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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 24: Boston College

Herzlich will be running out of the tunnel in 2010. With his pads on, which is great news.

Think back. Boston College dismissed Jeff Jagodzinski in January of 2009 after he interviewed with the New York Jets despite being warned he would lose his job if he did so. The spring would see Dominique Davis, the leading contender to start at quarterback, first become academically ineligible for the season before opting to leave school all together rather than – the horror – go to class and raise his G.P.A. Later, in May, B.C. discovered it would be without the services of all-American linebacker Mark Herzlich, who would miss all of the season while treating Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of cancer. I doubt any could have found fault if B.C. had dropped off the A.C.C. radar. The A.C.C. media poll, in fact, had the Eagles finishing last in the Atlantic division. Well, there’s a reason they play the games.

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Location
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Nickname
Eagles

Returning starters
14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 60

2009 record
(8-5, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 37

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Weber St.
  • Sept. 11
    Kent St.
  • Sept. 25
    Virginia Tech
  • Oct. 2
    Notre Dame
  • Oct. 9
    at N.C. St.
  • Oct. 16
    at Florida St.
  • Oct. 23
    Maryland
  • Oct. 30
    Clemson
  • Nov. 6
    at Wake Forest
  • Nov. 13
    at Duke
  • Nov. 20
    Virginia
  • Nov. 27
    at Syracuse

Last year’s prediction

Now, if this team can line up all these factors in its favor, B.C. could be even better than 6-6; I could even see the Eagles being a dark horse Atlantic division contender. But that’s asking too much. I picture a determined bunch playing hard for Spaziani, but falling short of a third consecutive Atlantic division title: 6-6, 3-5 in the A.C.C.

2009 recap

In a nutshell It may not have been pretty, but when the dust settled on the 2009 season, there was B.C. with eight wins, as if nothing had changed. Only when you recall the hurdles the Eagles were forced to overcome do you begin to appreciate Boston College’s continued success in 2009. Taken alone, each of those three occurrences could sidetrack a team for a season; in fact, it could do more long-term damage. Instead, the Eagles rallied together as a team, around its new coach, and finished only a game behind Clemson in the A.C.C. Atlantic. No, it wasn’t pretty – B.C. beat only two winning teams on the year – but considering the odds against them, the Eagles exceeded expectations in Spaziani’s debut season.

High point When all was said and done, Boston College’s best win may have been a 31-10 win over Central Michigan, a team that finished with 12 victories. In conference play, the Eagles used a powerful rushing attack and a ferocious 28-point second half to put away N.C. State by 52-20.

Low point A loss at Clemson in September cost B.C. the Atlantic division crown, as the Eagles finished one game behind the Tigers in the final standings. All told, each of Boston College’s third A.C.C. defeats came by a significant margin: by 18 to Clemson, by 34 to Virginia Tech and by 18 to North Carolina. The Eagles also lost to Notre Dame, snapping a six-game winning streak against the Irish.

Tidbit Not that B.C. was an offensive juggernaut, but the Eagles were especially inept on that side of the ball in their three A.C.C. losses. B.C. averaged only 138.3 yards of offense per game against Clemson, Virginia Tech and U.N.C., as compared to 386.6 yards of offense in its five conference wins. So winning teams do better on offense than losing teams? Who knew?

Tidbit (eight wins edition) B.C. has won at least eight games in nine consecutive seasons, the second-longest such streak in the A.C.C. Which team comes in first? Clemson has done so in five of the seven seasons, Georgia Tech in three of the last four, but Virginia Tech has won at least eight games in each of the last 12 years. Nine of those 12 seasons have been double-digit win campaigns for the Hokies, compared to only two such seasons for the Eagles over their nine-year span.

Former players in the N.F.L.

30 OG Josh Beekman (Chicago), S Will Blackmon (Green Bay), DT Ron Brace (New England), LB Ricky Brown (Oakland), DE Tim Bulman (Houston), OT Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), LB Vinny Ciurciu (Detroit), OT Marc Colombo (Dallas), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (New Orleans), LB Rob Francois (Green Bay), DT Antonio Garay (San Diego), WR Rich Gunnell (Kansas City), QB Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle), DT Chris Hovan (St. Louis), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (New York Giants), C Dan Koppen (New England), OT James Marten (Chicago), FB Mike McLaughlin (Baltimore), TE Ryan Purvis (Tampa Bay), NT B.J. Raji (Green Bay), TE Sean Ryan (Washington), QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta), CB Jamie Silva (Indianapolis), OG Chrie Snee (New York Giants), C Matt Tennant (New Orleans), OT Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay), OT Damien Woody (New York Jets).

Arbitrary top five list

Famous Jesuits
1. Ignatius of Loyola.
2. Francis Xavier.
3. Rudjer Boskovic.
4. Eusebio Francisco Kino.
5. Andrew Bobola.

Coaching

Frank Spaziani (Penn State ’69), 8-5 after one season at Boston College. He must be commended for the job he did in his first season. The Eagles didn’t miss a beat despite the late change in the coaching staff and off-field distractions, and won at least eight games for the ninth straight season. While Spaziani had no head coach experience prior to his being hired in early 2009, he bought more than 30 years’ experience as an assistant on the F.B.S. level. The most significant period of his career has taken place at Boston College. His tenure with the Eagles began with a stretch as the team’s running backs coach from 1997 to 1998, when he was part of Tom O’Brien’s original staff. After that two-year stint – seasons in which B.C. combined to go 8-14 – Spaziani was promoted to defensive coordinator. Boston College has reached bowl play in each of the last 10 seasons, only once winning fewer than eight games and twice reaching double-digit wins. Spaziani actually brought a 1-0 mark into his first season as the full-time coach, having led B.C. to a 25-24 win over Navy in the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl as the interim coach after O’Brien’s departure. In addition to his extensive résumé with the Eagles, which includes multiple seasons ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense, Spaziani spent a combined 17 years as an assistant under George Welsh, first at Navy (1975-81), then Virginia (1982-91). With the Mids, Spaziani coached the tight ends and offensive tackles from 1975 to ‘77 (his only other offensive experience) and the defensive backs from 1977 to ‘81; his time with the Cavaliers was spent with the secondary (1982-85) and as the defensive coordinator (1985-91). Spaziani had enough with the Eagles to deserve the head coaching job in 2007, which instead went to Jeff Jagodzinski. Two years later, he became the perfect man for the job. Finally, Boston College has found someone who wants nothing more than to be the program’s head coach.

Players to watch

So who’s it going to be at quarterback? The incumbent starter, Dave Shinskie? Or the fast-charging Mike Marscovetra? Both are sophomores, but that’s where the similarities end. Shinskie is a 25-year-old former minor league pitcher; Marscovetra the traditional sophomore who brings more athleticism to the table. So again, who’s it going to be? In Shinskie’s favor is experience, as well as a relatively solid returns for a first-year starter six years removed from his last snap. He threw for 2,049 yards and 15 touchdowns, though he also threw 14 interceptions while completing less than 52 percent of his passes. Marscovetra fared well in his limited opportunity, completing 10 of 16 passes in mop-up duty against Virginia Tech. The Eagles have a few more faces in the quarterback mix, but the competition will really only come to down to this pair. My money is on Shinskie, but Marscovetra has a great shot at upending the incumbent.

The heart of this offense is its productive ground game, an attack paced by junior Montel Harris. How good has the second-team all-A.C.C. pick been over his first two seasons? Well, he’s already broken Boston College’s freshman and sophomore records for rushing yards, and enters his third campaign already ranked among the top 10 in that category in school history. Topping last season’s totals — 1,457 yards and 14 scores — might be difficult, but Harris has shown nothing but consistent improvement as a ball-carrier since arriving on campus. He’ll do the wide majority of work on the ground, but B.C. can turn to sophomore Rolandan Finch as a secondary option. Helping open holes is senior fullback James McCluskey, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tear.

How good is the B.C. offensive line? Not as good as Florida State’s front, which ranks among the top groups in the country, but certainly in the top three in the A.C.C. Only one starter must be replaced, though it will difficult to supplant 41-game starter Mark Tennant at center. The star of this group returns, however: left tackle Anthony Castonzo, now a senior, enters his fourth season in the starting lineup. The future top N.F.L. pick is the complete package on the blind side. He’s joined up front by sophomore left guard Emmett Cleary, senior right guard Thomas Claiborne and senior right tackle Rich Lapham. The only open spot is center, obviously, with B.C. having the option of either moving Claiborne to that spot or inserting a new starter, such as junior Nathan Richman. Tennant is an underrated loss, to be sure, but the line will keep humming along.

If you’re not rooting hard for Mark Herzlich, then I don’t know what to tell you. His story has been well documented: last May, the all-American was diagnosed with cancer, costing him all of his would-be final season. A year later, Herzlich is cancer-free — most important of all, of course — and poised to return to play as B.C.’s senior leader on and off the field. What can we expect from the 2008 A.C.C. Defensive Player of the Year? A return to his former self is likely too much to ask, but even at less than 100 percent, Herzlich is better than 90 percent of linebackers in college football. In a perfect world, he returns to his familiar spot on the strong side. It’s more likely that Herzlich is used in certain situations while regaining his prior form, hopefully remaining injury free — he’s currently battling a foot injury, limiting his availability. More than that, more than all that, we should all hope that Herzlich remains cancer-free for the rest of his days.

In his stead, B.C. found its next linebacker star. Sophomore Luke Kuechly was an absolute revelation in the middle of the B.C. defense, leading the A.C.C. and finishing second nationally with 158 tackles, 13 for loss. Are you kidding me? Can you imagine a healthy Herzlich teaming with this sophomore stud? The idea has Spaziani drooling, believe me. The Eagles don’t lack for depth at linebacker, to be sure. The outside spots could be held by Mike Morrissey and Will Thompson, though the Eagles could also turn to Nick Clancy, Alexander DiSanzo or Kevin Pierre-Louis, the latter a true freshman who impressed during the spring.

The secondary is in good shape, even if B.C. must replace a pair of starters. Junior Isaac Johnson seems to have one cornerback spot locked down, though the Eagles are currently auditioning two defensive backs at the other spot. One is senior DeLeon Gause, a 10-game starter last fall. He’ll have to hold off junior Donnie Fletcher, an important reserve in each of the last two seasons, to hold down his starting role.

The Eagles return senior Wes Davis at free safety, with Davis entering his third season in the starting lineup. He made 46 tackles and a team-best three interceptions a season ago. Like at cornerback, B.C. has a position battle brewing at strong safety. One option is converted linebacker Dominick LeGrande, a senior. B.C. could also turn to sophomore Jim Noel at this spot.

Keep an eye on the defensive line, especially on the interior. I like what B.C. has at end, with seniors Alex Albright (32 tackles, 8 for loss) and Brad Newman (45 tackles) bringing starting experience to the table. It’s a solid pairing, if unspectacular. Depth might be a worry at end, though that situation could be ameliorated should sophomore Max Holloway (16 tackles, 1 sack) continue to build upon his solid spring performance.

The interior of the line is a concern. This group took a hit when junior Kaleb Ramsey opted not to return to school; the three-game starter in 2009 was certainly in the mix for a starting role. Also of note: senior Damik Scafe is battling a back injury, with the returning starter’s availability in question as B.C. began fall camp. If he’s unable to go, look for a sophomore duo in the starting lineup; Florida State is in a similar situation. As of now, it’s Bryan Murray and Conor O’Neal holding starting roles, with redshirt freshman Dillon Quinn a key reserve.

Position battles to watch

Wide receiver Gone is Rich Gunnell, the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards. He was nothing if not predictably consistent as a senior, again leading the Eagles in receptions (60), receiving yards (880) and touchdowns (7). He was a safety blanket for Shinskie, a secure target for the first-year starting quarterback to rely upon. Now that he’s gone, Boston College will need a returning contributor to inhabit Gunnell’s role as go-to receiver. The Eagles won’t have to look far: junior Colin Larmond finished second behind Gunnell in receptions (29), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (5) while pacing the team with a 20.6 yards per catch average. The potential is there, as those numbers indicate. One worry about Larmond is that he has yet to prove himself as a lead guy, instead playing alongside — if not behind — Gunnell last fall. The physical gifts are there, even if his consistency remains a question mark. Proven reserves will be hard to come by, as B.C. returns no receiver to have made at least 10 receptions a year ago. Senior Billy Flutie — of the football Fluties — is in line for increased playing time, as are a few rising sophomore and incoming freshmen. Added experience under center should yield an improved performance from the B.C. passing game, but Shinskie — or Marscovetra — will need some help. Aiding matters is sophomore Chris Pantale (25 receptions for 223 yards receiving last fall), who looks like another future all-conference tight end for the Eagles.

Game(s) to watch

A very favorable schedule. Four home games to start the season are joined by a very winnable month of November. Starting well is important, but Boston College’s season will be decided in October: games against N.C. State, Florida State and Clemson will dictate the final standings in the Atlantic division.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Boston College had no problem shaking off last season’s off-field struggles, winning eight games despite the trio of damaging setbacks: new coach, quarterback and defensive star. Compared to that type of adversity, this season should be a walk in the park. Right? Well, perhaps a slight jog, if not a leisurely stroll. The Eagles have the benefit of a relatively easy schedule, which begins with four games in Chestnut Hill, ends with as easy a November as one could ask for, and altogether stars one only road game where the Eagles might not be favored: Oct. 16 at Tallahassee. That game may cost B.C. the Atlantic division championship, but it’s very easy for me to believe that even with a loss, the Eagles will have a better conference record than the Seminoles. Still, even with this schedule, there’s a reason B.C. isn’t being mentioned in the same conversation as Virginia Tech, U.N.C. or any of the four power teams in the Coastal division. The Eagles have some concerns: the quarterback spot remains unsettled, though B.C. should receive stronger play from this position in 2010; the receiver corps lacks proven depth; the defensive line is thin; and if Herzlich doesn’t return, the front seven as a whole will be down a peg. If he does come back, he’s the best story in college football. However, as much as we’ll all be pulling for the senior linebacker, it’s impossible to project what kind of impact — if any at all — he’ll have this fall. Even with these concerns, there’s far, far more good than bad with these Eagles: nine wins is very much in the cards. In my mind, this is the best team, from top to bottom, in the Atlantic division.

Dream season With much less turmoil surrounding the program, Spaziani finds success in his second season comes far more easily. The Eagles go 11-1, wining the Atlantic division and A.C.C. title in the process.

Nightmare season B.C. struggles through a 5-7 finish, its first losing season since 1998.

In case you were wondering

Where do Boston College fans congregate? Begin with the two big recruiting sites, Eagle Insider and Eagle Action. The latter site is technically known as “Eagle Action!,” but I wasn’t comfortable adding that exclamation point. You should also check out BC Interruption and Eagle in Atlanta, two strong Boston College blogs.

Up Next

Who is No. 23? Our next university formerly played its home games at a site also known for an early-1970s three-day festival hosted by a 15-year-old guru.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. havik912 says:

    wild guess… Wisconsin

  2. Zaboo says:

    For a Dream Season of a team ranked 24th, that’s a low ceiling. 10-2, with the only losses to VT and FSU, seems more reasonable.

    Paul: Solid point. Made the change. I have to start paying more attention to that section.

  3. CoogFan says:

    No. 23: Houston Cougars

  4. Coog71 says:

    Not a wild guess – Houston

    (Maharaji at the Astrodome)

  5. Wes says:

    University of Houston is #23.

  6. Jim Narby says:

    nebraska is next

  7. matt rob says:

    Houston is next.

  8. Jim Narby says:

    it’s actually houston – can i do a 100-word nebraska write-up now?

  9. pfz10 says:

    I’m in favor of Jim doing a 100 word preview of Nebraska.

  10. joeyfenn says:

    BC could very well go 11-1.

  11. Kyle says:

    As a BC fan, this is the best preview I’ve seen of my team so far. Thanks Paul and go Eagles!

  12. JohnK says:

    Narby needs to have a section dedicated to him for the Nebraska preview.

    Paul: I know. Narby needs a platform beyond the comment section. Trying to think of ways to give him room for his voice.

  13. Zaboo says:

    Narby should team up with Ricky Dobbs and run for President in the 2012 Elections.

    Dedication you can believe in!

  14. 31southst says:

    This is one of the more thoughtful BC previews I have read. Well done.

  15. [...] is approaching “drunken Penn State fan” insult territory.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAN, YOU HAVE BOSTON COLLEGE IN THE TOP 25!  THE HUMANITY!  Despite the lack of Pitt-slurping, Paul Myerberg still wrote one of the best [...]

  16. joeyfenn says:

    respect BC

  17. joeyfenn says:

    paul you made a mistake. BC is not in the coastal, they are in the atlantic?

  18. joeyfenn says:

    thanks for fixing it

  19. tom says:

    montel harris is dangerous

  20. jeff says:

    fsu is overrated and so is clemson. BC shocks the world…again

  21. beantown says:

    eagles!

  22. JoeD_in_NC_RU1989 says:

    Rooting for you, Doug Flutie and Mark Herzlich …BUT BOOOOOOO Boston College and Dean Robert Lay, office of Enrollment Management…..you RAT #%$#@&*%#%! :)

  23. [...] Five and Five: No. 24, Boston College By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 24, is Boston College. You can find a larger Boston College preview here. [...]

  24. Bigger Jaws says:

    Great, great analysis Paul. The BC QB siutation is a huge concern BC, but their O-line and Harris should mitigate the concerns. BC should exceed expectations, as usual.

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