No. 12 Syracuse, Boston College ready to renew rivalry

Syracuse Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito (13) passes the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the third quarter at Yankee Stadium.Photo Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Xchange

BOSTON — Two old friends coming off very tough weekends get together for their rivalry game in Chestnut Hill Saturday.

Then No. 12 Syracuse, flying high heading into a special date in Yankee Stadium, was clobbered by No. 3 Notre Dame, settling for a last-second field that avoided a shutout — falling to No. 20 in the latest CFP.

Meanwhile, a bit later in much-warmer Florida, then No. 20 BC was stunned by a 74-yard touchdown bomb in the final minutes, falling 22-21 to Florida State.

Now, a rivalry that started in 1924 and endured through conference changing and fights over many of the same players, is renewed as both prepare for bowl trips that will follow.

The Orange (8-3) lost 36-3 to ND.

In short, it was a mess.

“It’s like growth, the whole buttery-cocoon thing,” SU coach Dino Babers said Monday. “It just takes stages. Two years ago, we lost close games. This year, we win close games. This is our first really big game on a national stage outside our venue. We didn’t play well. Next time we’ll have that experience in our back pocket. Hopefully, we win. But it’s all about the stages.”

The Eagles (7-4) had a chance at a 10-win season slip through their hands, but left Tallahassee knowing there was still work to be done, starting with Senior Day.

“I mean, it’s Syracuse,” star defensive end Zach Allen said after the game. “It’s a rivalry game, so we’re just focused on that now. If that’s not enough motivation to finish with eight wins (before the bowl) — which hasn’t been done here in a while — then a lot of people have to leave the building if they’re not up to that challenge. So I think we’re a focused group and we’ll come back from it.”

The Eagles, who fell out of the top 25 with the loss, are 7-, 7 1/2-point favorites in a series Syracuse leads 31-20 — BC is 13-11 at home against the Orangemen/Orange. The spread could have something to do with SU quarterback Eric Dungey doubtful with an upper body injury suffered Saturday.

Last year, BC went into the Carrier Dome and dumped the Orange 42-14. That was last year.

“This is a very good football team,” BC coach Steve Addazio said Monday. They have some very good players. You know, offensively, they are Top-10 in scoring. Defensively, they are Top-10 in sacks and interceptions. I think they are playing with a lot of confidence, and so it should be two good teams clashing against each other here … kind of the way it should be.”

AJ Dillon, BC’s best player, is hobbling along on a high ankle sprain that has him looking like former SU star Jim Brown after a play — looking like he can’t make the next one. But Dillon carried the ball a season-high 37 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

As has been the case in so much of the second half of the season, Dillon will be monitored during the week, Addazio saying, “Every week he’s gotten better. Last week he practiced on Tuesday. He full-practiced on Wednesday and he full-practiced on Thursday. This Sunday, he felt the best he’s felt on any Sunday since he’s been hurt.

“So clearly, it’s been incremental but clearly there’s improvement each week. I thought in the game last week he carried the ball 30 some-odd times for roughly 130 yards and you could see more of those runs just starting to percolate now, some of those extra-effort, AJ runs; that he’s feeling a little better.”

Dillon became the first BC running back with 1,000-yard seasons as both a freshman and a sophomore. He is one of the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award that goes to the nation’s top runner.

Last year, Dillon was also nursing an injury, but ran roughshod over the Orange — to the tune of 193 yards and three TDs on 23 carries against Syracuse.

Babers said his program is “ahead of schedule” and added this game is a large one for both schools.

“We’re not even thinking about a bowl game,” Babers said. That’s how you get knocked out in a fight. This is all about Boston College and Syracuse University, and everything that gets tied into that. This is the big game. This is not a freebie. This is the game.

“This is the Sharks and the Jets. You need to decide which side you’re going to be on, and we’re going to go. Be a Jet.”

Talking about his opponent, Bebers said, “They kind of do it the old-fashioned way, and I kind of admire that. It is 1950, 1960, 1970 football, and you really don’t have a chance to beat them unless you go back into their era and beat them the way they want to play.”