Boston College Eagles
2009 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
Scheme: Despite the departure of Tom O’Brien and then Jeff Jagodzinski, BC has run pretty much the same offense for what seems like decades now—a pro-style offense predicated upon a power running game behind a big offensive line. BC strives to maintain balance, but were pass-heavy when Matt Ryan was the QB and were run-heavy last year. Coordinator Gary Tranquill will be tasked with improving a unit that finished no higher than 71st in any major offensive statistical category and were held to 19 points or less on seven occasions.
Quarterbacks: In the preseason last year, it appeared BC possibly had the worst QB situation of any team in the BCS conferences. Despite the return of someone who has taken a college snap, which BC lacked last year, the Eagles still do not have an enviable QB situation. Former minor league baseball player Dave Shinskie is back after starting all 13 games last year with mixed results. It wasn’t a total shock that Shinskie (2,049 yards, 52%, 15 TDs, 14 ints.) struggled after six years away from the game, but what is worrisome is that many who follow the Eagles program think Shinskie’s ceiling may not be much higher. Shinskie will probably play better than last year, but also don’t be shocked if he loses the job.
If Shinskie loses out, expect sophomore Michael Marscovetra to be the one to unseat him. Marscovetra (135 yds, 59%, 2 TDs, 1 int.) played in 4 games last year and had the best spring of the QBs. With nice poise and accuracy, Masrscovetra has shown less of a penchant for turnovers, at least in practice, than Shinskie and that could end up being decisive. Also in the mix is true freshman Chase Rettig, who enrolled early and went through spring ball. Rettig will likely redshirt, but he has flashed a big arm and nice mobility.
Running Backs: Although BC’s overall rushing stats were not overly impressive (136 yards per game), junior Montel Harris had a monster year. Harris (1,457 yds, 4.7 average, 14 TDs, 8 receptions, 69 yds, 1 TD) isn’t flashy, but he produces. Not blessed with great speed, Harris utilizes great balance, the ability to break tackles, and hitting the hole quickly to his advantage. He should be amongst the best backs in the ACC. It’s a good thing Harris is a workhorse because the depth behind him is shaky. Sophomore Rolandan Finch (134 yds, 4.8 avg, 1 TD) tore his ACL in spring and will miss at least part of the reason, if not redshirt, and Josh Haden, who finished 2nd in rushing, has transferred. That means redshirt freshman Sterlin Phifer is now the top guy off the bench. Built like Harris, Phifer is a north-south runner who will break tackles, but not many long runs.
Running a traditional offense, BC is one of the few college teams that still utilize a fullback and they have a good one in senior James McCluskey. McCluskey has been limited by injuries each of the past two years, but when healthy, he is one of the best lead blockers around and has decent hands to boot.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: With Rich Gunnell having expended his eligibility, BC has a pass-catching corps that is long in numbers and size, but lacks a game breaker or go-to guy. Gunnell led the team with 60 catches and the #2 guy had just 29. Obviously, someone needs to step up.
The likely candidate to emerge is junior Colin Larmond, although his season is now in doubt. Larmond (29 recs, 596 yds, 5 TDs) is a big and physical guy that was often able to out jump or outmuscle defenders, break tackles, and create some big plays. However, Larmond suffered a lower leg injury a few days ago in practice and may miss the start of the season at minimum. If Larmond is out for an extended period of time, the onus will be on senior Billy Flutie, sophomore Clyde Lee, and redshirt freshman Jonathan Coleman to step their games up. Flutie (5 recs, 48 yds, 2 TDs) has been a jack-of-all-trades type, but he will need to focus solely on WR this year. Flutie won’t wow anyone, but he runs good routes and rarely makes mistakes. Lee (4 recs, 40 yds) has had solid springs each of the past two years, but didn’t do much last season. However, Lee has the size and quickness to be a dangerous slot receiver. Coleman, on the other hand, is a big (6-4, 210) target with nice speed to boot, but he is still somewhat raw. He should see the field on potential alone, though. The coaching staff was hoping true freshmen Shakim Phillips and Alex Amidon would contribute, but they have been nursing injuries and have yet to practice this summer, leading many to speculate that they will redshirt. In their place, senior Ifeanyi Amoah, who had moved to DE, and true freshman Bobby Swigert have been getting lots of reps in practice and will be in the rotation.
At tight end, the Eagles have a nice one-two punch in sophomore Chris Pantale and junior Lars Anderson. Pantale (25 recs, 223 yds, 1 TD) is still learning, but has great ability as both a blocker and receiver. Although just a sophomore, many are already saying he has NFL potential. Anderson (8 recs, 102 yds, 1 TD) is a guy who has lined up at tight end, H-back, and FB when McCluskey was injured. A better blocker than receiver, Anderson still has decent hands and is a tough matchup.
Offensive Line: With four starters returning, three of them seniors, this is the strength of the offense and will likely be one of the best lines in the country. While BC didn’t rack up amazing stats running the ball, that was partially due to a weak passing game, and the line allowed just 1.5 sacks per game. It’s possible this year’s unit could be even better.
The bell cow of the group is senior LT Anthony Castonzo, likely the best LT in the ACC. Castonzo has started 41 games, has long arms, light feet, is a potential Rhodes Scholar, and will be a high NFL Draft choice. Simply put, he’s darn good. The bookend to Castonzo is senior RT Rich Lapham. Lapham is a mauling run blocker, but he is still a bit slow and can be beaten by rush ends at times.
If there are any questions, it is in the interior, but these guys appear solid too. Senior RG Thomas Claiborne is a massive man (6-3, 325) who excels at run blocking and is a vocal leader on offense. Sophomore LG Emmett Cleary is the youngest of the bunch, but did start last year as a freshman. A former tackle, Cleary is still growing and improving his technique. He’s not exactly a weak link, but he isn’t a finished product either. The lone new starter will likely be junior Nathan Richman. Richman has bounced around the line at differing positions and has 10 starts under his belt and he eased any concerns the coaches had about him learning the position in spring. He’ll use the summer to put a tighter hold on the job.
There isn’t a lot of experienced depth, but the coaches are excited about the future prospects of sophomores Nick Halloran and Mike Goodman. Halloran appeared in 6 games last year and is the heir apparent at RG, although some think his athleticism could see a move to tackle. Goodman is seen as the LT of the future due to his athleticism, size, and strength. Both will likely see playing time during the course of the year.
Scheme: Much like the BC offense, the defense is a no-frills bunch as well. The Eagles run a pretty standard 4-3 that doesn’t do much of anything fancy. Coordinator Bill McGovern, who took over when Frank Spaziani was promoted to head coach, does not want to blitz much and likes to plug up the run to force teams to be one-dimensional. The recipe has succeeded as BC finished 14th in rushing defense, 19th in scoring defense, and 26th in total defense. BC does need to crank up a pass rush, though, that ranked 103rd with just 1.38 sacks per game.
Defensive Line: The BC defensive line is typically similar to the Eagle offensive line—big, strong, and did I mention big? BC typically has space-eating tackles and pretty good sized ends as well. While the Eagles won’t be quite as big this year as in years past, the line still looks pretty stout…that is, if injuries don’t wreck it
At tackle, BC has an experienced senior in Damik Scafe and a young kid with tons of potential in redshirt freshman Dillon Quinn. Scafe (35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) is a returning starter who has great athleticism and uses his hands well to get off blocks. Scafe is getting NFL attention, but he had offseason back surgery and has yet to participate in summer practices. If he is out an extended period of time, it could be a major blow. Quinn was a top recruit who has great power and quickness. While he could stand to add a few pounds, Quinn has a very high ceiling. The only backup with any experience is junior Kaleb Ramsey. Ramsey (11 tackles, 2 sacks) has had trouble staying healthy and adding weight, but he has great strength and agility and could be disruptive.
The coaching staff thinks they have three ends that could all start, although all could stand to put a bit more pressure on the passer. The star of the group is senior Alex Albright. Albright (32 tackles, 8 tfl, 1 sack) has been productive and has great overall skills, but his problem has been nagging injuries. That is again a problem as he is currently sitting out with an injury, although he is expected to be back. Classmate Brad Newman is the leader to start at the opposite spot. Newman (45 tackles, 1 tfl) does not have ideal size for a strongside end and doesn’t make a lot of big plays, but he is solid, scrappy, and rarely makes mistakes. For flash, the Eagles may turn to sophomore Max Holloway. Holloway (16 tackles, 2.5 tfl, 1 sack) was a terror during spring practices, racking up four sacks in the spring game, and has the coaching staff cautiously optimistic that he can be the edge pass rusher they desire. Holloway has also missed practice time this summer due to injuries.
Linebackers: The big news last year was the cancer diagnosis of LB Mark Herzlich, one of the nation’s top ‘backers. The big news this year is that Herzlich should be back at some point, but also that BC returns another of the top linebackers in sophomore Luke Kuechly, a breakout star as a true freshman. Kuechly (158 tackles, 13 tfl, 1 sack, 1 int.) came out of nowhere to lead the ACC, and finish second nationally, in tackles while showing amazing awareness for such a young player. Needless to say, BC is set at MLB. The coaches are hoping junior Will Thompson can lock down the WLB spot for the next two years to provide stability there. Thompson only appeared in 4 games last year due to injury, but the coaches like his instincts and ability against the run.
The hope, of course, is that Herzlich returns to man the SLB spot. However, Herzlich has yet to be cleared to practice this summer and the coaches have already said he likely won’t feature in the first few games. It’s hard to say how good he’ll be when he does return, but Herzlich was one of the best in the game two years ago, flashing great size, instincts, and big-play ability. Manning the SLB in his stead will be senior Mike Morrissey. Morrissey (37 tackles, 7 tfl, 1 sack) is a former walk-on who is a try-hard type that won’t wow anyone, but won’t make many mistakes either. The wow factor could come from sophomore Nick Clancy, who is currently penciled in as the backup at SLB. Clancy (17 tackles) is a converted safety who has bulked up, but retained his quickness and coverage ability. He has a bright future. Another young player who could have an impact is true freshman Kevin Pierre-Louis. Pierre-Louis is already the backup at WLB ahead of Alexander DiSanzo (28 tackles, 3 tfl) after enrolling early and has flashed great speed and range.
Secondary: Two starters must be replaced in a secondary that finished in the top 40 in pass defense, but there is little cause for concern as the BC secondary often lacks a star and is a unit that is better as a sum than individual parts. That will likely be the case again this year.
At corner, BC has three viable options, with two players battling it out for the field corner spot. Junior Isaac Johnson appears to have locked down the boundary spot. Johnson (27 tackles, 2 tfl, 1 sack, 1 int.) was a nickel back last year and has great hitting ability, but still needs to prove he isn’t a liability in coverage. At field corner, senior DeLeon Gause is battling junior Donnie Fletcher for the starting nod. Gause (49 tackles, 4 pass breakups) started 10 games last year and has great speed, but he has never been consistent and has been prone to giving up the big play. That allowed Fletcher (51 tackles, 1 int.) to make a move. Fletcher has great size and his cover skills are improving. He’ll play a lot whether he starts or not.
The safety spots have potential, but there are some question marks at strong safety. No such question at free safety where senior Wes Davis returns. A potential NFL player, Davis (46 tackles, 2 tfl, 3 ints.) is an aggressive defender who can also cover. \He has a great skill set. The strong safety spot is the question, where converted LB Dominick LeGrande and sophomore Jim Noel are battling it out. LeGrande (36 tackles, 3 tfl, 2 ints.) seems more at home as a safety and has the size to be an intimidating force, but his cover skills are yet to be tested. Noel (12 tackles) has the better cover skills, but isn’t as solid in run support.
Special Teams: Steve Aponavicius went from walk-on cult hero to solid four-year starter at kicker and the Eagles will have to break in a new kicker for the first time since 2006. The leader after spring ball was junior Ryan Quigley, who handled kickoffs and punts last year. Quigley (40.8 yds) has a strong, but has struggled a bit with accuracy on field goals. That has opened the door for redshirt freshman Nate Freese, who has almost sealed the kicking job up according to sources in Boston. Freese has flashed a big leg, making a 52-yarder in practice and has been more accurate. Freese will probably be the opening day starter, but if he struggles, Quigley is there to jump in.
With the graduation of Rich Gunnell, BC lost a solid punt returner. The kick return units were awful last year and there isn’t a lot of hope for improvement. The coverage units, though, have been solid for several years.
Schedule: Lucky for BC their first two opponents (Weber State, Kent State) should merely be scrimmages because the schedule takes off after that with home games against VA Tech and Notre Dame and road trips to NC State and FSU in consecutive weeks. The rest of the schedule is pretty easy, though, with Clemson coming to Massachusetts and the road dates with Duke and Syracuse. The schedule definitely sets up for BC to make a run.
Overall: As per usual, BC does not look flashy on paper. People forget that even in the Matt Ryan years, BC struggled on offense and once again the Eagles will probably not score a ton of points. The thing is, though, they usually don’t have to thanks to a formidable defense. The front seven does not look as intimidating as years past with less beef at tackle and no real pass-rushing threat at end, but the LB corps should be solid. The secondary looks to be good. What could make or break BC’s season will be the passing game. With Harris and this offensive line, BC will be able to grind it out on most teams. That being said, with no semblance of a passing attack, teams will load the box. It will be interesting to see how Larmond’s injury plays out—if he is out for an extended period of time that could really hamper the BC passing attack. The Eagles are not the most talented ACC team, but their schedule sets up nicely and it is hard to imagine them doing any worse than 8-4. They should battle FSU and Clemson for the division title.