More than eight months have passed since the end of the 2020 football season at Boston College. It was five days after the loss to Virginia, which ended the season, and British Columbia was simply ready to end their year. The grueling 11-game slate permeated fatigue into everyone’s daily lives, and the constant flow of COVID-19 testing took a heavy toll on the head coach Jeff Hafley, sports director Patrick Kraft, players, coaches and family members of the parties involved.
The season has simply run its course for BC after the six months since the reintroduction of late June on campus, and the college football playoffs have continued without it. Alabama crushed Ohio State, 52-24, to win the national college football playoff championship, and 26 bowl games gave playoff victories to a number of teams that chose to compete.
The results seem to go back ages, but the final chapter of this history book remained in full view during spring practice and the early stages of fall training camp. There was no result to erase those memories, and no game existed to form new ideas about the teams for a season to come.
That all changes this weekend when the NCAA hosts its annual Week Zero event with five Bowl Subdivision games. They will informally kick off the 2021 season in earnest while sending Boston College’s final preparations into high gear last weekend before the schedule really begins on September 4 against Colgate.
It feels like an eternity, but the final chapter in the history book officially fades into the past this weekend when the 2021 season kicks off five games at its annual Week Zero event. For those same BC Eagles, that means one last weekend before their season begins next weekend against Colgate.
“I want to see how much we can handle,” Hafley said last week. “The missions I’m talking about (of which) know what you do and perform at a high level. Once we’ve figured out how much guys can handle, we start planning the match, and then we have to cut (in) how much things that we really bring into the game. It’s our job as coaches to understand. “
Shifting into high gear in 2021 hasn’t been difficult for British Columbia, but the world of college football will be increasingly different for Hafley’s second season. The Atlantic Coast Conference, made up of 15 teams and one division, is again split into two teams and Notre Dame has regained its independent status after playing last season in its first conference-based schedule. They are off the BC schedule after renewing Holy War each of the last two and three of the last four, but five repeat teams are back on the team’s slate, three of which are divisional opponents.
One is Clemson, the six-time defending conference champion, and the Tigers are considered the big favorites to repeat despite losing quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne in the NFL Draft. But the other four teams include three wins from last season, and the Coast Division’s two crossovers are Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, repeat opponents from a year ago.
Four non-conference opponents are back on the schedule after last year’s lone game against Texas State, and the kickoff against Colgate sets a table that crosses UMass and Temple in Missouri in the first four weeks. Only one of those games – the 9/11 encounter against the Minutemen – is on the road, although a steady contingent of BC fans are likely making the short trip west to witness the Eagles’ maiden trip to the McGuirk Stadium since 1982.
“I know a lot of guys I played in high school who went to UMass,” center Alec lindstrom, a native of central Massachusetts, said. “It’ll be good to see these guys, and I haven’t been to UMass since high school. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and technically it’s an away game, but it’s just a two hour ride. I’m just super excited to see everyone I know out there, and a lot of folks from Central Mass. are planning to be there for this game to support us. “
All of this, of course, operates under the same storm clouds that swirl across the national college football landscape. The general confusion induced by COVID-19 has led several conferences to play more games than others, and British Columbia stood out for how they finished their 11 games with a single positive result for the coronavirus test. . The streak actually became part of the season’s lore because no one tested positive in the team’s nine straight games to start the year.
COVID-19 has not gone away, and the ongoing pandemic has forced British Columbia to announce vaccination requirements for its student body and student base. The Eagles require a full vaccination or negative PCR test within 72 hours of kickoff for its adult fan base to attend, and masks will be required for young fans ineligible for the vaccine. It’s a necessary piece of the puzzle this year, but a sign that British Columbia is finding a way to invite people back to alumni for one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory.
“I really am the most excited for the fans,” Hafley said. “It’s really not for me. I think it will be fun for the students, faculty and people on campus to come to the game, and it is very exciting for the families of our players to have the chance to watch our kids play. I can bring my family there, which hasn’t happened yet. And when that smoke clears, it’s time to see real people.
“I just hope they don’t yell at me,” he joked, “but I’m really excited for this.”
“Our team continues to take (COVID-19) very seriously,” Lindstrom agreed. “There are new mask mandates (in Boston). We know it’s tough, but we’re all 100% vaccinated on the team, so we all take it seriously. When we play a team, we let’s do what we have to do because nobody is more important than the team. The guys aren’t going to sacrifice themselves to risk a forfeit. “
The rich storytellers have pundits drooling over BC possibilities, and almost everyone is predicting the Eagles will finally break that .500 moniker that puts them at the helm. The CCA preseason poll placed them third in the Atlantic Division, and the Associated Press and Coaches Polls offered them votes for the Top-25.
Those same posts praise the Eagles among the preseason elite, but BC understands how quickly those views can go up in smoke if he doesn’t take on the challenge ahead. The 2018 team passed their first three tests averaging over 52 points per game, but a No.23 ranking was erased by a 30-13 loss to Purdue. It took a 4-1 record over the next five games to get BC back to the polls safely, but back-to-back losses to Clemson and Florida State ended any dreams of a resurgence.
“I just want to be better than I was last year (personally),” wide receiver Zay Flowers noted. “I just want this to continue all season. If everyone gets better, and if we do what we need to do this season, it will be a special (year).”