No. 62: Boston College
By Paul Myerberg // Jun 30, 2011
We were all tickled to see Frank Spaziani get the nod as Jeff Jagodzinski’s replacement in 2009 after he was passed over for the job two years before, but come on now, coach: it’s time to show what you’re made of. Some coordinators are made to be coordinators, not head coaches – cite your favorite example here – and sadly, that may very well be the case with the longtime B.C. assistant. But before we pour dirt on Spaziani’s tenure, take note that he cut ties with former offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, ending that misguided experiment, and replaced him with former Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers. What does that mean? Hey, guess what: that might mean some offensive flash to go with one of the nation’s leading defenses, which in turn might mean less hair-pulling, more giddiness from a fan base tired of run, run, incompletion, punt.
Atlantic Coast, Atlantic
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 10
- Sept. 17
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 1
- Oct. 8
- Oct. 22
at Virginia Tech
- Oct. 29
- Nov. 3
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
at Notre Dame
- Nov. 25
at Miami (Fla.)
Last year’s prediction
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.
In a nutshell Boston College failed to win at least eight games for the first time since 2000, which is the lasting legacy of the 2010 Eagles. That’s really all you need to know, but if you want to dig deeper – and shield your eyes – take note of one of the most puzzling, frustrating, impotent offensive attacks in the country: 109th in total offense, 97th in passing, 90th in rushing – despite having the nation’s 23rd-leading rusher – and 109th in scoring. This was an offense that gained more than 400 yards of offense only once, that passed for more than 200 yards only four times, that was skunked by Virginia Tech, that scored 13 points against Notre Dame and managed only 185 yards of offense in a bowl loss to Nevada, a team not known – and this is being kind – for being intimidating defensively. Well, at least B.C. remembered how to play defense, even if this was a team that was prone to giving up passing yards in bunches. And give the Eagles credit for one more thing: 2-5 on Oct. 23, they won five straight games heading into bowl play.
High point The five straight wins to end the regular season. Were any of them pretty? Nope. Dominating? Not quite. But wins over Clemson and Syracuse were pretty solid, and that each came by slim margins took some sting out of narrow setbacks against Florida State and Maryland.
Low point B.C. opened A.C.C. play with four straight losses, none uglier than a 44-17 defeat at N.C. State on Oct. 9. Maybe it was the 24-3 second quarter lead or the 20 straight points that made it 44-10, but that this was the first time Tom O’Brien defeated his former team made this the most painful loss of the season.
Tidbit B.C. had the nation’s 21st-leading rusher, as stated above, but still managed to finish the season ranked 109th in total offense. This was the worst offensive finish by any team with a rusher ranked in the top 25 in the F.B.S., as you’d probably imagine. Next closest was Western Kentucky, which had the nation’s fifth-best individual rusher but finished 98th in total offense. Then came Syracuse, which had the 22nd-leading rusher but finished 97th.
Former players in the N.F.L.
26 DT Ron Brace (New England), LB Ricky Brown (Oakland), DE Tim Bulman (Houston), OT Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis), 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), QB Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle), DT Chris Hovan (St. Louis), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (New York Giants), C Dan Koppen (New England), OT James Marten (Miami), FB Mike McLaughlin (Denver), TE Ryan Purvis (Tampa Bay), NT B.J. Raji (Green Bay), QB Matt Ryan (Atlanta), CB Jamie Silva (Indianapolis), OG Chris Snee (New York Giants), C Matt Tennant (New Orleans), LB Brian Toal (New York Jets), OT Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay), OT Damien Woody (New York Jets).
Arbitrary top five list
2007 N.B.A. Draft picks from 20-35
1. PF Carl Landry (Houston, 31st overall).
2. PG Aaron Brooke (Houston, 26th).
3. SF Wilson Chandler (New York, 23rd).
4. SF Jared Dudley (Phoenix, 22nd).
5. SG Rudy Fernandez (Portland, 24th).
Frank Spaziani (Penn State ’69), 15-11 after two seasons 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 several off-field distractions, and won at least eight games for the ninth straight season. Then came last fall, with the issues that occurred with Spaziani’s in-game and staff decisions, and the bloom is a bit of this rose. 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 11 seasons, only twice winning fewer than eight games and twice reaching double-digit wins. In addition to his extensive resume with the Eagles, Spaziani spent a combined 17 years as an assistant under George Welsh, first at Navy (1975-81), then Virginia (1982-91). At Navy, Spaziani coached the tight ends and offensive tackles from 1975-77 — his only other offensive experience — and the defensive backs from 1977-81; his time with the Cavaliers was spent with the secondary (1982-85) and as the defensive coordinator (1985-91). Spaziani had done enough with the Eagles to deserve the head coaching job in 2007, which instead went to Jeff Jagodzinski. Two years later, he became the safest choice for the job. His ties to athletic director Gene DeFellipo has cemented Spaziani’s job security, but he really needs to get this program back into the eight-win realm to keep his seat from getting toasty.
Tidbit (coaching edition) Kevin Rogers was an upgrade the day he stepped on campus. The former N.F.L. assistant, who spent the last five years as the quarterbacks coach for the Minnesota Vikings, steps in for Gary Tranquill, who did not do a good job putting together a balanced attack in Chestnut Hill. Rogers will do his best to take pressure off the running game, a task that begins and ends with getting better play from the quarterback position. He’ll also try to spread things out, implementing multiple-receiver sets – we even saw some five-receiver sets during the spring – in an effort to keep defenses honest. Even if all Rogers does is provide the image of an offense with balance, he’s an upgrade over Tranquill.
Players to watch
Montel Harris doesn’t get a lot of respect, but you can’t question the production: his 3,600 career yards and 758 carries lead all returning backs in the F.B.S., which can’t be discounted. Now, is Harris a game-breaker? No, but he’s a game-maker – a back more than capable of being the centerpiece of a solid offense. Harris has done it alone for years, getting little help from his quarterbacks, but the hope is that Rogers will put some punch back in this paltry passing attack. A year ago, despite B.C. having the 97th-ranked passing offense, Harris rushed for 1,242 yards and 8 scores, cracking the 100-yard mark in six straight weeks before missing the final three games due to injury.
Sophomore Andre Williams (461 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) did enough over his late-season showcase to deserve more carries. That may cut into Harris’s bottom line, but I think it will make B.C. more dangerous on the ground. Williams averaged 121 yards per game against Duke, Syracuse and Nevada, rushing for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries in the win over the Orange. He looks too good to keep off the field – and that’s a good thing for this offense.
We know that B.C. won’t struggle on the ground. Whether this offense as a whole tastes success will hinge entirely on the development of sophomore quarterback Chase Rettig, who will receive very careful hands-on tutelage from the new offensive coordinator. Rettig was thrown into a very difficult situation four games into 2010 after Dave Shinskie and Mike Marscovetra struggled mightily to start the year. Rettig was a true freshman, and it showed: he hit on 51.3 percent of his attempts for 1,238 yards and 6 scores against 9 picks – though his interception rate was better than Shinskie’s, for example.
How he progresses in 2011 is partly up to Rettig, partly up to Rogers. The former has a very well-regarded position coach in Rogers, who has done very well on football’s largest stage; still, working with a youngster like Rettig is a different animal than tutoring a proven quarterback, and Rogers needs to find a message to which his sophomore can relate. How much better can Rettig be? He certainly has the tools to succeed, but take note: he’s still very unproven, and while last year’s experience will help it often takes a quarterback two full years to find his stride.
The Eagles are looking good at wide receiver. There’s enough depth here for Rogers to perhaps make those five-receiver sets a reality come September, especially with Colin Larmond’s healthy return from an A.C.L. tear that cost him last season. Larmond had a big 2009 season, posting 596 yards and 7 touchdowns on a team-best 20.6 yards per catch. He’ll join a cast of receivers who stepped up in his stead last fall, including sophomores Bobby Swigert (39 receptions for 504 yards), Alex Amidon (16 for 338) and Johnathan Coleman (14 for 260). Big-bodied senior Ifeanyi Momah (19 for 296, 3 scores) is an intriguing option: after bouncing around between offense and defense over his first few years, Momah has found a home in the passing game. As always, B.C. has a capable target at tight end in Chris Pantale (31 for 338).
There is not enough space for me spout all the superlatives I have saved up for junior middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, so let’s just leave it with this: he’s more than worth the price of admission. And if that’s not strong enough, how about this: he’s a top-three linebacker in college football, if not the best altogether. Kuechly is a middle linebacker straight from central casting, a big, tall, tough, nasty, rough, gritty, unstoppable tackling machine – 183 of them a year ago, most in the F.B.S., after ranking second in the nation in that category as a freshman. There are some holes to fill up front, but as long as Kuechly is in the middle, B.C. won’t struggle against the run. He’s the best player previewed thus far on the Countdown.
Kuechly will be flanked on the weak side by sophomore Kevin Pierre-Louis (93 tackles), who had the good fortune to spend his first season in the starting lineup alongside two wonderful starters – Mark Herzlich being the other. The Eagles do need to replace Herzlich, who bounced back from his health scare to have a nice senior season. The primary options are sophomore Steele Divitto (20 tackles) and junior Nick Clancy. Whether Divitto has the size to start on the strong side is a concern, which might lead to Clancy claiming the starting role.
The line is young enough – and inexperienced enough, by and large – to expect weekly improvement. But expecting another dominant showing against the run might be too much to ask, even if the Eagles will continue to rank among the A.C.C.’s best in this regard. One full-time starter returns in senior tackle Kaleb Ramsey (39 tackles, 7.5 for loss), who’s an all-conference candidate. B.C. also brings back an end with starting experience in junior Max Holloway, who led the Eagles with 14 tackles for loss and 4 sacks despite starting less than half of his team’s games. Holloway is one lineman who could really break through with more snaps in the starting lineup.
Sophomore Kasim Edebali (13 tackles, 1.5 for loss) made four starts at end last fall; he’ll move into a more permanent role in 2011, with freshmen C.J. Parsons, Mehdi Abdesmad – he was in for spring practice – and Connor Wujciak three youngsters who could break into the rotation. The Eagles have two tackles with starting experience to team alongside Ramsey in Conor O’Neal and Dillon Quinn.
I’d like to see the secondary play a bit more aggressively, though the 10-yard cushions are part of the defensive game plan, to be fair. B.C. returns four defensive backs with starting experience, led by senior cornerback Donnie Fletcher (56 tackles, team-best 5 interceptions). Sophomore C.J. Jones is the second-most experienced returning cornerback, giving him a slight leg up over his fellow competition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if true freshman Albert Louis-Jean, one of the nation’s top cornerback recruits, ends up starting before too long. Redshirt freshman Dominique Williams is also in the mix.
Juniors Jim Noel (36 tackles, 4 picks) and Okechukwu Okoroha (27 tackles) return at strong and free safety, respectively. Noel started the final eight games of 2010, stepping in for senior Dominick LeGrande – who’s also back, and will be a leading reserve. Okoroha started the last six games of last season after Wes Davis suffered a season-ending injury; Okoroha needs to do more in pass coverage.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line Three starters must be replaced up front, including all-American left tackle Anthony Castonzo. That’s a major loss, no doubt about it. But the losses as a whole aren’t altogether daunting: yeah, you won’t find another Castonzo right off the bat, but I don’t think the Eagles will struggle replacing guard Thomas Claiborne and right tackle Rich Lapham, both of whom lost their starting roles – Lapham due to injury – near the end of last season. The two returning starters will stay in place: Nathan Richman at left guard and Mark Spinney at center. The Eagles have two sophomore options at right guard in Bryan Davis and Ian White; as of now, it seems like Davis will start while White stands as a leading reserve at both left and right guard. So what about tackle? I think we know which pair will start: juniors John Wetzel and Emmett Cleary. What still remains to be seen, at least to a degree, is where each will start – which will replace Castonzo on the blind side, in short. In Cleary’s favor is his starting experience, which includes five starts at left guard and five more at right tackle in 2010. But he doesn’t have experience at left tackle, which Wetzel does have, albeit in a reserve role behind Castonzo. But Wetzel was surely taking notes from his all-American predecessor, and promoting him to the top spot would provide a measure of consistency to this offensive front. I would bet that Wetzel will get the nod, with Clearly taking over on the right side.
Game(s) to watch
Conference games with Florida State, N.C. State and Clemson will decide the Atlantic division. But games with Duke, Massachusetts, U.C.F. and Wake Forest will decide whether Boston College returns to bowl play. The year starts relatively smoothly before turning rough late, so the Eagles need to start fast, unlike last season.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell I have my concerns. One is this offense, which has a new coordinator but might not experience immediate success. There’s no questioning the fact that Rogers stands as a massive upgrade over his predecessor, if only because he cannot possibly be any worse; still, Boston College will go through a sizable change in philosophy after three years of being extremely vanilla offensively. Much depends on how much improvement we’ll see from Rettig, the sophomore quarterback who scuffled – with a few bright spots – through a true freshman season. But there are pieces in place to be better, thanks to two strong backs and a deep receiver corps, and even with one big loss up front the line shouldn’t take a massive step back. Even if the offense continues to be one of the A.C.C.’s worst, the defense is there to carry the team to bowl play. There’s Kuechly, who is terrific, as well as a handful of blossoming underclassmen dotting the defensive line and the secondary. So what’s the problem? My biggest worry is with the face of the program: I’m not sure if Spaziani is up to the challenge of leading B.C. back to the forefront of the Atlantic division. A second worry: this schedule. The Eagles must start at least 4-1 if they plan on keeping this bowl streak alive, as the slate from Clemson on is extremely difficult. I think B.C. can do just that, but I don’t think this is much better than a .500 team. Is the university satisfied with more mediocrity? Spaziani’s job seems safe, but I think B.C. is capable of doing more.
Dream season Rogers proves to be just what the Eagles ordered, helping B.C. put together an offense potent enough to share top billing with another terrific defense. When the dust clears, B.C. goes 9-3, 6-2 in the A.C.C., and behind only Florida State in the Atlantic division.
Nightmare season A slow start cripples the Eagles, who can’t make up ground in October and November — like they did a year ago — in a 4-8 finish.
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. And you can add Around the Res to the mix.
Through 59 teams 171,762.
Who is No. 61? Tomorrow’s university is located in the first All-American City in the first state to adopt an amendment banning all forms of alcoholic beverages.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: A.C.C., Albert Louis-Jean, Andre Williams, Boston College, Chase Rettig, Colin Larmond, Donnie Fletcher, Frank Spaziani, Kaleb Ramsey, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kevin Rogers, Luke Kuechly, Montel Harris
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