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The Boston College Eagles have opened up camp as they look forward to kicking off the 2011 season, which begins Sept. 3 against Northwestern.
Boston College is coming off a 7-6 season (4-4 ACC) where they rallied to win their final five games to become bowl eligible. The Eagles faced off against Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl where they lost 20-13.
Montel Harris will lead the Eagles on offense this season. Harris has been tabbed by some as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. The senior running back could end his career as the leading rusher in ACC history, but he will need some help. BC ranked 109th nationally last season in yards per game and points per game. The Eagles hope that new offensive coordinator Kevin Rodgers, who was the quarterback coach with the Minnesota Vikings, can help the offense take the next step.
The biggest question surrounding BC is how much can the passing game improve? Sophomore Chase Rettig returns after having a shaky freshman season. In nine games last year Rettig threw six touchdowns to nine interceptions and had a completion percentage of 51.3 percent. If Rettig does not make serious strides this season in the passing game the Eagles could be in serious trouble and in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 1998.
Luckily for Rettig he has one of the best running backs in the country in Harris. Harris has rushed for 3,600 yards in his first three seasons. That puts him within striking distance of former NC State running back Ted Brown. Brown holds the ACC rushing record with 4,602 yards. Brown also holds the ACC record for 100-yard games at 27, six more than Harris.
BC can’t expect Harris to carry the entire load this season. Last season they tried that and Harris injured his knee with two games left. Andre Williams, Harris’ backup showed last season that he is more than capable of filling in if anything were to happen. In the final two regular season games last season Williams rushed for 108 yards against Virginia and 185 yards against Syracuse.
On the outside BC has plenty of experience. Colin Larmond returns to the team after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. In 2009 Larmond caught 29 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. Joining Larmond will be sophomore’s Bobby Swigert and Alex Amidon. Swigert finished last season with 39 catches for 504 yards and four touchdowns and Amidon caught 16 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Pantale also returns as the starting tight end after a productive season where he caught 31 balls for 338 yards and one touchdown.
As for the offensive line, it is a serious concern for the Eagles. They will have to replace Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. BC will turn to Emmett Clearly, Nathan Richman and Mark Spinney in hopes that they can fill the holes left on the line.
Defensively BC looks to be very strong once again this year as they return seven starters from a defense that did not allow more than 16 points in any of their last five games. Luke Kuechly, who is an early favorite to win the Butkus Award, will return to anchor the nations top rush defense.
BC will have a revamped line this season, as they lost Alex Albright, Damik Scafe and Brad Newman. Junior Max Halloway, who recorded four sacks last season, and senior Kaleb Ramsey will look to take over and bolster a pass rush that ranked 90th nationally last year with 1.54 sacks per game.
The linebacking core is BC greatest strength this season. Luke Kuechly is the star of the group. Last season Kuechly recorded 183 total tackles, 20 more than anyone else in the country. Kuechly also led the nation in solo tackles with 110.
If Kuechly is the batman of the defense than Kevin Pierre-Louis is his robin.
Pierre-Louis finished second on the team with 93 tackles last season as a true freshman. Expect an even better season from Pierre-Louis as now he has played an entire season. The final starting linebacker will be determined in camp as sophomore Steele Divitto and junior Nick Clancy battle it out.
The Eagles secondary will be led by senior cornerback Donnie Fletcher. Fletcher is an All-ACC candidate, who had five interceptions and 56 tackles last season. Lining up on the opposite side of Fletcher will be sophomore C.J. Jones who did not see any playing time last season. At strong safety Dominick LeGrande and Jim Noel will battle it out. Both saw time last year at the safety position. Junior Okechukwu Okoroha is penciled in as the starting free safety after he started the final six games of last season due to injury to Wes Davis. BC’s secondary figures to be solid once again and will try to build off of last season, where they finished 19th in the country in pass efficiency.
BC returns sophomore kicker Nate Freese, who is one of the best young kickers in the country. As a freshman last year Freese connected on 22-of-25 attempts. He was automatic from inside 40 yards as he went 21-22. Ryan Quigley returns as BC’s punter after a stellar season last year. Quigley led the ACC with 26 punts inside the 20 and helped them finish 34th nationally in net punting average. The Eagles will be looking for a home run threat in the return game this year after struggling last year. Last season BC finished 118th in kickoff-return average and 104th in punt-return average.
Best Case Scenario:
Montel Harris becomes the ACC’s all time rushing leader and stays healthy. Luke Kuechly wins the Butkus Award and BC upsets a top ten ranked Florida State team in November. Chase Rettig improves his accuracy and matures in year two under center and the Eagles win their third Atlantic Division title in five years.
Worst Case Scenario:
Rettig struggles in year two and Harris can’t find any running room behind a rebuilt offensive line. BC struggles to score points and misses out on a bowl game for the first time since 1998.
A tie between cornerback Albert Louis-Jean and Connor Wujciak. Louis-Jean is from Brockton, Mass., and was a 4-star commit to Miami. After Randy Shannon got fired Louis-Jean switched his commit to BC. He arrived on campus early and impressed the coaching staff and figures to see some time in the secondary this season.
As for Wujciak, he is another 4-star prospect from New Jersey. With so many question marks surrounding the defensive line this year Wujciak will get plenty of opportunities to see the field.
The Eagles have a favorable schedule to begin the season and should get out of the gates to a hot start, something they did not do last season. With their first five games coming against Northwestern, UCF, Duke, UMass and Wake Forest I would not be surprised at all if they started the season 4-1 or 5-0.
The middle portion of their schedule is more challenging with games at Clemson, Va. Tech and home against FSU. They end the season on the road at Notre Dame and Miami, which will also be tough games. I see the Eagles finishing the season 6-6. Expect Harris to set the ACC rushing record and Kuechly to post another great season. In the end the quarterback play and inexperienced line will hurt the Eagles.