From Old Virginia previews Boston College Football.
9/15: @ Northwestern
10/6: @ Army
10/13: @ Florida State
10/20: @ Georgia Tech
11/3: @ Wake Forest
11/10: Notre Dame
11/17: Virginia Tech
11/24: @ NC State
Skip: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia
QB: Chase Rettig (Jr.)
RB: Rolandan Finch (rJr.)
WR: Colin Larmond (5Sr.)
WR: Bobby Swigert (Jr.)
WR: Alex Amidon (Jr.)
TE: Chris Pantale (5Sr.)
LT: Emmett Cleary (5Sr.)
LG: Bobby Vardaro (rSo.)
C: Ian White (rJr.)
RG: Harris Williams (rSo.)
RT: John Wetzel (Sr.)
DE: Kasim Edebali (rJr.)
DT: Kaleb Ramsey (5Sr.)
DT: Dillon Quinn (rJr.)
DE: Brian Mihalik (So.)
SLB: Steele Divitto (Jr.)
MLB: Sean Duggan (So.)
WLB: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Jr.)
CB: Al Louis-Jean (So.)
CB: Manuel Asprilla (So.)
SS: Spenser Rositano (So.)
FS: Sean Sylvia (rSo.)
K: Nate Freese (rJr.)
P: Gerald Levano (5Sr.)
Coach: Frank Spaziani (4th year)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Media prediction: 5th, Atlantic Division
2011 1st team: LB Luke Kuechly
2011 2nd team: none
2011 HM: none
2012 preseason: none
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Boston College's season started off so pitifully last year that nobody bothered to notice them finishing the season by winning three of their last five, including wins over NC State and Miami. They were supposed to have a nice easy stretch that sat them at 5-0 after the first five games; they bombed and went 1-4 instead. But they improved in the second half, breathing life support into Frank Spaziani's so far lackluster tenure. This year, there's very little that's easy about the Eagles' schedule, and bowl eligibility will require at least one upset and several wins away from Chestnut Hill.
Boston College fans thought they were going to get Montel Harris for one more season after the star running back hurt his knee last year and missed most of the season. Alas, Harris was kicked off the team this past spring for repeated rules violations, and so the committee that replaced Harris last year is back for another spin. The leader there is Rolandan Finch; the bigger back in the tandem is Andre Williams, although both run with pretty similar styles. Not a lot of flash and juke to either one, but both can be tough to bring down and both averaged 4-4.5 yards a carry last season. They'll probably end up about the same this year.
They'll run behind a solid and experienced offensive line, albeit one that's shuffled a ton. Emmett Cleary is the team's best tackle - he came in fourth among tackles in the ACC's preseason all-conference media poll - so he and John Wetzel switched sides this season. Ian White slides over from right guard to play center, and Harris Williams moves from backup left guard to starting on the right side. Only LG Bobby Vardaro will play the same position he did last year. There's a ton of starting experience on this line, but they'll have to overcome the shell game that's being played here.
The best and most experienced linemen are the bookend tackles, so Chase Rettig should have plenty of time to operate. Now going into his third year as the starter, Rettig has never blown anyone away with raw talent, but for the most part he won't lose games, either. He doubled his touchdown total from his freshman to his sophomore year and kept his INTs constant at nine; his completion percentage improved slightly, and he's never been and probably never will be a downfield slinger, preferring to work mostly with underneath and midrange passes.
In that regard, it doesn't help that BC's receiving corps lacks a major home run threat. Colin Larmond and Bobby Swigert are dependable types, with Swigert playing the role of the stereotypical white-boy slot and possession receiver and doing it very well. Helping out there will also be tight end Chris Pantale, whose third-place finish in ACC media voting for all-conference was the highest of any BC player. Missing, however, is the speed element, and the Eagles hope sophomore receiver Spiffy Evans can provide that as he transitions from special teams to a place on the regular offense.
The long and short of BC's offense is that it's full of solid, experienced players who are totally unlikely to break off any game-changing big plays. If BC wants to score this season, barring a breakout from someone like Evans, they'll have to do it four and eight yards at a time. They'll lose games where they have to play catch-up early.
A big loss on the offensive side of the ball in Harris - and an even bigger one on defense, where Luke Kuechly moved on to the NFL after spending his junior season racking up 191 tackles.** Fortunately, the linebacking corps should be pretty good without him, probably even the strength of the defense. Outside linebackers Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto picked up 70+ tackles each, meaning the three starting LBs were responsible for nearly 40% of BC's total tackles. Pierre-Louis could be another star in the making, although not quite on the level of Kuechly.
Kuechly bogarted all the snaps in the middle, though, so finding a replacement will be tricky. The Eagles turn here to Sean Duggan, who started three games last year on the weak side when Pierre-Louis was out with an injury. Duggan is at worst adequate and should really turn out pretty decent; he finished sixth on the team in tackles despite starting only those three games and playing in only nine. All in all, BC's linebackers will set the tone for the defense.
Up front and in back, though, there are some question marks. The defensive line is a little more solid, but mostly unremarkable, and better in the middle than on the ends. DE Kasim Edebali started all 12 games last year and managed to record just half a sack, and the other bookend, Brian Mihalik, is still getting his feet wet. In the middle, Kaleb Ramsey was supposed to be a rock in 2011 after being the Eagles' top D-lineman in 2010, but his season was lost to injury, so he'll get another chance this year. Dominic Appiah performed well as a freshman in Ramsey's absence, so those two and 312-pounder Dillon Quinn should prove to be a decent, though not spectacular rotation. But the Eagles badly lack a true pass rushing threat from the ends.
In the backfield, the Eagles could be vulnerable. Nobody returns who had more than one interception, and the team leader was Yup, Kuechly Again with three. Cornerback should be a battle on both sides of the field, where Albert Louis-Jean and Manny Asprilla have the advantage of experience over C.J. Jones and James McCaffrey, but not an iron grip on the job. Safety is another pitched battle: at free safety, Sean Sylvia would appear to have the edge on Josh Keyes, and that in fact is the best I can say for anyone's starting prospects in the secondary. At strong safety, it's between Jim Noel and Stone Bridge product Spenser Rositano; Noel has more experience, but it's my humble opinon that Rositano is the better playmaker and will probably horn in on Noel's playing time as the season progresses.
It's that word - playmaker - that's again holding Boston College back, however. See: lack thereof. Their best chances at seeing someone do something fun probably lie with Pierre-Louis and Ramsey. But there's nobody here that you absolutely must game-plan for. BC's linebackers will mop up a lot of the messes and force opponents to slog through some long campaigns in order to score, but they need some help. Someone in the secondary must step up and prove themselves able to cover opponents' #1 receivers, and BC must also find a way to manufacture a pass rush, as they managed just 11 sacks last year.
Kicker Nate Freese had the ability but not the consistency in 2011. Freese nailed a 52-yarder last season and four total FGs over 40 yards, but missed a chip-shot 23-yarder that cost BC the game against Duke. (But let's face it: you played like ass if you need a last-second field goal to beat Duke.) Last season was definitely a step back for Freese, who was more consistent but less rangy in 2010. BC will have a very good kicking game if Freese can put it together. 5th-year senior punter Gerald Levano gets his one moment in the sun this year after sitting four years behind Ryan Quigley.
This is really the year we find out if Boston College can contend under Frank Spaziani. Most teams would truly envy the kind of stability and experience BC has on offense right now. At least on the field; they've gone through offensive coordinators like Henry VIII and his wives. The lack of continuity in game-planning and schemes may hurt the Eagles. Either that or the players are just not that good, another distinct possibility.
Even with the OC merry-go-round, the on-field continuity on offense takes away a lot of Spaziani's excuses. On defense, there's some replacing to do, but not really any more than most teams. So this year has to be a final referendum on Spaz's ability to contend in Chestnut Hill. This is the profile of a bowl team, except for one thing: for the most part, these players have never accomplished that outside of a couple trips to San Francisco to play in the Nobody Gives A Damn Bowl at the bottom of the ACC's bowl hierarchy. The continuity and the linebackers are big assets; the lack of any major-league playmakers is an obstacle. BC could go bowling this year, but they'd have to pull off a surprise or two to do it, and they face a real uphill battle to improve their standing beyond perennial Hunger Bowl participants.