In an upset bigger than Appalachian State and Stanford combined, the most likely place to find the actual players on a serious national title contender is – get this – in class. (And eventually, caps and gowns.)
Boston College has a whole bunch of numbers going for it right now. There is the record (6-0), the national ranking (No. 4) and the possible position in the Heisman race for quarterback Matt Ryan (No. 1).
Then there is the number that makes the Eagles one of the most unlikely national title contenders in years: 93.
That's the graduation rate for BC football players according to the latest NCAA figures. The Eagles finished third in the country behind Navy (95) and Northwestern (94). . .
It's not like the 93 percent was some aberration. Last year it was 96 and for nearly two decades, through various formulas, it's almost always been above 90. Four times – 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2004 – the Eagles finished No. 1 in the nation. Best of all, there is no trend of hiding athletes in basket-weaving majors, no fifth-year seniors who are still "undecided."
"The statistics show that we take the term 'student-athlete' very seriously at Boston College," athletic director Gene DeFillipo said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the national title contenders seem to prefer the term athlete-student. BC has a 40-percentage point advantage on the three teams ahead of it in the AP poll – LSU (51 percent), Cal (52) and Ohio State (53). Those three aren't even the worst offenders, either.
No matter what many of these big football factories say, no matter how many excuses they make or how well they promote select success stories, the reality is few of them put any real care or concern into the long-term educational welfare of their players. . . .
Certainly neither the school nor the athletic department is perfect as the occasional scandal (more than once gambling related) and off-campus flare up prove. . . .
. . . .But when trouble hits there isn't a cover up, a stonewalling or an "everyone-else-does-it" defense.
They refocus and not just with lip service.
Back in the mid-1990s, successful basketball coach Jim O'Brien got into a battle with the admissions department over whether it should relax standards for a couple of recruits. The school sided with the admissions people and told O'Brien it was their way or the highway, no matter how popular he was.
O'Brien left immediately for Ohio State where he got the Buckeyes to the Final Four, then on major probation, then into a multimillion dollar wrongful firing lawsuit. BC just shrugged and hired a new coach, Al Skinner, who could win within their standards. . . .
If they get there, who knows the fallout? Will Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany write an open letter complaining that the Eagles are too smart? Will the BCS formula be tweaked to punish teams capable of doing calculus? Will the Boone Pickens of the world suddenly scrap plans for some Taj Mahal football dorm to construct "one of them thar library thingies?"
The current average graduation rate of the last five BCS champions is 54 percent.
In a corner-cutting climate like that, can Boston College actually wind up the best team in the country?
For some of us, they already have.