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April 1, 2007

Ryan looks to lift Boston College to next level

Surgery helped Matt Ryan's foot heal, but the Boston College quarterbacks' feelings remain hurt.

Though hobbled with a high ankle sprain and broken left foot, Ryan still established himself as the Atlantic Coast Conference's best quarterback. But despite a 10-win season, the Eagles did not establish themselves as the ACC's best team, and that's really painful.

"There were some definite big wins we had last year," Ryan said. "Ultimately, we didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish, so in some respects that is disappointing. We're going to do whatever it takes to become champions."

The requirements would include avenging last season's losses to Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Miami, making a smooth transition from former coach Tom O'Brien's power-oriented pro-set offense to new coach Jeff Jagodzinski's multiple system and improving a solid defense - which ranked 34th in the nation last season.

Oh, and keeping Ryan healthy would help, too.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Ryan, the nephew of a former Boston College quarterback, suffered a high ankle sprain in a season-opening victory over Central Michigan last year. He played through that, but then suffered a broken bone in his left foot in a 22-3 win over Virginia Tech.

Two weeks later, Ryan sat out a 41-0 victory against woefully overmatched Buffalo, but returned to throw for 1,281 yards in the last five games. That was impressive, because just getting him on the field was a victory of sorts.

"Everybody plays nicked up. That's the nature of football," said Ryan, downplaying the effect of his injuries. "You do whatever you have to do in the training room to get yourself ready to play.

"I give a lot of credit to our Sports Medicine department for all the time they put in last year. They got up early in the morning and spent long hours after practice doing everything possible to get me out on the field. I was struggling to walk until Tuesday or Wednesday. You do as much as you can until game day. That's the one day of the week you felt decent."

Despite those issues, Ryan was more than just a decent quarterback. He completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,942 yards and 15 touchdowns to earn first team All-ACC acclaim last season.

The only question regarding Ryan: How productive he could be if he's healthy?

We should find out this season. On Jan. 5, Ryan had a pin surgically inserted into the fracture to expedite the healing process. He said he has recovered sufficiently. Now, his main concern is getting acclimated with Jagodzinski's system. Increased familiarity will allow Ryan much more freedom to call audibles than he had under O'Brien.

"Personally, I'm excited about the opportunity to work with the new coaching staff," he said. "Obviously, we've been working with the staff to install the new offense and get everybody's feet wet and hit the ground running.

"There are some differences that goes without saying when you change coaching staffs but some things are similar to what we've done in the past. There will definitely be an adjustment period, and that's why everybody is so happy to have spring practice and go out and install this system."

They're also eager to start working toward the elusive ACC championship. The Eagles, who have won seven consecutive bowl games, were No. 24 in the first Rivals.com preseason rankings.

The defense returns nine starters. The offense returns seven starters, including guard Gosder Cherilus, leading receiver Kevin Challenger and leading rusher L.V. Whitworth.

And Ryan figures to be better, and not just because he hopes to be injury-free.

"I feel like I need to improve as a quarterback," he said. "I need to improve mentally in terms of making the decision of where to go with the football. I did some good things last year, but there are a lot of things I could have done better."

He probably would have had he not been limping all over the field.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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