August 10, 2007

Why not?

Kevin Challenger sees no reason it can't be done -- this time.

"I honestly believe that this is the year," the wide receiver said at Friday's media day at BC. "I feel this year we've got a really really good chance of winning the ACC championship, if we just take it one game at a time."

Except for the use of the cliché at the end (why does everyone connected with sports have to say that?), I'm inclined to think the senior could be right. Why not?

"I think it's going to be a really exciting year for the fans and everybody else," Challenger says.

The Eagles head into Jeff Jagodzinski's first year toting the league's preseason player of the year in Matt Ryan - and 15 other returning starters from last year's team. Brian Toal won't be there, not on the field, anyway, and that will hurt, but the guess here it won't hurt this football team all that much. These guys are loaded at linebacker.

BC was picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division, and with good reason. Until you win the big one, people do think you can win the big one.

"Yeah, I think that's the perception - and rightfully so," said Jolonn Dunbar.

The only way to change it is to, well, change it.

And while "the sky's the limit" for Tom O'Brien and North Carolina State (remember that quote), O'Brien knew what he was leaving behind at BC. He thought this would have been his best team and he was right.

"We've got a lot of guys here, a lot of guys that have played in a lot of games," Jagodzinski said. "The past few years, they've only been one win away. That's our goal - to go to a BCS bowl and play on Jan. 1.

It's not like I'm building this thing from scratch."

One win away. It's been documented here and everywhere else about that one game a year each of the past three years that have been the killer, the one that sends you to Boise instead of somewhere nice - and warm. One win away, and the perception that you're a team that can't get over the top.

From Day 1, Jagodzinski has been upbeat about what he has here. Some would say he's TOO upbeat and think he's a rah-rah kind of guy. But he's a football guy and he knows what he has. He knows BC wasn't 3-8 last year to get the coach fired. He knows how many weapons he has, on both sides of the ball. And, most importantly, he has Ryan.

Who wouldn't be upbeat?

"I'm excited as ever to be the head coach here," was the first thing he said Friday.

He talked about the weight loss of his big boppers, adding quickness to kids like B.J. Raji, Ron Brace and Richard Lapham; about how special Gosder Cherilus really is, and about how he was at a pro camp recently fielding all kids of questions from scouts on Ryan and Cherilus; about the loss of Toal and the depth at the position; about how new strength coach Jason Loscalzo has this team in great shape; and about going five deep at wide receiver and the explosive potential of the offense, thanks mostly to Ryan; he said Ryan reminds him of Matt Schaub and Matt Hasselbeck and how Ryan is "more than enough mobile" for the coach's liking.

He said, "We've got a pair of really good running backs (he hasn't named a starter yet), the line is good and we have very good tight ends." He added, "I'm excited about our whole football team."

Again, a coach is supposed to be upbeat at this time of year. His team is 0-0. But you have the feeling this team is 0-0 on the way to something. Yes, Wake Forest will be tough in the opener. Heck, opening with three straight conference games is ridiculous. But, as Jags said, "If I could pick a game (to open) it would be Wake Forest - I wanna see where our guys are at."

One of the more interesting things Jagodzinski talked about was the role of Jeff Smith. "We have to try to get the ball in Jeff Smith's hands," the coach said. "He'll be on kickoff returns, maybe punts, some receiving, some tailback. We'll do a lot of things with him." Remember, Smith figures to be even more dangerous with kickoffs now coming from the 30.

But since Jagodzinski mentioned Smith's hands, we can't skip past the questions over those hands. This kid has to hold onto the ball. Same with A.J. Brooks, who was fielding punts at practice Friday.

All in all, the whole proceeding, which included Ryan and Dunbar modeling the new uniforms, was upbeat (Reshaude Goodwyn leaving the team and L.V. Whitworth being "knicked up a little bit right now" were the only two negative things even hinted at). But there was also a sense of business in the two rooms being used at Conte Forum -- these guys know what has to be done and know they have to start doing it Sept. 1 against Wake Forest and then against their old coach the following week.

Eagle Notes

What had become a running gag with O'Brien and his staff and players is apparently about to change. The fullbacks - James McCluskey and freshman Brad Newman (Jagodzinski hopes not to use freshmen but Newman seems set) - are going to carry the football out of the two-back set. Ryan Burch was the last fullback to do so, back in 1998. "(The fullback) is going to carry the ball," Jagodzinski said.

The coach lauded the work of freshman Anthony Castonzo, unrecruited out of high school because he didn't weigh enough. He's 6-7, 260 now and Jagodzinski predicted, "He's going to be one of the better linemen to ever come through here."

Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani on Mark Herzlich moving outside to fill the Toal void: "It's an adjustment and he hasn't done it, but we like what we see." On Kevin Akins, he said, "He's bigger … he does a lot of nice things. He can do stuff for us."

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