Boston College coach Tom O'Brien knows all about BYU's recent success in season-openers at home.
Without hesitation, O'Brien can rattle off the last three teams that have started the season with a loss at LaVell Edwards Stadium — Syracuse (2002), Georgia Tech (2003) and Notre Dame (2004). Even though the Cougars finished with losing records in each of those three years, they did manage to win the opener.
O'Brien has taken notice.
The No. 22 Eagles, who open the 2005 campaign Saturday (1:30 p.m., Ch. 4) at BYU, was a longtime conference rival of Syracuse in the Big East. Starting this season, Boston College has joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, of
which Georgia Tech is a member. And Notre Dame has been on Boston College's schedule the past 13 seasons. O'Brien recalls watching the Cougars' 20-17 victory over the Fighting Irish on television last season.
Other big-name programs have visited BYU over the years and left with losses — Texas (1988), Miami (1990), Penn State (1992) and Texas A&M (1996).
In all, the Cougars have won four straight season-openers at home, starting with the 70-35 win over Tulane in 2001. Some attribute the Cougars' fast starts, in part, to the difficulty for visiting teams that travel from the East to adjust to the altitude and climate in Provo.
"Maybe that has been the case or maybe it has not," said O'Brien, who has guided the Eagles to six consecutive winning seasons. "Maybe it's been because BYU's been a pretty good football team playing at home. That's probably the biggest factor right now. They have a tremendous home field advantage. From everyone I've talked to, people who have come through say it's a very loud stadium and the fans are right on top of you. They play with a great amount of enthusiasm. I talked to a couple of different people that have traveled, both in football and out of football, about the altitude situation and there's not a heck of a lot you can do unless you want to go out there four weeks ahead of time or more to get used to it. It's something we know is going to happen. I guess it's going to be warm out there. So those are some things we are going to have to overcome. But the most important thing we're going to have to overcome is the BYU football team."
In preparation for his team's trip to Provo, O'Brien has consulted with the staff of the New England Patriots, who have played at Denver twice in the last three years. Based on the advice of the Patriots, the Eagles won't come out any earlier than usual in order to become acclimated to the climate and altitude.
"(The Patriots) don't change any travel plans when they go play at Denver," O'Brien said. "I also talked to (U.S. Men's national soccer team head coach) Bruce Arena. On their way to playing in Mexico City, they trained for three weeks in Colorado Springs. He said it didn't make any difference."
O'Brien is taking a pragmatic approach to dealing with the playing conditions.
"There's nothing you can do about it. You can't worry about all of the things you can't control," he said. "We went and played at Georgia Tech in my second year here and it was 97 degrees and humid. We did all right there (Boston College won, 41-31, in 1998). The team's known this from the start, that it's going to be hot and they're going to lose their breath a lot faster . . . Hopefully we've trained hard enough in preseason and we're ready to play 60 minutes. I'd be shocked if (the Cougars) don't come out in the hurry-up offense and go no-huddle against us."
According to O'Brien, BYU poses challenges both offensively and defensively for his team.
"It's a real change of pace for us," he said. "Most of their coaches on offense are in their first year. Their coordinator (Robert Anae) is from Texas Tech and Texas Tech's goal has been to lead the nation in passing. They spread you out. There's a lot of four-wideout formations, empty formations, a little different from what our defense has seen. We have a lot of work to do in that respect.
"Defensively, they're a little bit the same alignment as West Virginia, the 3-5-3 (BYU usually runs a 3-3-5 scheme). But I think they start blitzing as soon as they get off the bus. There's a lot of blitzing, a lot of different looks on defense. We have to be on our toes and we have a great week of preparation offensively and defensively so we can play well."
Boston College coaches have watched plenty of film of the 2004 Cougars as well as film of Texas Tech's offense.
"Texas Tech has had tremendous success moving the football and scoring a lot of points," O'Brien said. "I would assume, maybe wrongly so, that (BYU) will do some of the Texas Tech stuff."
After looking at film of last year's Cougars, O'Brien was impressed with quarterback John Beck and wide receiver Todd Watkins.
"The quarterback's obviously a great player. He's got a strong arm and he's very athletic," he said. "The wide receiver, I understand, is the fastest kid on the team. He can fly."
Boston College at BYU
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4
Radio: KSL 1160 AM