Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond could see the pieces starting to come together a couple of weeks ago.
The Eagles football team had just dominated Miami at home, putting together arguably its most impressive win of the season. The rejuvenated energy around the program was obvious when fans flooded the field.
That’s when Jarmond took a look at his calendar and his contact list to see if the stars could possibly align.
He saw that after a game against Virginia Tech Nov. 3, the Eagles could be looking at a mega-matchup with No. 2 Clemson. Jarmond could see all the ingredients for intrigue. Clemson is one of the biggest brand names in football. It was plowing through opponents as if they were traffic cones. Another trip to the national title game seems inevitable unless the Tigers happen to run over some road spikes.
The Eagles were off to their best start in more than a decade. They had risen from the depths of a winless season in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015 to being nationally ranked for the first time since the Matt Ryan era. If there was a team left on the Clemson schedule that could trip it up, it was the Eagles.
It was the type of drama that prime-time college football is built on. Jarmond figured he’d put a bug in ESPN’s ear about BC being a destination for its popular pregame show, “College GameDay.”
“You kind of look and you can kind of tell, this game, this matchup next week might be one that they’re thinking about,” Jarmond said. “I knew that with Clemson coming and being a top-ranked team that you would have the opportunity for this game to really be meaningful. Both of us can control our own destiny. So after that, I started making some phone calls.”
Jarmond’s first experience with “GameDay” had come in 2015 while he was working at Ohio State and the Buckeyes faced Michigan State. He’d developed connections at ESPN, including “GameDay” cohost Kirk Herbstreit and analyst Joey Galloway.
“Going through it before at my previous institutions, you have relationships, so I know some of those guys,” he said. “So it’s good to be connected with them, but also, there’s a comfort, a familiarity where I don’t feel bad reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a good thing going here and we’d love for you to be a part of it.’ ”
The hitch was that BC hadn’t been able to get out of Blacksburg, Va., with a win since 2014. And when the Eagles fell behind Virginia Tech at the half, 14-7, it looked as if all the star-gazing would be irrelevant.
“I didn’t worry about anything else,” Jarmond said. “I was just locked in on the game.”
Connections help, but it didn’t matter if BC couldn’t beat Virginia Tech.
Once the tide started to shift and the Eagles started to take control of the game, Jarmond reached out again.
“I started going to work a little bit and saying, ‘Hey, knock on wood, but if we keep going, we’d love you, we’re ready,’ ” he said. “That’s kind of how it went down.”
After BC had indeed beaten Virginia Tech, 31-21, Jarmond got the callback late Saturday night confirming the coveted spot for “GameDay.” The team hadn’t left Blacksburg yet, and he wanted to wait for the right time to break the news.
“I worked with the stewardess to be able to let [coach] Steve [Addazio] tell the guys on the plane that ‘GameDay’ was coming,” he said. “So it was a cool moment.”
This will be just the third time “College GameDay” has made a stop at the Heights. The first was in 2005, when the Eagles made their ACC debut against Florida State. The second was in 2009, when former BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who had been treated for bone cancer in his leg, announced on “GameDay” that he was cancer-free.
The Eagles are ranked No. 17 in the nation, the highest they’ve been since 2007. For just the third time in BC history, two top-20 teams will face off at Alumni Stadium.
“Without a doubt, this is the biggest event since I’ve been here,” Jarmond said.
The magnitude isn’t lost on Addazio. But the focus remains the same.
“I think this is something that is good for the program, good for the university,’’ Addazio said. “Our guys, they all know it and they are fired up about it. It’s a signal that you are playing in a really significant game in November.
“I don’t think this is one of those games where you have to play the motivation game. I think this game will speak for itself.”
But as a crew worked Thursday to construct the stages and big boards for the weekend, Jarmond could see the larger picture — from the on-campus buzz to the impact on recruiting.
“It’s special,” he said. “Every kid wants to be able to compete at the highest level. You’re playing in the ACC. I talked to our recruiting coordinator, Joe Sullivan, about this. When they can see you nationally in the spotlight — everybody watches ESPN — they envision themselves [and say], ‘I can be that.’ ”
As a bonus, fans will have the opportunity to start tailgating an hour earlier at 4 p.m. for the 8 p.m. kickoff. The exception signifies the significance of the day.
“We want people in the stands,” Jarmond said.
For a college program that has rebuilt itself and its image, Jarmond saw the buildup to being on the major stage as another important stride.
“We’re trying to change momentum and energy in the whole athletic program,” Jarmond said. “But it’s important. You have to recognize the importance of it. That’s what I’ve tried to do is help all of our staff — and team, obviously — understand that.
“This is a moment for us and you don’t know when you’re going to have that opportunity again. So let’s squeeze every ounce of juice out of that orange and make some orange juice.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.