The 2007 Boston College football season will forever be one of the most special in the history of the program. They advanced to the ACC Championship Game after winning the Atlantic Division, ranked as high as #2 in the nation, and would win 10 regular season games for the first time since the magical 1984 season.
That '07 season didn't take long for the Eagles to enter the national rankings, appearing in the top 25 for the first time after defeating Wake Forest in the first week of the season. They began a steady climb after beating #15 Georgia Tech, 24-10, on the road, using wins over Army and UMass to vault up to sixth in the nation. After crushing Bowling Green at home, the undefeated Eagles were #4, and a win over Notre Dame put them in the driver's seat for a BCS bowl game as the second ranked team in the nation.
The infamous comeback win over ninth-ranked Virginia Tech on Thursday night solidifed BC as national players for a week, but a brutal hangover nearly derailed the season as BC lost back-to-back games against Florida State and Maryland. All of a sudden, the #2-ranked, 8-0 Eagles were the 8-2 Eagles, headed to Death Valley for what amounted to a winner-take-all divisional matchup against the Clemson Tigers.
As for Clemson, the BC game was a golden opportunity at redemption. After opening the season 4-0 with wins over FSU and NC State, the Tigers rocketed up to #13 in the polls, but an offense that scored 38 points or more in three straight games mustered only three in Atlanta, and the Tigers lost to the Yellow Jackets to fall to #22. A loss to Virginia Tech at home the next week seemingly derailed their ACC title hopes, and they tumbled out of the rankings, remaining unranked even after a 70-14 rallying cry win over Central Michigan.
But when BC faltered, wins over Maryland, Duke, and Wake Forest all of a sudden had them tied for the Atlantic Division lead with the season's end nearing. The streaky hot Tigers just had to handle a suddenly-sagging Eagles team in order to stamp their ticket to the ACC Championship Game.
Polls had this one with BC anywhere from #17 through #20, Clemson ranked anywhere from #16 to #18. Regardless of who was higher in what ranking, this one set up to be yet another instant classic in a quick-to-develop ACC rivalry.
Let's head to the highlights.
After BC went three-and-out and burned a timeout to open up the game, Clemson drove up 68 yards in 4:30, taking 13 plays to execute the first scoring drive. Facing 3rd and 4 at midfield, Cullen Harper hit Rendrick Taylor for 22 yards, taking the ball down to the BC 28. An Eagle offsides from their own 14 yard line allowed the Tigers to pound the rock down to the run, where James Davis plowed into the end zone to give Clemson a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles attempted to respond but came up short despite penetrating deep into the Tiger end of the field. Andre Callender rushed eight times as part of a 14 play drive, gaining 21 yards, and Ryan completed four passes in a row as BC reached the Tiger 20. But they stalled, and back-to-back rushes gave way to a third down incompletion and a fourth down failed conversion to turn the Eagles away without any points and another burned timeout.
If there was a positive out of the long, stalled offensive drive, it's that the BC defense adjusted to the Clemson ground attack. After taking 13 plays to score on their first drive, BC held Clemson to 28 offensive plays for the remainder of the first half, preventing both Davis and CJ Spiller from gaining too many yards from scrimmage. The next six drives ended in zero points, highlighted by a missed 46-yard field goal by Mark Buchholz and four punt attempts.
BC, meanwhile, finally broke through late in the second quarter. Starting from their own 37, they gained 25 yards almost immediately to get to the Clemson 38 yard line as Ryan hit Clarence Megwa for 12 yards before Callender rumbled for 13 more. They gained a third straight first down as Ryan fired a pass to Rich Gunnell, reaching the Clemson 22 yard line. After they set up 2nd-and-3 from the Clemson 15, Kevin Alexander sacked Ryan to push it back to 3rd-and-11. BC would settle for three points off the foot of Steve Aponavicius and went into the locker room hanging around with Clemson leading 7-3.
Having watched their vaunted running game stuffed in the second quarter, Clemson abandoned the ground attack in the third; Cullen Harper opened up the second half by going 6-for-6, leading the Tigers down to the BC two yard line. But the Eagles put together a huge goal line stand. They stuffed James Davis on first down, then broke up a pass attempt on 2nd down. After Clemson lost three yards on third down, they kicked a 22 yard field goal, giving the orange and purple a 10-3 lead.
The Eagles attempted to respond by going on a long, defined drive that ate up most of the third quarter. Starting the ensuing drive from their own 21 yard line, they drove 48 yards in 7:05, opening up with consecutive complete passes from Ryan to Callender, Justin Jarvis, and Brandon Robinson. Andre Callender gained 14 yards on four straight rushing attempts as BC pushed inside the Clemson 30, but they once again stalled on the cusp of the red zone, giving up a sack on 3rd-and-6 from the 21. Going for it on 4th-and-16 from the Clemson 31, Ryan failed to convert, giving the ball right back to the Tigers.
BC finally broke through to start the fourth quarter. Carrying a drive over from the third in Clemson territory, Ryan hit Callender for 27 yards' worth of passing yards, setting up redshirt freshman James McCluskey to rumble off tackle left from two yards out. Aponavicius added the extra point, and the Eagles tied the game at 10-10.
Despite having incredible field position at their own 46 after BC pooch kicked the ensuing kickoff, Clemson immediately Clemson'd. Harper rolled out to his right and delivered a perfect pass to Kevin Akins, with the only problem being that Akins played for BC. It was an extremely poor decision that put the Clemson defense immediately back on the field. Ryan once again drove inside the Clemson 20, but the offense failed to punch it in. A field goal gave BC their first lead, 13-10.
It set up a finish for the ages. Cullen Harper threw for almost 50 yards on the next Clemson drive, bringing the Tigers into the end zone and giving them back the lead at 17-13. But Matt Ryan, like he had done so many times in his BC career, tossed this pass to Rich Gunnell, giving BC a 20-17 lead with 1:46 left on the clock:
Ryan's pass went approximately 50 yards, across his body, to the opposite side of the field, downfield, to Gunnell. A big BC defensive stop later, the Eagles were headed to the ACC Championship Game after just their third year in the conference, 20-17 winners over Clemson.
The win elevated BC back up to 14th in the polls, while Clemson fell to #22. More importantly, though, BC stamped its ticket to Jacksonville regardless of what happened against Miami. Despite a win pushing them up to #11, they lost a rematch with the fifth-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies and wound up 14th in the final BCS rankings (one spot ahead of Clemson), the second-highest ranked ACC team.
Due to a technicality in the bowl selection process, though, both the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and the Gator Bowl passed over BC in favor of Clemson and Virginia, respectively, and the Eagles wound up in the Champs Sports Bowl against Michigan State. The Tigers would lose to Auburn in Atlanta despite 600 yards of offense, dropping to the Tigers' debuting "spread style" offense in overtime. The next season, Clemson fired Tommy Bowden and replaced him on an interim basis with wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney. A 4-5 team, they won three in a row to finish the season 7-5 and head back to the Gator Bowl against Nebraska. In 2009, two years after this one, they were division champs.
BC fans were treated to one last heroic pass from Ryan, a 68-yard bomb to Gunnell in the Champs Sports Bowl that led the Eagles to victory over Michigan State, 24-21. For the next two years, they remained atop the Atlantic Division, going to the ACC Championship Game again in '08 before finishing 8-5 in an emotional 2009 season. But that would be it for BC, as darker skies gave way to an era form which they are now just starting to pull out of.