October 10, 2007

Ryan ends up in the right place at BC

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Previous notebooks
Sept. 26: Worth the risk?
Sept. 19: Freshmen under fire
Sept. 12: Big Ten blues
Somehow, it all seems backward. Shouldn't a Catholic quarterback with an Irish surname be playing for Notre Dame rather than against them?

But Boston College's Matt Ryan will play against the Irish on Saturday, even though five years ago he wasn't necessarily opposed to playing for them. Coming out of high school in Philadelphia, Ryan was ranked the nation's No. 25 pro-style quarterback prospect. But the Irish were more interested in the guy ranked 10th.

"When I came out (in 2003), I was in the same high school class as Brady Quinn," Ryan said. "He was their guy. I had gotten letters (from Notre Dame) and things like that, but it was evident that was the direction they were going in and the direction he was going in.

"I went out there and met with the coaches and decided to go in a different direction."

Boston College and Notre Dame definitely have gone in different directions this season. Under Ryan's leadership, BC is 6-0 and has climbed into the top five in the national rankings. Ryan, a 6-foot-5, 218-pounder, has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,857 yards and 15 touchdowns and emerged as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate.

Meanwhile, with Quinn now in the NFL, Notre Dame has floundered to a 1-5 start and has the nation's worst offense.

Despite its tribulations, Notre Dame endures as college football's most storied football program and a victory over the Irish – especially a convincing one – surely would boost Ryan's Heisman campaign and BC's national-championship aspirations.

That is, if either really exists.

Ryan sidesteps the Heisman and national championship issues like a poor pass rush. He recites all the clichιs of taking the games one at a time and says all spoils will come with victories. He shuns talk of national championships with claims that winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title is BC's primary goal.

Although a win over Notre Dame won't help in reaching that goal, Ryan acknowledged that a victory still would be meaningful. BC and Notre Dame, the nation's two most prominent Catholic universities, have been heated rivals since the Eagles' 41-39 upset cost the Irish the 1993 national championship.

They have split the 10 games played since, with BC winning the past four. And even though Notre Dame has been inept this season, Ryan said a victory over the Irish remains a great prize.

"It's a place with such rich tradition and a storied past that it makes it hard not to get up and play them," he said. "It definitely means as much now as it did in the past.

"This game has recently developed into a pretty good rivalry. Both schools are Catholic institutions with similar goals and similar values, and it makes for a real great game."

Still, Ryan stresses that of the utmost importance is that Notre Dame is the first opponent of the second half of the schedule. In those six games, the Eagles face Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Clemson on the road and will be at home against Florida State and Miami.

"We're at the halfway point and we're exactly where we want to be," Ryan said. "It's Notre Dame this week and then back into conference. This is the stretch run of the season. We have to prepare week in and week to play our best when our best is required."

Ryan hasn't always been at his best, but he's consistently performed at a high level. Four times, he has thrown for more than 300 yards this season; twice, he has passed for more than 400. And he has thrown at least three touchdown passes three times.

In comparison, Notre Dame has managed fewer than 150 passing yards in five of its six games and has managed just three touchdown passes all season.

It makes one wonder if perhaps Notre Dame should have recruited Ryan more diligently.

"I don't think so," Ryan said. "Brady Quinn worked out pretty well for them."

And Matt Ryan is working out pretty well for Boston College.

Trivia question

Missouri plays at Oklahoma on Saturday in a game that could be a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game. When was the last time Missouri won a conference title? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Lost in Lubbock

Napoleon had Waterloo. Custer had Little Big Horn. Texas A&M has Lubbock.

The Aggies have lost six in a row at Texas Tech, including the past two in embarrassing fashion (the Red Raiders won 56-17 in 2005 and 59-28 in 2003).

But fresh off a come-from-behind victory over Oklahoma State last week, the Aggies are optimistic they can survive in Lubbock on Saturday.

"It's just the next game on our schedule," junior cornerback Danny Gorrer said. "If it becomes a shootout, I'll just pray we have one more point at the end. We're looking forward to playing them again."

Few teams would look forward to playing the Red Raiders, who average 590.2 yards to lead the nation in total offense.

Quarterback Graham Harrell leads the nation in passing, and wide receiver Michael Crabtree already has 70 catches for 1,074 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Yet in a chicken-or-the-egg discussion, four of Texas Tech's previous opponents rank among the nation's bottom six in pass defense. Another was Division I-AA Northwestern State (La.).

Do the Red Raiders have such gaudy statistics because they've played poor defensive teams? Or do those defenses appear poor because they've played Texas Tech?

"Regardless of who they play, Tech is going to try to put up big numbers," Gorrer said. "They will keep scoring if they can. I feel they haven't played anybody yet, but time will tell."

Gorrer acknowledged that Crabtree, a redshirt freshman, is an amazing player - no matter the competition.

"To handle a guy like Crabtree, you've got to play to his level," Gorrer said. "You just have to get your hands on a guy like that and don't let him run wild. When you're playing him, you've got to come with it. But he's got to bring his A-game when he faces Danny Gorrer.

"I'm looking forward to playing him. May the best man win."

Upsetting discussion

Stanford's victory over USC last Saturday has sparked discussion of whether that or Michigan's season-opening loss to Appalachian State was the most stunning upset of this season.

There really shouldn't be an argument.

True, Stanford was a huge underdog to a highly ranked opponent and was playing with a backup quarterback, but the Cardinal still is a Pac-10 member, has a long history with USC and had a victory over Division I-A San Jose State.

Appalachian State, on the other hand, is a Division I-AA team, which has since lost to Division I-AA Wofford by 11 points.

Division I-A teams, by the way, are 62-6 against Division I-AA opponents this season. The I-A teams other than Michigan to lose to I-AA opponents are Iowa State (to Northern Iowa), Marshall (New Hampshire), Rice (Nicholls State), Northern Illinois (Southern Illinois) and Louisiana-Lafayette (McNeese State).

All of those I-A teams have one victory or less. Michigan is on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over then-No. 10 Penn State. That makes Michigan's loss to Appalachian State even more stunning – certainly more stunning than USC losing to Stanford.

Quick hits

  • Third-year sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez is practicing with USC's first team offense in preparation for Saturday's game against Arizona. Trojans starter John David Booty broke the middle finger on his throwing hand in last week's loss to Stanford.

  • Texas Tech and Florida State are tied for the distinction of most-penalized team. Both average 10 penalties per game.

  • Though perhaps the nation's most disappointing team, Louisville remains in contention for the Big East championship. The Cardinals have gone 3-3 against opponents that are a combined 12-23. Their remaining opponents are a combined 26-6.

  • Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy said senior Allen Patrick would remain the starter at tailback. Patrick rushed for 10 yards on 11 carries; backup DeMarco Murray rushed for 128 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run, in the Sooners' 28-21 victory over Texas.

  • Jamaal Charles will remain Texas' starting tailback despite losing four fumbles this season, including one inside Oklahoma's 5 in last week's loss to the rival Sooners. But when asked whether Charles' carries would decrease, coach Mack Brown said, "I don't know." If he doesn't, who does?

  • Top Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden of Arkansas has been slowed by sore ribs, but a CT scan showed none were broken. Though McFadden has not been subject to contact in practice, he's still cleared to play against Auburn on Saturday.

  • Longtime rivals Kansas and Missouri have both started 5-0 for the first time since 1905.

  • Penn State tailback Austin Scott is suspended for violating team rules; he reportedly broke curfew.

  • Black Coaches Association Executive Director Floyd Keith is threatening legal action if more minorities aren't given opportunities to get head-coaching jobs at the college level.

  • South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been named the 2007 Davey O'Brien Award winner. The award recognizes life-long contributions to football. He will be presented the award at the Davey O'Brien Foundation Awards Dinner on Feb. 18 in Fort Worth.

    Trivia answer

    Missouri hasn't won a conference championship since sharing the Big 8 crown with Nebraska in 1969. Both finished 6-1 in conference play, but Missouri defeated the Huskers 17-7. Therefore, Missouri represented the Big 8 in the Orange Bowl, where the Tigers lost 10-3 to Penn State.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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