six in the second round to #2-ranked Montana State.
Villanova, meanwhile, won the CAA championship on a technicality. Old Dominion really won the league, going 7-1 in league play, but they were ineligible because they were beginning a reclassification to the FBS. Nova finished in a four-way tie for second with Richmond, UNH, and Towson, with all four teams ranked between 13th and 18th (with sixth place James Madison ranked 19th in the nation right behind them). A formidable team, the Wildcats beat #3-ranked ODU, and #9 ranked JMU. Their rise was quick and swift since they spent most of the year unranked, then rocketed into the FCS national picture by beating the Monarchs, only to lose in the first round of the tournament to SBU.
On paper, these teams are fairly equal, so the season doesn't change much by way of on paper to the Eagles. SBU did beat an FBS opponent, but it was Army. Villanova played a power conference opponent and was handled by fellow Big Five member Temple. Hypothetically, Army did beat BC, though, so transitive property says BC would've lost last year to the Seawolves. Anyways...
BC won't lose much by switching opponents. Stony Brook and Villanova were similar teams to one another. The only major difference is that SBU is coming off a year where they had a top 10 defense. If nothing else, it actually gets us excited to think about a quality FCS game if you think that these two teams are in a conference against one another. But in the end, if you're a BC fan, there still has to be a major talent discrepancy between being an ACC school and being an FCS opponent. These teams make money to lose and gain game experience. So for BC, the expectation is the same.
But the ripple effect is huge. Stony Brook was going to open their season at Boston College before playing at Rhode Island, and Buffalo. Those three road games were going to be great ways for them to establish what they could learn about themselves; they'd get beaten by BC, then come out to Kingston and destroy a moribound URI team. They'd head to Buffalo to play a MAC team, which is essentially like last year when they'd play Army. Then they'd have their fourth game of the year, one where they'd be able to apply all of those lessons against a CAA power team - Villanova.
Instead, SBU loses out on the payday and the game experience for a scrimmage against Penn. The Quakers will have been back at school for roughly a week's worth of practice since the Ivy League starts significantly later than everyone else due to academic requirements. Penn is far from Boston College, having gone 6-4 last year, 0-3 in games not played against the Ivy League. It's also a scrimmage, which is substantially different from a nationally-televised game on the ESPN network family.
Villanova, meanwhile, gets shuffled from a game against an in-state rival, one they'd hope to compete with in the stands and on the field. They get jettisoned up to Boston, a major difference in travel. Quite honestly, there's still a lot we don't know about how this will effect the team; the Wildcats are the preseason #5 team in the nation in the FCS, but Steve Addazio pummeled them last year with Temple. Instead of playing Pittsburgh, they'll play BC, then play Fordham, then host Stony Brook. Not much change for Villanova, but it's still worth wondering what would happen if they played Pitt to open the year.
And then there's Pitt. A team that went barely 6-6 in the Big East, Pitt had to upset Rutgers and beat South Florida just to get into a bowl game. Then they went down to the BBVA Compass Bowl and were handled by Ole Miss. It was their third consecutive berth in the Compass Bowl, and it was the second year they were beaten, having beaten Kentucky three years ago before getting smoked by SMU two years ago. A game against Villanova to open the year would be a quality game against an FCS opponent, a chance to gain some momentum in the second year after they had to fire their coach for domestic violence allegations. In the effort to clean up the program and restore it to eight wins (sound familiar?), they had a game set against a beatable opponent who could probably sell some tickets and put up a decent enough fight to give the coaches ammo during the week of practice. It would also give them a chance to avenge last year's loss to Youngstown State, a team ranked 13th in the FCS at their time of kickoff.
Now they get FSU, the preseason #11 team in the nation, a team expected to contend for an ACC championship, and one of the most powerful brands in the nation. FSU is used to this type of national spotlight, while Pittsburgh is in a rebuilding mode. It's a great opportunity for the Panthers, but at the same time, they're playing Florida State. There's no doubt Pitt would rather play FSU later in the year, when they've had a few games to discover their identity. They'd also have the chance to play FSU in the bitter Pennsylvania cold when the Heinz Field turf is essentially spray-painted sand.
With FSU on the schedule, the schedule becomes significantly different. Pitt would've opened up with Villanova, New Mexico, and Virginia before playing Va. Tech. After Virginia Tech, they'll play Old Dominion and Navy before finishing the year with a brutal stretch against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Miami, with a trip to the Carrier Dome for good measure thrown in there between UNC and Miami. Maybe the ODU game becomes Florida State instead, but the beginning of the schedule changes dramatically when the first game is against the Seminoles. It doesn't ease anything into the schedule.
Maybe things would've been different; maybe they wouldn't have. Now you've heard what I had to say, albeit as long winded as it was. Weigh in with your thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with the assessments of all parties involved? What do you think? No matter what, this year's schedule could always be a case of what might've been.