Miami gets new chance at Boston College in opener
By JIMMY GOLEN
BOSTON (AP) It's a rematch, nine months in the making.
After playing each other in their last game last year, Boston College and Miami will open this year the same way: head-to-head, this time in Chestnut Hill, an odd scheduling quirk that is forcing both coaches to remember their disappointing 2011 seasons.
"Last year is last year," said BC coach Frank Spaziani, whose team won the finale in Miami, 24-17. "It's totally different circumstances, totally different mindset by both teams. So once again, we're happy to have that victory, but there's little that can be gleaned from it."
His counterpart, Al Golden, can only hope so.
Miami went 6-6 last season (3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), finishing with the loss to BC and then sitting out the bowls because of university-imposed sanctions from an improper benefits scandal. It was BC's second consecutive win over the Hurricanes, and its first against them in Miami since Doug Flutie's desperation pass in 1984.
"Last year obviously was a big transition for them, all the circumstances swirling around everything that was going on down there," Spaziani said. "They've had time to settle in a little bit. They understand their roles now, what they're doing, where they're going. I think they'll be a lot different football team and program."
A strong recruiting class gives Miami a chance to rebound quickly in Golden's second year, and Golden said quarterback Stephen Morris has improved since last year, too.
Morris, a junior, started the opener last year but then threw just nine passes in the next 11 games. Golden said he is "light-years better" in confidence and execution.
"He has led in every aspect you have to lead in: Summer conditioning, film study, post-practice perspective," Golden said. "He's done it by example. It's given him a little more of a foundation or platform to stand on and lead. He's our unquestioned leader right now."
BC may still be looking for leadership after the graduation of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the nation's leading tackler before being selected in the first round of the NFL draft (No. 9 overall) by the Carolina Panthers.
At least Spaziani could prepare for that.
The loss of Chris Pantale was completely unexpected.
The Eagles tight end broke his right foot during training camp this summer, leaving a big hole in a receiving corps that also lost wideout Bobby Swigert. Pantale was third on last year's team with 21 catches, and he had four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns against Miami. He will miss Saturday's opener and as much as half of the season.
"Chris' performance was exemplary, his leadership and experience are going to be missed on all levels," Spaziani said. "We'll miss him, but we are just going to have to adapt."
The Eagles went 4-8 (3-5 ACC) last season, finishing fifth in the six-team Atlantic Division and missing a bowl game for the first time since 1998.
Running back Montel Harris, the leading rusher in school history, was kicked off the team in the spring. And the Eagles are also without Kuechly, who won the Butkus, Lombardi, Lott and Nagurski awards.
But Spaziani is hoping that quarterback Chase Rettig can show improvement now that he's had some more experience.
"You recruit and you get the spacing and you hope guys progress and get better," Spaziani said this week as he looked over the refurbished Alumni Stadium. "But when you have something unexpected, there's not much you can do."
Golden said this week that he is eager for the offseason to end so the Hurricanes can have another shot at BC.
But he's not sure what he's going to see.
"I don't think there's any question we're going to learn a lot," Golden said. "Whether these guys can really hold it together, play with poise and trust their technique and all of that can erode with nerves. Go out and have fun. Go out and play. We're not putting undue pressure on them. What they were told when they were being recruited, when they got here, and game week is all congruent. I think they all understand why they were recruited by the University of Miami, and now's the time for them to go show it."
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story from Miami.
Updated August 31, 2012