Everyone will look back at two major what ifs for Boston College following its 28-23 loss at NC State on Saturday.
What if the Eagles had injured star running back AJ Dillon? What if the officiating crew blew the whistle on a Ben Glines run in the fourth quarter where he clearly appeared to have his forward progress stopped?
The result of the latter was a lost fumble near the goal line, and a BC touchdown on that march may have helped change the result.
But rather than dwell on what could have been, the Eagles have to focus on what they are and what they have to be to survive the second half of their schedule.
Sitting at 4-2 and 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, here is what awaits BC down the stretch: home games with Louisville, Miami, Clemson, and Syracuse; and road games at Virginia Tech and Florida State.
Without Dillon, you cannot count a single one of those games as a slam-dunk win. With Dillon, the Eagles are still likely underdogs against half that group, depending on how things shake out.
One would expect Dillon to return soon, but we frankly have no way of knowing an exact timetable right now.
What we do know is that with or without him, the Eagles cannot achieve any of their remaining goals without improving on defense.
Yes, the Eagles have been strong at forcing turnovers and negative plays, but the fact of the matter is they have given up 28 or more points in each of their last four games. They currently sit at 82nd in the nation in run defense, 62nd in passing yards per game allowed, 71st in total defense, and 78th in scoring defense.
With the teams left on the schedule, BC would be asking too much of Dillon to be the answer in games against defenses that are only going to get better, and against offenses that are either playing at a high level or rapidly improving.
All is not lost. The season is only half over, and this week's opponent, Louisville, is not exactly a world-beater. A win against the Cardinals would help the team's confidence as it heads into the bye week.
After that, if he's not back already, our guess is that Dillon should be ready to go, and the Eagles can prepare for a Friday night home game against a ranked Miami team.
That's a long ways off, and also a long time for the Eagles to find some solutions on defense. If they can do that, the hypothetical questions start to have a few more positive answers.
Light in the darkness
During the first half of Saturday's 58-42 South Florida romp over UMass at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, we tweeted this out:
At the time, this was, in fact, true. When UMass defensive end Jake Byczko sacked South Florida quarterback Blake Barnett to force a field goal near the end of the second quarter, the goal-line stand had the whole team galvanized.
Of course, in the second half, things fall apart drastically. Acting head coach and defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham pointed to both missed assignments and an inability to stop negative momentum.
But what struck us were comments from linebacker Bryton Barr, who also noticed the improved attitude that the Minutemen showed early in the game. Here's what he said, with our italics added for emphasis.
"This bye week will help us kind of regroup, recover. We know these are a long seven weeks, so it'll be big. But the score didn't show tonight that it was positive, but there was a lot of positivity that came out of it defensively. I know I can't speak for the offense, but there was just a lot more energy than we've had in the past. So we're chomping at the bit for this bye week to get finished and really get the rest of this season going."
When the Minutemen were playing with that level of energy, they were able to slow South Florida down. If that type of approach becomes more consistent, there is hope yet for a defense that ranks near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in nearly every statistical category.
For a team right now that is desperate for good news, that assessment from one of its leaders can give fans a little hope that better things are ahead.
Someone is going to get back on track this Friday night when Harvard and Holy Cross square off.
Holy Cross is now 1-5 after this weekend's loss to New Hampshire, and the 28-0 setback to the Wildcats does not come as a big surprise. Even though that was UNH's first win, the hosts were expected to be one of the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision this season, and maybe this is a start of a turnaround.
Harvard saw another huge performance from speedy running back Aaron Shampklin, who rushed for a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, but it was not enough in a 28-24 loss at Cornell.
The Crimson were unable to find consistency in the passing game, but should be favored against Holy Cross.
Either way, it will be a much-needed win for one of these teams. Harvard has not been victorious since Sept. 21 at Brown, and Holy Cross last won Sept. 15. Obviously, neither team wants to endure a longer drought.
MIT continues to roll, as its 35-0 win over Maine Maritime over the weekend ups its record to 6-0.
Now, the Engineers get a bye week at the right time with the meat of the NEWMAC schedule coming. Following the week off, MIT has a home game with Coast Guard Oct. 20, then travels to WPI Oct. 27.
Those will be major tests for the Engineers. Coast Guard has only lost to two of the best teams in the region in Union and Springfield, and can say the same thing with defeats at the hands of RPI and Springfield.
Glitch in the matrix
We spoke with one of our most trusted followers of the high school game Sunday, who brought up an interesting point about the looming Division 1 North playoffs.
There is a chance, and one that is not entirely unlikely, that Everett ends up as the No. 3 seed. If all three teams win out, both Acton-Boxboro an St. John's Prep, if things fall the right way in other games, could leap the Crimson Tide into the top two spots.
That, in our opinion, would be a shame. Everett has handed Xaverian, St. John's Prep, and Mansfield the only loss for each team, and also owns a win over a BC High team that only has a losing record because it has played one of the toughest schedules in the state.
The Crimson Tide did everything in their power to put themselves in a position where something like this would not happen. The Tide did it without the aid of being in a league, and have been the unanimous best team in the state from August until now.
Remember, even though the Tide were far and away the best team in the state last year, they had to play two road games in the playoffs because of how the points favored other teams.
It may not make a difference, and Everett can win in any stadium, but that's not the point. The system should reward the best teams, and the Tide will have earned that label if they win their next two games.
The ratings used for the MIAA playoffs were invented in the early 1970s. We have been told of some conversations that point toward a new direction in that regard, and it is obvious that would be a good idea.
We think those in Everett would agree.