As spring practices commence around the nation, I’ll be looking at each of Notre Dame’s 12 opponents in the 2012 season and addressing some key questions and some potential breakout players.
First up are Frank Spaziani’s Boston College Eagles, who are the first BCS program to begin spring drills. They take the field for the first time on Saturday, with their spring game coming on March 31.
Next week, we’ll look at Wake Forest as they prepare to start practice on March 1.
Date: Nov. 10
Location: Alumni Stadium (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 16, Boston College 14 (2011)
Last Meeting in Chestnut Hill: Notre Dame 31, Boston College 13 (2010)
Current Streak: Notre Dame: 3
Record: 4-8 (3-5 ACC)
Leading Passer: Chase Rettig (So.): 170-of-317, 1,954 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT
Leading Rusher: Rolandan Finch (So.): 157 rushes, 705 yards, 3 TD
Leading Receiver: Colin Larmond (Sr.): 34 catches, 530 yards, 3 TD
Irish fans are very familiar with Chase Rettig, who made his first career start against the Notre Dame in 2010. The rising junior is currently in line to become the first quarterback to start four games against the Irish since Purdue’s Kyle Orton from 2001-2004.
He had little help last season, with both of the Eagles' top running backs and top wide receiver missing much of the season. To add insult to injury, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers (yes, ND fans, that Kevin Rogers) resigned just before the season. Doug Martin comes from New Mexico State to direct the offense this season.
Rettig has good size at 6’3” and finished the season strongly, with wins over N.C. State and Miami in the team’s last three games. He showed steady improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons and could be one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC if he does the same in his junior season.
There was a gaping hole in the Boston College offense last season when a knee injury forced Montel Harris to redshirt after playing only two games. Harris ran for 2,700 yards in 2009 and 2010 and ran for 120 yards against Notre Dame as a true freshman. He’s been cleared to fully participate in spring practice.
Sophomore Andre Williams had a similarly difficult season, having to miss two full games and much of three others after running for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener.
2011 leading rusher Rolandan Finch will also return, but will likely be third on the depth chart behind Harris and Williams. The running game should be much more of a factor in 2012 after finishing 82nd in the FBS last season.
Ifeanyi Momah suffered a serious knee injury in the Eagles’ opener and was lost for the season. Momah is a huge target at 6’6” and presents matchup problems for smaller cornerbacks, especially in the red zone.
Leading receiver Colin Larmond must be replaced, but Bobby Swigert, who led the team with 44 catches and caught a touchdown in South Bend last season, returns. Tight end Chris Pantale, who tied for the team lead with three touchdowns last season, also is back.
There’s no game-changer in the Eagles receiving corps. The offense has to put itself in scoring position more often to be able to truly capitalize on Momah’s size.
What was a weakness in 2011 after losing star tackle Anthony Castonzo to the NFL should become a strength for the Eagles in 2012. They return a pair of mammoth offensive tackles in John Wetzel and Emmett Cleary.
Center Mark Spinney must be replaced, but he’s the only starter lost from last year along the line. All five backups return as well, and the Eagles add 4-star recruit Win Homer to the mix.
Boston College finished in the middle of the FBS in sacks allowed, a respectable finish for a young group in a pro-style offense without a mobile quarterback. They’ll get a new position coach for the spring in former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
While tackle Kaleb Ramsey returns after having missed much of last season with a foot injury, junior defensive end Max Holloway opted to leave early for the NFL.
Junior Dillon Quinn and senior Conor O’Neal will compete for the tackle spot next to Ramsey.
While the run defense was solid a year ago, the Eagles pass-rush was relatively non-existent despite a solid performance in South Bend. Both starters at defensive end must be replaced, but red-shirt freshman Connor Wujciak should be healthy after an injury cost him the 2011 season.
Players like Luke Kuechly don’t come along very often, and now, the Eagles face the unenviable task of replacing their star middle linebacker.
WILL linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis may shift to the middle to replace Kuechly, and junior Steele DiVitto is a promising player on the outside who should take over Pierre-Louis’ spot.
The Eagles do add freshman Steven Daniels, a 4-star recruit who could be a factor at one of the outside spots as well. At a position lacking depth, Daniels will be asked to contribute from day one.
The Eagles didn’t allow a touchdown pass against Notre Dame last year, but overall, the pass defense was below average last season. They did lose two starting safety candidates during the summer, which set the unit back.
Cornerback C.J. Jones missed most of the season with an injury, but he’ll return, along with safeties Jim Noel and Okechukwu Okoroha. Rising sophomores Albert Louis-Jean and Manny Asprilla will compete for starting spots as well.
Donnie Fletcher must be replaced at cornerback, but everyone else returns, making this a deep unit despite a lack of elite talent.
Nate Freese overcame a disastrous miss that cost the Eagles a win against Duke to have a solid sophomore season. He’s made 32 of 41 field goals in his two seasons in Chestnut Hill.
Punter Ryan Quigley must be replaced, but he only averaged 38.5 yards per punt last season.
Both return units finished in the bottom quarter of the FBS, so expect kick returns to be a significant focus this offseason.
This is a crucial spring for Spaziani. The program has slowly trended downward since he took over for Jeff Jagodzinski in 2009, and frankly, the team has been very difficult to watch with its struggling offense.
Injuries debilitated the Eagles for much of last season, so despite losing its star, Boston College needs to get back to the postseason in 2012.
Getting Harris and Momah back to full speed will be the primary goal for the spring, as well as how the dynamics at linebacker will play out with possible position switches to help replace Kuechly.