Boston College Preview: Will The Eagles Take A Step Back in '09?

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Boston College Preview: Will The Eagles Take A Step Back in '09?
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Here is the first of a series of team previews for each team in the ACC (and the SEC later on August). First up is Boston College and I was fortunate enough to do a Q&A with the guys at BC Interruption.

After the Q&A, I will give my thoughts on the Eagles season and of course, a prediction.

What has this off season been like for BC fans with Jags getting fired, losing Dominique Davis, and finding out ACC DPOY Mark Herzlich may miss the season?

Jeff: This off season has been simply unimaginable and hard to describe as a fan. After losing the Music City Bowl in disappointing fashion, it was easy to say that the team just didn't care to be there and should improve at nearly every position aside from DT in 2009. Having come off an Atlantic Division title, there was no reason why another one couldn't easily be won in 2009.

Then the big surprise came with Jags apparently not really wanting to be at BC anymore and ultimately being fired. Losing Davis was almost a relief in a way because it clarified the already messy quarterback competition slightly for a moment. But losing Herzlich with so much uncertainty as to his future is tough to deal with. You want to think about how the team will adjust and fill the void but then you also want to hold out the slightest bit of hope that he might be on the field again.

You also feel guilty for wishing his recovery be quick enough for him to get back for part of the football and just want to be sure he makes a full recovery. It certainly has been a tough off season. When you throw in the recruiting of Dave Shinskie, there have literally been weeks where you thought that we could go 10-2, where you thought 4-8 was a real possibility, then get back to thinking about returning to Tampa for the ACC Championship Game.

Most are picking BC to finish at or near the bottom in the Atlantic. This is not new and the Eagles have defied the odds winning their division two straight years. Why do you think so many pick BC at the bottom and is it warranted this season?

Brian: Eagles fans have certainly gotten used to hearing the same theme every off season. It basically boils down to the following argument: I just don’t see how the Eagles can rebound this season since they lose _____ and _______ (fill in the blanks with marquee players and/or coaches).

In 2007, it was hearing this when Tom O’Brien left Boston College for the NC State head coaching position. How could the Eagles rebound? In 2008, it was the loss of NFL Draft first-rounders Matt Ryan and Gosder Cherilus. How could the Eagles possibly rebound after the loss of the ACC Player of the Year? And this summer, it has been the firing of coach Jeff Jagodzinski, the dismissal of quarterback Dominique Davis, the graduation of first day NFL Draft picks B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, the lingering Achilles injury to linebacker Mike McLaughlin and, of course, Mark Herzlich being diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma.

How can the Eagles possibly rebound from all those losses? Casual fans of the other 11 ACC programs that don’t know more than a few facts about Boston College could easily look at all those losses and quickly dismiss any chance the Eagles have in this year’s Atlantic Division race.

Is the skepticism warranted this season? Sure. I’d be lying if I said that all the losses in BC’s off season will be hard to overcome. But BC still returns a solid core of players and we certainly won’t be pushovers in the ACC this season. The truth of the matter is that every team in the Atlantic has similar flaws and holes to fill this season to the Eagles.

Clemson—picked by some to win the Atlantic—will also be breaking in a new coaching staff and have uncertainties around the quarterback position. Florida State has to fill the hole on the defensive line left by Everette Brown. NC State is injury prone, and keeps losing players early. Wake Forest loses even more talent on the defensive side of the ball than BC does. And Maryland loses loads of experience on their offensive line.

We all have the same question marks and the Atlantic Division race will likely be as wild a race as it was a year ago. Again, is the skepticism warranted? Sure. Someone has to be picked last. But it will be that more satisfying for Eagles fans if we again crush expectations in 2009.

Are we going to see a run dominated offense with four o-line starters returning as well as the top two backs?

Jeff: Look for this year's team to run the ball a lot more for two reasons. First, the obvious, which is the big question as to who might be under center and whether or not they will be capable of much more than simply handing the ball off. But second, and probably more important, is the coaching change this year.

The Jags/Logan combo last year already took Davis and threw the ball 75 percent (or more) times during parts of games with him even though his completion percentage was awful and there were little signs of improvement. But the coaching staff this year, led by Spaziani, will more closely resemble the Tom O’Brien days where the Eagles will run the ball every possession just to show they can and to let the offensive line do their thing.


Who is the favorite in the QB battle and do you think this QB will be the starter by seasons end?

Brian: The general consensus is that Justin Tuggle will emerge as the starter, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we see multiple QBs under center in 2009. Tuggle had an opportunity to emerge from spring ball as the starter and he simply didn’t take advantage. This makes me doubt whether Tuggle, up against David Shinskie, can truly emerge as the clear cut favorite.

Still, I think the experience that Tuggle gained running the practice squad last season as a redshirt will be the difference in the quarterback competition, at least initially. I think it’s unreasonable to expect Shinskie to come in, pick up the entire offensive playbook and get in starting QB shape for the start of the season.

After the first two games, Tuggle will be tested early with three straight Atlantic Division matchups against Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State. If Tuggle struggles, it won’t take Spaziani and offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill long to make a change and throw Shinskie to the fire. For BC, the Atlantic Division will be won or lost very early, and the coaching staff doesn’t have the luxury of time to ride out one option at quarterback if it’s not working.

What will the impact be of losing two mammoth DTs from a defense that ranked first in rushing yards per game allowed in ACC games?

Jeff: 6’3”, 293 pound junior Damik Scafe is a worthy replacement of B.J. Raji and Ron Brace but the problem is that we only have one of him. The biggest difference you'll see this year is fewer interceptions by the Eagles because opposing quarterbacks won't be feeling the big push up the middle forcing an early release of the ball as they did last year.

The rush defense will naturally be hurt also, but Raji and Brace were such a good defensive tackle combo that they could have a huge effect on our pass defense that average DTs just don't have.

Who is the top candidate to fill Herzlich's shoes at LB?

Brian: The Eagles linebacking corps will receive a much needed boost when Mike McLaughlin returns to the field after recovering from a torn Achilles. If McLaughlin can’t go, the Eagles will look to sophomores Dominick LeGrande and Will Thompson to fill the holes left by Herzlich and McLaughlin. Spaz will likely also rotate in redshirt freshmen Alex DiSanzo and Nick Clancy as well as senior Kevin Distaso. Of that group, however, only Will Thompson has significant experience playing behind Robert Francois.

Boston College never seems to have highly touted recruits, but are great developers of talent as evidenced by their NFL pedigree. Who are the freshman that could surprise this year?

Jeff: For several reasons, but mainly the timing and the way in which Jeff Jagodzinski left the team, our recruiting class this year is not impressive at all. But at quarterback, we will either be playing a true freshman, a redshirt freshman, or both. We are hoping Justin Tuggle or Dave Shinskie surprise us this year.

Please tell me the Eagles will continue their dominance of Notre Dame on October 24?

Brian: Eagles vs. Irish will definitely be a closer game than it has been in the last two seasons after the series was renewed. I predict that Notre Dame will be 5-0 heading into their BYE week and will spend most of their time preparing for their home game against 5-0 Southern Cal on October 17.

After the Trojans end any Irish hopes of an undefeated, BCS National Championship Game appearance, BC comes in a week later and knocks off the Irish for the second straight week. Besides, BC is known for getting up to play Notre Dame in South Bend.

What is your prediction for BC this season (record) and will they go to a bowl game?

Jeff: It's hard to imagine the Eagles will not go at least 6-6 and head to a bowl. Consider that Boston College should win at least three non-conference games and the ACC has many decent, but not great teams that even a struggling BC could knock off any given week. In addition, the offense should show improvement since most players return aside from the quarterback (who was the Achilles Heel of the offense last year on a team that still managed to win the division).

The defense will not be quite as good, but still a solid unit. I’ll go with 8-4 in a year where neither Clemson nor Florida State are expected to anything great and Wake Forest and Maryland are also considered teams that will struggle to make a bowl. If you don't like that logic, just go with adding 2 wins to whatever the consensus mainstream media pick is for BC which is a formula that has worked pretty well since BC joined the ACC.

Brian:
I’ll go with the slightly more conservative 7-5 (3-5 ACC). Regardless, I wouldn’t count on the Eagles staying home in December this season. We’ll get some wins and go bowling.

My thoughts on Boston College

The Eagles always seem to do better than most people think, but this may be the year BC finally falls in line. They do not have a QB with meaningful FBS experience, so expect new head coach Frank Spaziani to use a run heavy offense with the top two running backs and most of the o-line back.

Defensively, BC likely will not be as good stopping the run having lost their two mammoth DTs and DPOY Herzlich. Like the guys mentioned, the lack of pass rush up the middle may hurt the pass defense too.

Many people are down on BC again this year despite having won two straight ACC Championship Game appearances. I was touting BC as a serious contender until the loss of ACC DPOY Herzlich from an already depleted defense. I think Spaziani will have his crew in the mix for a division until late November when another team emerges in a wild ACC Atlantic.

My Prediction:
7-5, 4-4 ACC, Bowl Game


Vegas Odds:
Win ACC 30/1
Win BCS Championship 150/1
No win total given

Thanks again to the guys at BC Interruption.

What are your thoughts on the Boston College Eagles in 2009? Can they win the Atlantic Division again?

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