College football games, Week 11: Notre Dame on upset alert as Boston College threatens to play spoiler


Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec really hasn’t thought about what other position he could play. But it definitely was going to be something other than a signal caller while riding the bench behind Notre Dame’s Ian Book.

“I had to go play somewhere,” Jurkovec said this week. “I was really down. I was basically on the brink of not playing quarterback. At that point, I was talking to my family. They’re saying, ‘You need to go somewhere you can play.'”

BC was that somewhere, which is significant this week of the Notre Dame game. It’s obvious through Jurkovec’s comments that he is more than motivated after transferring from Notre Dame in the offseason. History has intervened to ratchet up the stakes.

No. 2 Notre Dame is coming off that double-overtime win over then-No. 1 Clemson. The Boston College game comes 27 years after the Fighting Irish’s last win over a top-ranked team, Florida State in 1993. The following week, Notre Dame was upset by Boston College, 41-39. Its national championship hopes were dashed.

The Eagles (5-3) are in a similar position to do some dashing. Saturday is an absolute definition of a trap game for the Irish with their former quarterback on the other side looking for revenge.

Jurkovec has spoken at length at his frustration about not being able to get on the field much in his two years in South Bend, Indiana. Last year, he threw all of 16 passes. Inactivity caused his footwork to be “all jacked up.”

“It was tough. I’ll say that,” Jurkovec said. “Notre Dame, it was my dream school growing up. How much they win, the culture of it. There’s a lot of good people there. Football was really changing for me; I was debating about switching positions. I don’t think I could have done another year sitting [on] the bench.”

His frustration resembles that of hundreds of quarterbacks. If you ain’t startin’ these days, you’re departin’. Jurkovec had been a state championship-winning quarterback in Pittsburgh. That’s not a place where you get lost in the weeds.

At Boston College, he has steadily improved. His 2,083 yards passing are the most by an Eagles quarterback through the first eight games of a season. They’re also the most among any ACC QB in 2020. Two weeks ago, Jurkovec threw two touchdowns in a narrow loss at Clemson. In fact, Boston College might use some of that game plan to scheme against Notre Dame.

“There’s just a confidence building,” BC coach Jeff Hafley said. “There’s leadership building. Even more importantly, he’s such a phenomenal kid who’s going to develop into a big-time leader. Just think about the career ahead of him, his rookie year, eight games, leading the ACC and passing getting better every week. It’s amazing. We didn’t have spring football and barely had a training camp. I’m just really happy for the kid.”

It helped that Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti had Pittsburgh ties. Hafley had been a Pitt assistant from 2006-10. Cignetti had coached with Hafley those last two years with the Panthers. Until Cignetti reached out, Jurkovec told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I never watched Boston College in my life. I never rooted for them and I did not give one crap about Boston College.”

That all has changed. Whether the change carries over to a win over Notre Dame remains to be seen. Boston College is 1-19 this century against top-five teams. That only win was over Notre Dame in 2002.

“It just makes it a little bit more fun when you know the guys you’re playing against,” Jurkovec said. 

Eleven weeks into the season, Notre Dame is clearly worthy of College Football Playoff consideration. In fact, this squad looks markedly better than Brian Kelly’s previous two playoff teams in 2012 (BCS) and 2018 (CFP).

“We’re faster, just across the board, defensively,” Kelly said. “We had individual players in ’12 that were certainly as good as any player on this team. Overall, on all three levels, it’s a more physical, faster football team across the board. There were some really good pieces about that [2018] team. This team has a lot more experience, depth, athleticism and speed. In many areas very different than ’12.”

Saturday’s test against a tough Eagles team will tell us whether the Irish will continue on that path.

Lucy the bulldog will have some company Saturday. “She don’t say much, though,” said her master, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, who has become one of the most sympathetic figures of the season. He has contracted COVID-19 and will miss Saturday’s game at No. 6 Florida. The Razorbacks are the surprise team in the SEC at 3-3 more than halfway through the season coming off a win over Tennessee.

While the Gators charge toward a likely SEC East title, Pittman has positioned himself possibly the most unpretentious coach in the sport. The aw-shucks lifetime assistant caught the brass ring in the offseason when Arkansas missed on higher profile candidates like Lane Kiffin. Pittman became a first-time head coach at the age of 58. “I’m not going to make a big deal out of me not being there,” he said.

Pittman was wise to hire former Missouri coach Barry Odom as his defensive coordinator. Odom will come down from the press box armed with experience to become a one-game interim coach. It will be his duty not only figure out how to stop Florida quarterback Kyle Trask but also get the most out of Feleipe Franks, the former Gators signal caller who joined the Hogs as a graduate transfer in the offseason. Franks already has 14 touchdown passes, fifth in the SEC and second most in his career.

“He knows the game is not just about him,” Pittman said. “I think that’s too much added pressure. We’d all be fooling ourselves if we didn’t believe he had pressure on himself.”

There will be a Friday night virtual meeting with the players, then a bit of melancholy for Pittman. He has never missed a game in his 27-year career as an FBS coach. “I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little depressed. This is why you get into coaching, to be with your kids,” he said.  

Everything else in Week 11

Wisconsin is back in action: Twenty-two days after opening its season in impressive fashion, No. 13 Wisconsin returns to play at Michigan. At stake is the Badgers’ season and Jim Harbaugh’s job. With two already gone due to COVID-19, Wisconsin can’t afford to have another game canceled. Big Ten rules teams must play at least six games to be eligible for the conference championship game. Harbaugh can’t afford to start 1-3 for the first time since 1967. That’s two years before Bo Schembechler arrived.

Indiana love: Think Tennessee couldn’t use Michael Penix Jr. right about now? The Indiana (vs. Michigan State) quarterback has led the No. 10 Hoosiers to their first 3-0 start since 1988 and first top-10 ranking since 1969. Penix, a Tampa native, was recruited to Tennessee by Butch Jones. When Jones was fired, the new staff wasn’t interested. Penix missed last year’s Gator Bowl vs. Tennessee after being knocked out with a season-ending injury. The Volunteers have lost four in a row heading to their second bye week and — surprise! — continue to struggle at quarterback.  

Say a prayer for Baylor: The Bears (1-4) have been ravaged by COVID-19 and injuries in coach Dave Aranda’s first season. If Texas Tech (2-5) doesn’t get this one at home, Matt Wells is looking at 2-7 in his second season with the wins being over Houston Baptist and Kansas.

The ultimate road trip: New Mexico (vs. Nevada) has relocated to Las Vegas because of COVID-19 restrictions that ban gatherings of more than five persons in the state. The Lobos are playing a “neutral site” game against the undefeated Wolf Pack at UNLV’s old home, Sam Boyd Stadium. If the restrictions remain, New Mexico will become the first major-college team in more than a century to play a schedule of at least six games all on the road, according to The Athletic.

Miles To Go: Yeah, remember that full-of-buzz streaming documentary released last year as Les Miles took over at Kansas. Seven games into his second season the Jayhawks (bye this week) are winless having allowed the most points in FBS (339). AD Jeff Long has urged patience saying a turnaround will take four for five years.

High on the Herd: No. 16 Marshall (6-0) is one of the more pleasant stories of this obtuse season. The Thundering Herd will observe the 50th anniversary of the tragic plane crash on Saturday, welcoming in Middle Tennessee State. Athletic director Mike Hamrick described his angst trying to get through a magic season without interruption.

“We test Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. [The worry is] the worst. I take my mental health walk twice on the days I get the results back,” he said. “When we test, I just take [the walk] once. You just sit around wait to see if you can play. We’re rolling but 4-5 or positive tests can set you back two weeks. It’s really spiking here right now.”

Quick Kicks: If No. 23 Northwestern can win at Purdue, the Wildcats will be 4-0 for the first time since coach Pat Fitzgerald’s senior season in 1996 … FIU (vs. FAU) is playing for the first time in 22 days since becoming the first FBS program in more than a year to lose to an FCS (Jacksonville State). FBS teams had won 68 such games in a row … Tight end Kyle Pitts (concussion) remains questionable as No. 6 Florida hosts Arkansas after that vicious hit from Georgia’s Lewis Cine. Still wondering if there is a way to suspend Cine for multiple games in addition to the targeting call.



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