Note: Today, we kick off the season previews throughout the ACC, in alphabetical order. As promised earlier, there will be one for each ACC team, plus one for each team on our non-conference schedule. Busy month, but by the end of it, FOV readers will be the most informed fans there are about the competition. Kick back and enjoy.
Boston College Eagles
9/4: Weber State
9/11: Kent State
9/25: Virginia Tech
10/2: Notre Dame
10/9: @ NC State
10/16: @ Florida State
11/6: @ Wake Forest
11/13: @ Duke
Skip: Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
QB: Dave Shinskie (So.)
RB: Montel Harris (Jr.)
FB: James McCluskey (5Sr.)
WR: Colin Larmond (Jr.)
WR: Billy Flutie (5Sr.)
TE: Chris Pantale (rSo.)
LT: Anthony Castonzo (Sr.)
LG: Emmett Cleary (rSo.)
C: Nathan Richman (rJr.)
RG: Thomas Claiborne (5Sr.)
RT: Rich Lapham (5Sr.)
LDE: Alex Albright (5Sr.)
LDT: Damik Scaife (5Sr.)
RDT: Brad Newman (5Sr.)
RDE: Max Holloway (rSo.)
SLB: Mark Herzlich (5Sr.)
MLB: Luke Kuechly (So.)
WLB: Mike Morrissey (5Sr.)
CB: DeLeon Gause (Sr.)
CB: Isaac Johnson (Jr.)
SS: Dominick LeGrande (Jr.)
FS: Wes Davis (5Sr.)
K: Ryan Quigley (Jr.)
P: Ryan Quigley (Jr.)
Coach: Frank Spaziani (2nd year)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Media prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division
2009 1st team: OT Anthony Castonzo, LB Luke Kuechly
2009 2nd team: RB Montel Harris, C Matt Tennant
2009 HM: WR Rich Gunnell, OG Thomas Claiborne, P Ryan Quigley
2010 preseason: OT Anthony Castonzo, OG Thomas Claiborne, RB Montel Harris, LB Luke Kuechly
(Italics indicate departed player.)
Last year at this time, things looked pretty bleak for the Eagles, and by bleak I mean "probably the worst team in the conference." New coach, god-knows-who at quarterback, and the star linebacker getting chemo treatments. This is the kind of adversity that dooms a season, so naturally Boston College went 8-4. This year they go into the season with much the opposite outlook: BC is now the picture of stability.
For Boston College, it starts on the offensive line. This is possibly the steadiest and most experienced bunch in the ACC with senior tackle Anthony Castonzo and massive guard Thomas Claiborne filling two of the five preseason all-ACC spots on the line. With Matt Tennant off to the NFL, BC moved starting guard Nathan Richman to the middle, ensuring that there'd be little transition anxiety.
Expect the Eagles to keep the ball on the ground a lot, as that solid line will be blocking for all-ACC workhorse Montel Harris. Only a junior, Harris is already 10th on BC's all-time rushing yards list, coming off a 1,450-yard season in 2009. Harris is an every-down type and accounted for 14 of BC's 17 rushing TD's last year. He'll need to be as good this year, because the passing game is the one question mark. No worries about the protection, but Dave Shinskie will probably need to improve his consistency to keep a hold on the quarterback job. His performances last year ranged from the brilliant (18/29, 229 yds, 3 TDs/1 INT against Wake Forest) to the hideous (12/28, 101 yds, 1 TD/4 INT against UNC) and everything in between. (And that's not to mention the disastrous VT game, where Shinskie compiled a QB rating of -22.) Now that BC has returned to the Land of Expectations, they'll need solid QB play to take the next step.
What kind of help Shinskie gets from his receivers remains to be seen. Colin Larmond looks like a capable replacement for the departed Rich Gunnell (who caught over a third of BC's completed passes in 2009) but beyond that the receivers are totally unproven. It's a pity Miami's not on the schedule, otherwise BC fans might get to dream of Billy Flutie following in dad's footsteps with a miracle Hail Mary, only on the other end of it. As it stands, Flutie is the leading candidate out of spring camp to sit atop the depth chart, but here may be a chance for top recruit Shakim Phillips, who turned down over 20 other offers to come to BC, to strut his stuff. Regardless, expect BC's offense to be heavily run-oriented as they lean on their best known quantities.
The story in fall camp for Boston College is going to be how well Mark Herzlich returns to form after missing the 2009 season undergoing treatment for bone cancer. The other story is one sure to sting UVA recruitniks just a little bit every time it's mentioned: Luke Kuechly was everyone's unanimous freshman of the year starting in place of Herzlich, registering 158 tackles, an average of over 12 per game. Kuechly (that's "KEEK-lee" if you're curious) let his recruitment go with UVA in the hunt all the way, until his selection of BC just a couple weeks before Signing Day. Herzlich, Kuechly (who moves to the middle so as to give Herzlich his spot back) and senior Mike Morrissey give the Eagles the likely best linebacking corps in the conference.
The line is as much a bastion of experience as their offensive counterparts, especially tackles Damik Scafe and Brad Newman. Newman is getting his first chance at his own full-time starting gig, but Scafe was BC's leading tackler on the line last season. Neither is a terror, but both should be solid, and they have the luxury of an all-star linebacking corps behind them.
The secondary has some position battles to shake out, the only place on the field where the dreaded "or" shows up on the spring depth chart. Free safety Wes Davis is the only real playmaking threat back there, the unfortunate truth being that about as many returning players with interceptions come from the front 7 as the secondary. The group has some experience, but senior starting CB DeLeon Gause, for example, didn't intercept a single pass last season, which is why as a senior he's still in a position battle. This is a group that has probably taken a step backwards, in losing Marcellus Bowman and Roderick Rollins and not yet finding a set replacement. BC doesn't have a terrorizing pass rush, either, so opponents may find it relatively easy to move the ball against the Eagles through the air.
Ryan Quigley is one of the top returning punters in the league, and this year he looks likely to take over kicking duties as well, as the only veteran kicker on the roster. BC will need to find a replacement returner for both kicks and punts, as those duties were handled by now-departed seniors Jeff Smith and Rich Gunnell.
Keep the game on the ground and you'll play right into Boston College's hands. This was one of the elite run defense squads last year, one of 11 teams in the country to hold opponents to less than three yards per rush. And Harris is a workhorse with explosive capabilities, the obvious focal point of the offense. But in order to seriously contend for the ACC title, they'll need better play from the quarterback position. Shinskie doesn't need to be an all-star, but he needs to improve his accuracy and his consistency. His performance was fine last year when BC just needed to get their feet under them to outperform the low expectations, but he must improve in his sophomore season for BC to take the next step. BC must also answer some questions about their pass defense, or there's likely to be another game this year like last year's VT game where they were out of it by the time 15 minutes had elapsed.
BC should be a team you mark down in permanent ink for a bowl season. They have too strong a foundation to have a losing season, and seven wins should be considered the bare minimum. The schedule is favorable, skipping three of the Coastal's stronger teams. Particularly place yourself on alert if they start off 4-0 after two tough games against renewed rival Notre Dame and the ACC opener against VT. But all eyes will be on the quarterback to see if this can be an Orange Bowl season for the Eagles (a longshot goal, but a makeable one, especially with that schedule) or if it will simply result in what BC fans are used to these days: a quality season followed by an insultingly low bowl invite.