In 2006, college football looked and felt very different when it came to Boston College.
The Eagles were in their second year in the ACC, but the "strength in numbers" that came from plundering the Big East wasn't doing much. The highest ranked team in the preseason was #11 Florida State, and only Miami, Virginia Tech, and Clemson joined them in the Top 25. By the second week of the year, Clemson was out, with Miami joining them a week later. Florida State and Virginia Tech would be gone by Week 7.
But in the second week of the season, there was no way to know it. At the time, the Clemson Tigers were the #18 team in the nation, expected to challenge for a division championship. FSU was the defending conference champion, and even though they weren't particularly strong, they were still a team that defeated Virginia Tech the year before, a team that took Penn State to three overtimes in the Orange Bowl. That early in the year never makes a season, but it can certainly break it if a team isn't careful.
For Boston College, there really wasn't a ton to bank on. Starting the year unranked, it would be the first year of full-time starting for junior quarterback Matt Ryan. In the opening game at Central Michigan, he passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns, opening up a 31-10 lead BC almost squandered in the fourth quarter. The next week, they hosted the Tigers, who entered Chestnut Hill hoping to defeat a team that upset them the year before in Death Valley.
What ensued was one of the all-time classics in college football history:
The Tigers opened up the game on fire, scoring twice in the first quarter. Late in the quarter, BC's defensive backs blew a zone coverage on Tyler Grisham along the sideline, and quarterback Will Proctor nailed him on 2nd and 21 from the 22 yard line for the score, giving Clemson a 10-0 lead at the end of the first.
BC responded almost immediately. Jeff Smith took the ensuing kickoff back towards midfield in the blink of an eye, and Ryan worked BC upfield, connecting to Ryan Purvis on 3rd and 13 and using a pass interference penalty to set up Ryan Challenger for the score, cutting the lead to 10-7.
It remained 10-7 until Clemson took over roughly halfway through the second. Inside their own 20 yard line, Proctor hit running back CJ Spiller on a flat pass at the 11 yard line. He shook free from about 20 tackles, then hit open space at midfield and sped the rest of the way for an officially-82 yard touchdown, giving the Tigers a 17-7 lead. Ryan Ohliger's 35-yard field goal made it 17-10 at the half, but it felt like the game was getting ready to tip in someone's direction. All BC needed to make it their way was a big play.
Enter Jeff Smith.
Clemson kicked off to start the second half, failing to cover the return once again against the ultra-speedster. Smith caught the ball at about the five yard line, got through a seam and said bye bye, hitting some B-button turbo to tie things up at 17-17.
The back-and-forth ebb of the game continued into the fourth quarter, although neither team grabbed a score. Halfway through the frame, Proctor led a drive down the field that culminated in a one-yard run from James Davis, putting the Tigers up 24-17.
BC responded by crossing midfield, but disaster nearly struck when Matt Ryan made a horrible decision and threw what seemed to be an interception with just about six minutes remaining. The refs went to video review, still in its infancy back in those days, and found "indisputable video evidence" that receiver Kevin Challenger was down before the ball was ripped from his hands, giving BC back the ball inside the Clemson red zone.
With new life, Ryan continued the march to the end zone, hitting Tony Gonzalez with a pass down to the one yard line. Two plays later, he ran off the left guard into paydirt to tie the game at 24-24. For the second time in two years, the Eagles and Tigers went to overtime.
With free football echoing through The Heights, the teams traded field goals to enter the second frame at 27-27. BC held the line until they faced second and goal from the two yard line; Davis powered it up the middle to make it 33-27. But instead of hitting the extra point, Jo-Lonn Dunbar came around the edge and blocked the kick, opening the door for the Eagles to once again upset the Tigers.
Now needing a touchdown to win the game, Ryan nearly threw another interception but hit a wide open Challenger for a first down on 3rd-and-5. Two plays later, LV Whitworth powered behind Gosder Cherilus to score the apparent game-tying touchdown. Ohliger hit the kick and BC won, 34-33.
On the game, Ryan and Proctor dueled for a combined 78 passing attempts. Proctor went 25-for-40 for 343 yards and two touchdowns, with Ryan responding with 22-for-38, 212 yards, and one touchdown. James Davis rumbled for 93 yards on the ground, and BC, running the vaunted Tom O'Brien/Dana Bible offense, ripped off 124 yards behind both Whitworth and Andre Callender.
The win established the Eagles as a powerhouse among the ACC Atlantic Division. It knocked Clemson clear out of the Top 25, inserting BC in at #23. They were a Top 20 team after beating BYU the following week but fall clear out of the rankings after a loss to NC State. They rallied to defeat both Virginia Tech and Florida State to move to 16th with the inside track to the ACC Championship Game by November. That's where BC lost to Wake Forest on the road, 21-14. The Eagles did lose at the end of the year to Miami in the Orange Bowl and would wind up in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Navy.
The season wasn't all sunshine and rainbows along the way. Despite having a budding superstar in Ryan, Ryan Ohliger was involved in an incident at a local bar and suspended prior to the Virginia Tech game. Steve Aponavicius was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, earning his first appearance in a game on a Thursday night matchup at home against nationally-ranked Virginia Tech. He would later kick the game-winning 37-yard field goal against Navy in the bowl game.
The Eagles lost more than their kicker, however. 2006 was the year Tom O'Brien left before the bowl game for NC State. Frank Spaziani coached the bowl game, leading the Eagles to their last-second victory. He would remain as defensive coordinator when they hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski as head coach in the offseason.
Clemson, meanwhile, Clemsoned their way through the season. A week after losing to BC, they naturally defeated 10th-ranked FSU, on the road, then ripped off five more wins to become a Top 10 team. With thoughts and visions of a BCS bowl in their minds, they promptly lost two in a row, falling out of the rankings altogether. They would win only one game the rest of the year, over NC State, losing in the Music City Bowl.
The 2006 season was a tough one for the ACC. Only three teams finished the season ranked in the Top 25, including BC, and Wake Forest won the league's championship game before losing to Louisville in the Orange Bowl. One of the ranked teams - Virginia Tech - failed to qualify for the league title game by finishing second in their division, meaning an unranked Georgia Tech went to the conference title game while the ranked team watched.
As for the preseason powers? Miami and FSU both went 7-6, finishing with 3-5 conference records.