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Boston College Football Preview

With summer winding down and fall approaching, that means football is right around the corner.  Boston College, led by first year coach Jeff Jagodzinski and senior quarterback Matt Ryan, started the season 8-0, rising to #2 in the polls.  They went on to win their first ACC Atlantic Division title, though they lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Title tilt.  BC went on to defeat Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl for a nation-leading eighth consecutive bowl victory. 

A lot has changed since that win with the biggest change being Ryan’s departure for the NFL’s Falcons.  What else has changed with the Eagles heading into this season?  Read on to find out.

Quarterback:

  • Out: Matt Ryan
  • In: Chris Crane (Sr.)
  • Key Reserve: Dominique Davis(RFr.)
  • Crane is being put in a critical spot.  He has played sparingly behind Ryan, throwing only four passes all of last season.  He started one game as a sophomore in a rain soaked contest at Alumni Stadium against lowly Buffalo while Ryan was coalescing his broken foot.  Crane led the team to a 41-0 thumping of the Bulls, going 17-26 for 142 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  Crane is said to have picked up Ryan’s penchant for studying the offense, which Offensive Coordinator Steve Logan will tailor to his skills.  

Running Backs:

  • Out: Andre Callender, LV Whitworth
  • In: Josh Haden (Fr.), James McCluskey (So.)
  • Key Reserves: Dan Mulrooney (So.), Jeff Smith (Jr.)
  • In addition to shouldering the bulk of the load, Haden should see a lot of looks in the passing game out of the backfield.  McCluskey should be the primary full back, but Brian Toal may also see some goal-line work in his return season from a medical red shirt (torn labrum).  Mulrooney was moved from free safety to running back to help fill the void and should see his share of touches.  Smith will get most of his work on the kickoff return due to his speed. 

Wide Receivers:

  • Return: Rich Gunnell (Jr.), Brandon Robinson (Sr.) 
  • In: Clarence Megwa (Jr.)
  • Key Reserves: Billy Flutie (So.), Justin Jarvis (Jr.)
  • Gunnell is going to have to lead the unit for it to have some success.  Challenger became Ryan’s go-to guy, but Crane will have to define his own with Challenger exhausting his eligibility.  Megwa is the most experienced of the reserve corps and will likely be the third man in.

Tight End:

  • Return: Ryan Purvis (Sr.)
  • Key Reserve: Lars Anderson (RFr.)
  • Purvis is a quality tight end with good size who should be one of the ACC’s top players at the position, if not the standard bearer. 

Offensive Line:

  • Return: Anthony Castonzo (So.), Clif Ramsey (Sr.), Matt Tennant (Jr.)
  • In: Thomas Claiborne (So.), Rich Lapham (So.)
  • Key Reserves: Nathan Richman (RFr.), John Elliott (RFr.), Bryan Murphy (Sr.), Nick Rossi (Jr.), Pat Sheil (Jr.)
  • Castonzo and Ramsey moved to the left side, tackle and guard respectively, this spring without issue. Clairborne moved from the defensive line to take over the right guard position and Lapham is expected to be the tackle. This is another unit on the offense in a state of flux as Jagodzinski perfers the zone-blocking scheme which calls for smaller, more agile lineman, a departure from recent years.  BC earned the nickname “O-Line U” under previous Head Coach Tom O’Brien for turning out big NFL ready Offensive Lineman (former Patriot Damien Woody and current Pat Dan Koppen among them).

 Defensive Line:

  • Out: Nick Larkin, Brady Smith
  • Return: BJ Raji (Sr.), Alex Albright (Jr.), Ron Brace (Sr.)
  • In: Jim Ramella (Jr.)
  • Key Reserves: Max Holloway (Fr.), Jerry Willette (Sr.), Damik Scafe (So.), Brendan Deska (Jr.)
  • Albright led the team in sacks with 8.5 last season and Raji and Brace bring tremendous size with their skills.  This unit was primarily responsible for BC’s tremendous rush defense, allowing only 75.5 yards per game last season and can pressure the quarterback.  If the adage that you should build a football from the lines out is true, the defense will continue to make plays.

Linebackers:

  • Out: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Tyronne Pruitt
  • Return: Mark Herzlich (Jr.)
  • In: Brian Toal (Sr.), Mike McLaughlin (Jr.)
  • Key Reserves: Kevin Akins (Sr.), Darius Bagan (So.), Robert Francois (Sr.)
  • McLaughlin started three games last season, covering for Dunbar while he was hurt.  Francois will probably see plenty of action between a couple positions.  Herzlich stepped up as a leader on the defense with his frenetic play last season.  Jamie Silva was the vocal leader on the field, a role that may suit Herzlich well.

Defensive Backs:

  • Out: DeJuan Tribble, Jamie Silva
  • Return: Paul Anderson (Sr.)
  • In: DeLeon Gause (So.), Marcellus Bowman (Jr.), Roderick Rollins (Jr.)
  • Key Reserves: Donnie Fletcher (Fr.), Chris Fox (So.), Wes Davis (Jr.), Razzie Smith (Jr.)
  • Tribble and Silva were the leaders of this unit.  Tribble picked off the opponent’s quarterback while Silva terrorized their wideouts with his bone jarring tackles.  The rest of the DBs were subpar, lacking size and speed to contain most ACC recievers.  Anderson made some key plays last season and will have to take the lead among these guys.

Kicker/Punter:

  • Return: Steve Aponavicius (Sr.), Billy Bennett (So.)
  • In: Ryan Quigley (Fr.)
  • The kicking game has not been well for years (not even extra points can be assumed).  Aponavicius is a great story, but has not been a great kicker as his distance is limited and accuracy is not special.  Bennett suffered an injury last season which limited him, and he did not impress in the spring.  Jags is perhaps hoping Quigley can solve some problems.  He is a kicker, but may fill the vacated punting role.

Outlook:

How do all these position groups fit together in the context of a team?  The Preseason ACC Poll would give an indication of the general feeling for the conference.  BC was fourth in Atlantic behind Clemson (odds on favorite to win the conference), Wake Forest, and Florida State and ahead of Maryland and NC State. 

In the weaker Coastal, Virginia Tech is the class with North Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Duke rounding out the division.  BC may even drop to fifth, likely depending on who wins the Maryland game in the final week of the season.  Three Eagle Seniors were named to the Preseason All-ACC Team: Ron Brace, Ryan Purvis, and Brian Toal.

Schedule/Predictions:

  • @ Kent State (W)
  • Georgia Tech (W: BC is in better early season shape than GT, another program that lost a number of key players)
  • Bye
  • Central Florida (W: they lost Kevin Smith and will ebb from last season’s surprise, otherwise this might be a loss)
  • Rhode Island (W)
  • @ NC State (W)
  • Bye
  • Virginia Tech (L: uncharacteristically not a Thursday game)
  • @ North Carolina (W)
  • Clemson (L)
  • Notre Dame (L)
  • @ Florida State (L)
  • @ Wake Forest (L)
  • Maryland (W)

Amazingly, BC could start the season 5-0 which will build some hype, criticism of the schedule, and perhaps a lower tier poll ranking.  Unfortunately, the schedule is back-heavy and as October turns into November, the losses will probably begin to pile up.  North Carolina is improved and returns most of its key contributors and could pose problems for BC.  Maryland is really a tossup, but the Eagles want revenge from last year’s upset loss.  Notre Dame and Wake Forest are games the Eagles could take. 

With the ACC having nine bowl tie-ins (addition of Congressional Bowl against Navy or Army), BC should be able to secure the six wins needed to get one of the spots, likely a lower tier bowl such as the Congressional or Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl.  That should put BC in prime position to extend the nation’s longest consecutive bowl win streak to nine.

With the experience on the defensive side of the ball, they are going to have to lead the team in the early season as the offense learns the ropes.  But, how well the offense comes together under Crane will determine how good this team will be.  Jeff Jagodzinski and Steve Logan have their work cut out for them replacing all the key offensive talent that’s gone.  2008 seems to be the first year the Eagles really will not be a factor in the ACC, but they should be able to compete and stay in games.

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