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Boston College vs. Syracuse Football: Two Programs Headed In Opposite Directions

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Two programs headed in very different directions square off this weekend on the Heights.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

A funny thing happened following Boston College's 20-17 loss to #1 Florida State...

With the loss, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio fell to 13-11 overall, and 7-8 in conference play. That mark is identical to the record Addazio compiled in two seasons at Temple—13-11 overall, 5-3 MAC, 2-5 Big East for a 7-8 conference record—before Brad Bates hired him away to resurrect a moribund Boston College football program.

Many Boston College fans lambasted the hire at the time and, frankly, it wasn't hard to see why. Addazio won just four games in 2012 with the Owls, rocking a roster full of MAC talent against a Big East conference schedule—Temple's first year back in the reconstituted Big East. After winning 9 games the year after taking over for Al Golden in Philadelphia, Addazio managed just four wins in year two. Nevermind the switch in conference affiliation and the significant step up in competition. The perception was clearly that Temple was going in the wrong direction.

Why would a power conference program want anything to do with a head coach of just two years at, of all places, Temple?

What's funny is I always thought that Addazio's second year at Temple was more impressive than the first. The Owls went on to win two more conference games than anyone reasonably expected they would going into the year—a 37-28 victory vs. South Florida, and a 17-14 overtime victory at Connecticut. Put a scare into Maryland in non-conference play and hung 63 points on Army at Michie—the same program that handed BC a 34-31 loss earlier in the year in what would later very clearly be seen as the nadir of Eagles football under Frank Spaziani.

More than the wins though, Addazio seemed to prove out the blueprint that has helped his career on the Heights get off to a fast start. The second-year coach scooped up running back Montel Harris on the college football equivalent of the waiver wire. Harris, who was earlier cast off from the Heights by Spaziani, managed over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in his final season of eligibility at Temple.

Of course, some of those same Boston College fans who didn't care for the hire are the ones that now fear Addazio has one foot out the door to Gainesville. All despite sporting an identical record (13-11, 7-8 conference) that was supposedly exhibit A why Bates' hire was a bad one, because, I don't know, sports.

Now, you may still be on the fence about Addazio. Addazio may be off to bigger and better things at some point down the line, or it simply might not work out in the end here at BC. However, you don't have to be drinking the Kool-Aid to tip your cap and appreciate all that he's accomplished on the Heights in less than two seasons. Addazio has taken a program that won one game over FBS competition the year before he got here and:

– Brought it to 2-0 against Virginia Tech, snapping the program's five-game skid against the Hokies from 2008-2012
– Brought it to 4-0 against division opponents in a similar transition (N.C. State and Wake Forest)
– Notched the biggest program upset in a decade when BC knocked off #9 USC earlier in the year
– Produced the school's first 2,000-yard rusher, first Doak Walker Award winner and first Heisman Trophy finalist since a guy named Doug Flutie 
– His grad transfer QB is 8 yards away from breaking the conference's single-season QB rushing yardage record, a year after Andre Williams obliterated the conference's single-season rushing record (2,177). 
– Arguably played the class of the Atlantic Division—Clemson and Florida State—tougher than any other team in the conference over the last two years, coming within a few plays of knocking off both the Tigers at home and the top-ranked Seminoles on the road this season.

Addazio is saying all the right things about not caring for moral victories, which I agree with, but I'd argue that last accomplishment speaks more to the direction this program is headed moving forward. Two years ago, Boston College traveled to Tallahassee only to go through the motions in a listless 51-7 loss to the Seminoles. On the next trip down to Florida, Addazio had the Eagles on the brink of victory—a very winnable game where the difference between victory and defeat came down to one, maybe two plays.

Critics will point to "bad coaching" as the reason BC let games against Colorado State, Clemson and Florida State slip away, without also acknowledging that the staff's ability to coach up this roster of 71 scholarship players got the team to the point where they could win the game in the first place.

I get the "win now" mentality of fans. Trust me. It's not easy being a Boston College [insert varsity sport here...men's hockey over the last decade+ excepted] fan. And, of course it would be nice to be 9-2, in the College Football Playoff rankings and in line for an Orange Bowl at-large berth. But a few plays go the other way, and BC could also in Syracuse's position—just 3-8 overall, going through the motions in the regular season finale. It goes both ways.

If the program keeps it up and Addazio is able to restock on the recruiting trail, it's only a matter of time before these moral victories turn into actual ones. And, given the early returns, there's no reason to think that Boston College can't compete for ACC titles given what Addazio and the staff have accomplished in just two short seasons. Continue to take care of N.C. State, Syracuse (see below), Virginia Tech (another program likely in turnaround soon) and Wake Forest, as well as play physically tough, "Boston College football" against Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, and the future is bright for the Eagles under Addazio.

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I Might Be Wrong. All that said, Addazio needs to get in the win column this weekend against a reeling Syracuse squad, not only to improve the program's own bowl prospects this year, but also to serve notice to the rest of the conference that this is just the beginning. Having worked at Syracuse and with Louie playing at Syracuse, I'm confident Addazio understands the importance of this rivalry game to the program as well as on the recruiting trail in the Northeast.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place. As mentioned above, Addazio is 2-0 vs. Virginia Tech, 2-0 vs. N.C. State, 2-0 vs. Wake Forest, and 1-1 against Louisville/Maryland (miss you, Terps). However, he's also 0-2 vs. BC's rotating Coastal Division opponent and 0-1 vs. Syracuse. One of the last pieces that needs to fall in place is taking care of business against Syracuse. BC's better teams have had a tendency to play down to Syracuse when the Eagles were the better team. Can Addazio reverse that trend and get BC into the win column vs. 'Cuse as ACC Atlantic Division foes?

Paranoid Android. BC fans crushed Bates on the Addazio hire after he went 13-11 (7-8 in conference play) in two seasons in Philadelphia...the exact same record Addazio has compiled to date at BC. Is Jeremy Foley already sending out feelers in the hopes of drawing Addazio back to the Swamp? I suppose it's possible, but I tend to doubt it.

Foley could have hired Addazio the last time and reasonably minded ADs don't tend to go back to coaching candidates that they passed over once before. The Florida job is also one of the best jobs in the country. You can stand watch on #DazWatch, but on a scale from 1 to DIVEMASTER ADDAZIO, I'm at about a 1 right now. Maybe 2.

House of Cards. You might not be drinking the Addazio Kool-Aid. That's fine, but there isn't a Syracuse (or State? Wake Forest? Virginia Tech??) fan that wouldn't trade coaches / places with BC at this very moment. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, who was hired in the same offseason as Addazio, has compiled a 10-15 record at Syracuse over the first two seasons. Last year, Syracuse was non-competitive against the better teams in the conference—49-14 vs. Clemson, 56-0 vs. Georgia Tech, 59-3 vs. Florida State—and needed every minute of the season (unfortunately, at BC's expense) to even clinch bowl eligibility.

This season the Orange have certainly had its fair share of adversity: a revolving door at QB, more than its fair share of injuries and a mid-season change at offensive coordinator (because that obviously fixes everything. Just ask Spaz). But the writing was on the wall early that things might not go according to plan in the opener, when Villanova's Chris Gough missed a 25-yarder with 12 seconds left in regulation that would've given FCS Villanova the upset victory over SU. VU coach Andy Talley then decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win in the second overtime, only for the Orange to snuff out the play.

I don't know what the future has in store for the Orange or Shafer, but right now the program does not appear to be on solid footing. Another season or two like this, and I'd imagine DOC Gross will be in the market for a new head coach (unless Saint Doug pulls a Bill Snyder at some point).

Electioneering. A BC win here will do wonders for the program's bowl prospects. The Eagles are looking to stand out from a very crowded ACC bowl-eligible field and any distance that they can put between themselves and teams that finish 6-6 on the year will go a long way come bowl selection. The good news is that BC boasts a pretty decent resume with the USC win, one of the nation's most electric quarterbacks on the ground (the Andre Williams effect) and the head-to-head over Virginia Tech and N.C. State.

But 7-5 (4-4 ACC) looks a whole lot better than 6-6 (3-5 ACC), especially considering a loss here would be the Eagles' third straight. That's not how you want to end the regular season heading into bowl season.

Exit Music (For A Film). The ACC has added BC-Syracuse to its season-ending rivalry weekend. The Eagles and Orange join ACC rivalries Pitt-Miami, Virginia-Virginia Tech, North Carolina-N.C. State and Wake Forest-Duke, along with the conference's four in-state ACC-SEC rivalries.

How will two Northeast private schools fare at the gate with students home for the Thanksgiving holiday and a student body that becomes more national, and less regional, as the years go by? Neither one of these programs has been lighting the world on fire at the gate. I have to think both schools will struggle to put butts in seats for this game on the final weekend of the regular season.

Matchup Fun Facts

School Name: Syracuse University
Nickname: Orange

Founded: 1870
All-Time Record: 711-512-49

Claimed National Championships: 1 (1959)
Conference Championships: 5 (1996, 1997, 1998, 2004, 2012 -- Big East)
Bowl Games: 25
Postseason Record: 15-9-1

Head Coach: Scott Shafer (10-14, 5-10 ACC)
Years at School: 2

Head-To-Head With BC

All-Time Series: Syracuse leads 29-18
Streak: Syracuse, 1
Last BC Win: 2010 (Boston College 16, Syracuse 7 at Syracuse)
Last Syracuse Win: 2013 (Syracuse 34, Boston College 31 at Syracuse)
First Meeting: 1924 (Syracuse 10, Boston College 0 at Syracuse)