Boston College Eagles (2007: Atlantic Division Champs, 11-3 (6-2), lost ACC title game to Virginia Tech, Champs Sports Bowl Champions, No. 10 in final AP Poll, No. 11 in final USA Today Poll)
After an historic season at The Heights, one question looms larger than all of the others for the 2008 BC Eagles: How do you replace Matt Ryan? The answer seems to be, at this point, veteran backup Chris Crane.
The job appears to be the senior's to lose. Dominique Davis, a red-shirt freshman, will most likely be the backup and could provide a change of pace during games, as he possesses better mobility than Crane and could give opposing defenses something else to think about.
Transfer Codi Boek will be the third string, but he did not get many reps in the spring game, so Crane and Davis project to be the focus in this positional battle.
One thing that will help to ease the quarterback transition is the fact that a number of experienced pass catchers will be returning this season. Brandon Robinson leads the returning corps of wide receivers, along with Rich Gunnell, Clarence Megwa, and Justin Jarvis.
Billy Flutie could also see some time, after being used primarily in trick play situations last season. All-ACC tight end Ryan Purvis also returns to provide whoever is at quarterback with a reliable security blanket. Freshman tailback Josh Haden, who enrolled early, will need to become an option out of the backfield, much like Andre Callender was for Ryan last year.
The running game also has some big holes to fill. The Eagles are looking to replace the steady tandem of L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. Haden looks to be the front runner to be starting in the opener against Kent State at this point. He enrolled in school early and was able to participate in spring drills.
Size-wise, he is similar to Derrick Knight, as he only stands at 5-8. He is a speedster though and the Eagles hope he can provide a home run threat out of the backfield. Fullback James McCluskey returns for his sophomore year after starting all of last season.
The success of the offense, as has always been the case at Boston College, will rely greatly on the success of the offensive line. The line will be anchored by junior center Matt Tennant, who started every game last season. After starting every game at right tackle as a freshman last year, Anthony Castonzo is projected to move across the line and assume the left tackle position.
Clif Ramsey, the starter at right guard last season, could also be moved to the left side of the line this season. The line will be very youthful, as a number of younger players will battle it out for the remaining two spots. The adjustments of Castonzo and Ramsey along with the integration of 2 new starters will be vital to the success of this unit.
Offensive Summary: Six returning starters
With a lot of experience, the defense looks to be very strong this year and could be depended on to be the anchor for this team while the offense answers some of its questions.
The defensive line will be anchored by their two massive starting tackles. Returning starter Ron Brace garnered All-ACC Honorable Mention last season and B.J. Raji returns to the team after sitting out last season due to academic issues.
Alex Albright returns after starting the first 11 games at defensive end before being sidelined by injury. Brady Smith would have started opposite him until off-field issues forced him to be removed from the team.
Jim Ramella will most likely be the other starter at end, and he has seen significant time in the past. Depth on the line will be provided by Austin Giles, Jerry Willette, Damik Scafe, and true freshman Max Holloway.
Despite two huge losses to the linebacking corps—Tyronne Pruitt and Jo-Lonn Dunbar— there is still a great deal of depth and experience in this unit.
The biggest story for this unit will be the return of veteran Brian Toal, who sat out last season with a medical red-shirt. He is experienced, having started 24 games in his career.
The one returning starter is strong-side backer Mark Herzlich, who started every game last season. Mike McLaughlin is the likely starter in the middle after starting three games in place of Dunbar last year. With Kevin Akins and Robert Francois in the mix as well, the Eagles have five experience linebackers ready to go this year.
The secondary also suffered a huge loss with the departure of the emotional, hard-hitting safety Jamie Silva. Dejuan Tribble, an excellent ball-hawking corner, will also be missed in the backfield.
Juniors Marcellus Bowman and Wes Davis will compete to fill Silva's spot. Paul Anderson, a senior, will provide experience at the strong safety position. Roderick Rollins, a junior, and Deleon Gause, a sophomore, both have starting experience and are expected to be the starters at cornerback.
Razzie Smith is another option with some experience at cornerback. Another freshman who enrolled early, Donnie Fletcher, who was a much renowned prep player, will also look to see some time at corner.
Defensive Summary: Six 2007 starters returning (Eight overall)
Special teams will look to fill the void left by four year starter at punter, Johnny Ayers. The long snapping duties will be handled by the returning Jack Geiser, a junior. Billy Bennett and Steve Aponavicius will both be returning to compete for the place kicking duties. Aponavicius also saw some time at punter in the spring game but struggled.
Special Teams Summary: Two starters returning
The Eagles will ease into their conference schedule as they only see one ACC foe (Georgia Tech) in their first four games. They open in Cleveland with Kent State, followed by a stretch of three straight home games (home opener against Georgia Tech, UCF, and Division 1-AA Rhode Island).
If they can handle their conference opener, a 4-0 September is definitely within reach. Their next stretch of four games sees four straight conference games, two each at home and on the road.
N.C. State will be intriguing as it will be O'Brien Bowl II, this time at N.C. State. After a week off, they will have a much anticipated showdown with the Hokies of Virginia Tech.
This is developing into a very nice rivalry, one that has seen BC win two out of the last three meetings, but Virginia Tech won the most important match-up in the 2007 ACC Championship, so the Eagles will have revenge on their minds.
A letdown will need to be avoided the following week as they travel to North Carolina to face a young Tar Heel squad. The tough stretch concludes with a home game against Clemson, who will be looking to avenge a comeback win by BC in Death Valley last season.
The final stretch of the season begins with the Holy War against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are looking to bounce back after a horrific 2007 campaign. It will be interesting to see where they are at come this November showdown.
The next week is a game that many on BC have probably had circled on their calendars since the schedule was released. They will travel to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles of Florida State, the team that ended BC's undefeated season on their home turf last November.
The final two weeks sees a road game at Wake Forest, who have been very successful the last two years under Jim Grobe, and the regular season and home finale will see the Maryland Terrapins coming into Alumni Stadium.
BC should have revenge on their mind after they put up a stinker at Maryland the week after the Florida State loss last season.
It is tough to say how well BC will fare next season because the loss of Ryan is a huge one. They will definitely be competitive and they bring back a great deal of experience, so another run at the conference championship is not out of the question.
BC will most likely fly under the radar through the preseason and first month of the season, which will be to Coach Jag's liking as they try to fill the holes they have. The ACC hasn't been the power conference that many envisioned when they went to the twelve team format, and if BC plays to their potential and drops the reputation of choking in big games, then there is no reason not to project another successful campaign at The Heights.