Flying To New Heights: 2010 Boston College Eagles Preview
With Thursday marking the beginning of the college football season, now is the perfect opportunity to evaluate the 2010 Boston College Eagles. This year, the Eagles return fifteen starters from last season's 8-5 campaign, and will welcome the return of outside linebacker Mark Herzlich.
Before being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, the 6'4" linebacker was the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year. Formerly believed to be a future first round draft pick, Herzlich's inspirational return to the gridiron should be one of the more motivating story lines around football.
Coach Spaz and His Returning Starters
Entering his second season as head coach, Frank Spaziani has unyielding potential in terms of improving last years’ second place finish in the ACC Atlantic.
With eight starters returning on offense and seven returning to a defense that allowed a paltry 19.8 points per game, the Eagles certainly have the talent to compete. Factor in one of the easier schedules in the ACC? A 10-win season is not out of the question.
These Eagles Have Some Trouble in The Air
The biggest problem for the Eagles will likely be their passing game. Despite a shaky performance last season, 26-year old sophomore David Shinskie will remain the starting QB. Often throwing into double and even triple coverage, the former Toronto Blue Jay prospect displayed questionable decision making abilities last season.
Shinskie beat out sophomore Mike Marscovetra and highly touted freshman Chase Rettig for the starting gig, but an unstable start to the season could have the coaching staff re-examining their decision. Last year, Shinskie passed for 2,049 yards with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. For BC to realize its’ true potential, Shinskie has got to cut down on his giveaways.
Most Underrated Running Back in The Country?
While the air attack may be a question mark, the ground game is arguably the best in their conference. Montel Harris set a sophomore rushing record by tallying 308 carries for 1,457 yards and 14 TD's. The 5'10", 190 pound back, came to the school as a recruiting afterthought after the Eagles landed prized back Josh Haden.
Three years later and Haden has transferred to Utah while Harris is a member of the All-ACC pre-season team. In fact, Harris trails Derrick Knight by only 1,368 yards for the schools rushing record, with two seasons of eligibility left. Harris may lack breakaway speed or tremendous strength, but his quick decision making and hard running style make him one of the premier backs in the country.
Offensive Line College
When asked to forecast Montel Harris' production, pre-season All-American Anthony Castonzo stated that his goal was for a 2,000 yard season. Most people would laugh at such a prediction. The fact is, no running back in Boston College history has eclipsed the 2K mark. In addition, no back in ACC history has broken the 2000 yard barrier.
But this team is different. Harris averaged 112.1 yards per game last season. Furthermore, with four starters returning to the offensive line, that number could be on its way up. If Boston College can reach the ACC championship game, Harris could have the opportunity to accomplish this lofty goal.
Take a twelve game season; add the ACC championship game and a bowl bid and you have a 14 game season. By dividing two thousand by fourteen, we see that Harris would need 142.8 yards per game to accomplish his objective. Anybody who watched Harris explode for 264 yards and five TD against NC State knows that 143-yards-per-game is not out of the question.
Rail Thin Receiving Corps
Another factor that may help Harris in his quest is the lack of receiving options. After losing Rich Gunnell, Colin Larmond was supposed to step into the number one receiving role. He was second to Gunnell in every receiving category and displayed great speed with a 6'3" frame.
Regrettably, Larmond was lost for the season after injuring his knee and will likely receive a medical redshirt. That leaves the Eagles receiving corps thinner than Lindsay Lohan after a two week coke binge. Ifeanya Momah, who received a medical redshirt last season may end up at the team's top receiver despite past experience at defensive end.
Aside from Billy Flutie, the position will be filled mostly with freshman and sophomores who will be asked to learn on the job. Highly touted freshman Shakim Phillips will likely be thrown into the fire and his production could help decide the fate of this Boston College aerial attack.
So who will be the most productive reciever for the Eagles this year? Sophomore Chris Pantale thrived last season as a freshman tallying 223 yards on 25 catches (good for third on the team). This 6'6" 245 pound match-up problem is a nightmare for opposing linebackers, and could be playing on Sundays in the not too distant future.
While the Eagles offense will feature one of the elite running games, BC’s defense may offer some of the best run stuffers in the country. Led by an exceptional core of linebackers, the Eagles defense will likely be the team's strong suit.
Last season as a true freshman, Luke Kuechly finished second in FBS conferences with 158 tackles. While the loss of Mike McLaughlin hurts, the return of Mark Herzlich should improve both the spirit and talent of the defense. Herz brings his intense attitude, high motor and incredible talent to a defense that allowed a piddling 3.0 yards per carry last season.
Room For Improvement
Last season, BC's rush defense crippled the ground game of opposing offenses. Unfortunately the passing game was not nearly as effective. The Eagles ranked 10th out of 12 in the ACC after allowing 224.5 passing yards per game.
Now I realize the Eagles played a brand of bend, but don't break pass defense. I also realize that they only surrendered 12 passing touchdowns, good for fourth best in the conference. However, when you allow your opponents to complete 62% of their passes, it is only a matter of time before they put together a successful scoring drive.
The Eagles do return two players to their secondary in DeLeon Gause and Wes Davis, and have great depth with a total of six seniors in their secondary. This makes the passing game one aspect in which the Eagles can improve greatly on last season's shortcomings.
More Holes Than Swiss Cheese
The biggest deficiency for the Boston College defense comes from their defensive line. The team will return defensive end Alex Albright and defensive tackle Damik Scafe, but there is very little depth behind them.
In fact, while sophomore Max Holloway is expected to start opposite Albright at the end position, there is a degree of uncertainty at the tackle position. Many expect junior Kaleb Ramsey to land the job, but it will be interesting to see who lines up along the line come Saturday. This group has dropped off significantly since the days of B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, but their ability to create pressure is of great importance.
Based on their depth at linebacker and lack thereof on the line, perhaps the Eagles would be best served switching to a 3-4 defense. If healthy, Herzlich has the size and speed to molest opposing quarterbacks.
Alas, this scenario is extremely unlikely. Hopefully, the Eagles can create pressure without blitzing any of their talented linebackers. In which case, the team will be able to disguise their coverages and confuse opposing teams.
Can We Call Them Mundane Teams?
The term “special teams” can be quite misleading as last year; Boston College's crew was quite erratic. Despite an immense amount of talent, kick returner Jeff Smith averaged a measly 22.1 yards per return with a long of only 42 yards.
Meanwhile, the underdog story of Steve “Sid Vicious” Aponavicius came to an end. Aponavicius was an impressive 13 for 14 on field goal tries, but held an uninspiring season long of 42 yards. Also departed is Rich Gunnell who was terrific in punt return duty, averaging 13.7 yards per return with one return touchdown. His presence will be sorely missed.
Propitiously, the Eagles do return punter Ryan Quigley. Quigley's 41 yards per punt? Good for fifth best in the ACC. Regrettably, he was also sixth in the entire country in punts attempted, exemplifying an anemic offense.
With Quigley the only special team mainstay returning, the question is who will fill these roles? Early indications have DeLeon Gause jumping into the role of kick and punt returner. In the past, Gause has shown great speed and explosiveness. DLG also has experience fielding kicks.
As for the placekicker? While Quigley has a powerful boot and was originally recruited as a kicker, expect him to avoid pulling double duty. Instead, freshman Nate Freese will likely get the call. According to Rivals.com, Freese was the 20th ranked kicker coming out of high school. After red-shirting for a year, Freese should be ready with ice in his veins.
Sept 4 vs Weber State
Sept 11 vs Kent State
Sept 25 vs Virginia Tech
Oct 2 vs Notre Dame
Oct 9 at NC State
Oct 16 @ Florida State
Oct 23 vs Maryland
Oct 30 vs Clemson
Nov 6 @ Wake Forest
Nov 13 @ Duke
Nov 20 vs Virginia
Nov 27 @ Syracuse
Other than Florida State, all of the Eagles toughest games are being played in the friendly confines of Alumni Stadium. Moreover, with a new coach at Notre Dame, C.J. Spiller finally graduated and Miami not on the schedule, a 10 to 11 win season seems like a real possibility.
Will These Eagles Soar?
The man known as the “mad scientist” has a lot on his plate this season. Despite the fact that the Eagles received only a single vote in the pre-season rankings, they have a lot of talent and potential to fulfill.
Much of the season will hinge on how Mark Herzlich responds after a one year absence from the game and whether Shinskie can act his age, not his year. With a top-notch defense and superior running game, this is a team that can compete with the any team. On the contrary, they will struggle if they get behind early and have to throw the ball.
The Eagles may have one of the premier offensive lines and linebacking corps in the country, but unfortunately one of the weakest groups of receivers in the ACC. Given Spaziani's background as a defensive coordinator, he has done a terrific job shaping a team in his image. If Spaz can improve on last season's results, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship in Chestnut Hill.