Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 season preview: Boston College Eagles

It's that time.  Football season previews begin now.  I do this for a couple reasons - it familiarizes me with the conference, which is handy when you're trying to sound like you know what you're talking about for the rest of the season, but also there's this: I don't think there's another UVA site that goes as far in-depth, so, you the readers of FOV are the most-informed UVA fans around about the ACC.  Plus it makes August fly the hell by, because it'll be two weeks til game day and I'll be half done.  Anyway, here's Boston College.


8/30: @ Massachusetts
9/5: Pittsburgh (Fri.)
9/13: USC
9/20: Maine
9/27: Colorado State
10/4: BYE
10/11: @ NC State
10/18: Clemson
10/25: @ Wake Forest
11/1: @ Virginia Tech
11/8: Louisville
11/15: BYE
11/22: @ Florida State
11/29: Syracuse

Skip: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia

2013 results:

Villanova: W, 24-14
Wake Forest: W, 24-10
USC: L, 35-7
Florida State: L, 48-34
Army: W, 48-27
Clemson: L, 24-14
North Carolina: L, 34-10
Virginia Tech: W, 34-27
New Mexico State: W, 48-34
NC State: W, 38-21
Maryland: W, 29-26
Syracuse: L, 34-31
Arizona: L, 42-19 (Independence Bowl)

Record: 7-6, 4th (Atlantic)

Projected starters:

QB: Tyler Murphy (5Sr.)
RB: Myles Willis (So.)
FB: Bobby Wolford (rSo.)
WR: Bobby Swigert (5Sr.)
WR: Shakim Phillips (5Sr.)
TE: Louis Addazio (rJr.)
LT: Seth Betancourt (5Sr.)
LG: Bobby Vardaro (5Sr.)
C: Andy Gallik (5Sr.)
RG: Harris Williams (5Sr.)
RT: Ian Silberman (5Sr.)

DE: Brian Mihalik (Sr.)
DT: Mehdi Abdesmad (Sr.)
DT: Connor Wujciak (rJr.)
DE: Kevin Kavalec (So.)
SLB: Josh Keyes (Jr.)
MLB: Sean Duggan (Sr.)
WLB: Steven Daniels (Jr.)
CB: Manny Asprilla (Sr.)
CB: Bryce Jones (Jr.)
SS: Dominique Williams (5Sr.)
FS: Sean Sylvia (5Sr.)

K: Mike Knoll (Fr.)
P: Alex Howell (Sr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Steve Addazio (2nd season)

Media prediction: 6th of 7, Atlantic


2013 1st team: RB Andre Williams, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, K Nate Freese
2013 2nd team: OT Matt Patchan
2013 3rd team: WR Alex Amidon, C Andy Gallik, DE Kasim Edebali
2013 HM: OT Ian White
2014 preseason: C Andy Gallik

(Italics indicate departed player.)

This is a good optimistic note to start the season previews with: proof that there's precedent for going from 2-10 to a bowl game in one season.  And if UVA can't quite pull that off, proof that a new coach can make a world of difference.  Steve Addazio parlayed a 13-11 record at Temple into a promotion to BC, and whatever he's doing seems to work.  Nobody (well, almost nobody) thought they'd find their way to the postseason, but there they were, finishing the regular season on a hot streak and with a 7-5 record.

This year the odds seem just as long.  Picked 6th by the media, there may be good reason for that as BC took multiple body blows in the attrition department.  They're left with clumps of good players in some places, but other units have been utterly decimated.  Addazio hit a major sophomore slump in his second year at Temple, and has a major challenge here to avoid another one.

-- Offense

Let's start with the one major positive: an interior line that most teams would kill for.  A trio of fifth-year seniors with a combined 74 career starts anchors the whole offense here.  Center Andy Gallik is a Rimington watch-lister and the media's preseason choice for top center in the ACC.  Bobby Vardaro, now a fifth-year senior, is entering his fourth year as a starter at left guard, and the Eagles really liked RG Harris Williams going into last year and he did not disappoint.  Whoever lands the job as top running back will have a field day, or 12 of them really, running behind that line.  There'll be a battle at tackle, however; the lead spots for now likely belong to last year's backup LT, Seth Betancourt, and Florida grad student transfer Ian Silberman, but the Eagles also look to redshirt sophomore Jim Cashman and senior Dave Bowen to provide competition.

Running back is just one of many position battles on the offensive side.  Bowling ball back Myles Willis has a chance to be a really good one, having had a solid season as Andre Williams's primary backup last year, carrying 60 times for 346 yards.  Tyler Rouse is similarly built and will get his shot as well, and the Eagles bring in a couple of talented freshmen, particularly the highly-sought Jonathan Hilliman.  This should be more committee-based than last year when Williams piled up over 2,100 yards and BC was pumping him for the Heisman.

If that seems like a lot of production to replace, though, that's nothing compared to receiver.  Alex Amidon caught 77 passes for the Eagles in 2013; the next-highest total on the roster was 14.  And the next-highest total for a receiver was 11.  Thanks to graduation, transfers, injuries, and position changes, BC has one single receiver on the depth chart who caught a pass in 2013.  Suffice to say, depth is a problem.  The return of Bobby Swigert should help; Swigert is a capable player, but spent a season and a half on the shelf, so rust will be a problem.  BC brought in grad student transfer Shakim Phillips from UConn (Phillips began his career at BC in the first place) and he should find a way pretty quickly to the top of the depth chart after catching 60 passes in two years at UConn.  BC will also expect true freshman Thad Smith to play a part, and they return Dan Crimmins (the aforementioned lone returner) and have moved backup QB Josh Bordner to receiver as well.  Bordner and Crimmins are huge targets and should be able to help out in the red zone.  Long story short, Addazio has managed to piece together a unit that should be reasonably functional, but has a lot to live up to in a hurry.

His quarterback this year will be Tyler Murphy, another former Gator that Addazio had recruited to Gainesville.  Murphy is described as a dual threat, but only managed a yard per carry last year.  SEC starting experience is a plus; the fact that Florida's offense was startlingly ineffective last year is a minus. Murphy was not bad as a Gator, but the offense didn't move especially well.

Quite a bit depends on Murphy.  BC has a foundation on the interior line that's the envy of most of the league, and has weapons in the running game that are unproven but carry plenty of potential.  Swigert and Phillips make a passable top pair of receivers.  If Murphy can put it all together, BC's offense could surprise.  A lot has to go right, and this team is depending on more players than you'd like that are coming off injuries or haven't shown much on the field, but the potential is there, and Addazio has an offensive background and did a very nice job of making it work last year.

-- Defense

Boston College's signature unit lately has been the linebackers; the top three tacklers last year were the three starters at LB.  Two of those are gone this year, with the lone returner being Will backer Steven Daniels.  Daniels had 88 tackles last year, with 6.5 TFL, a pick, and a forced fumble, and there's no reason to expect he won't be as productive again.  On the other side, BC turns to Josh Keyes, who started two games last year and was as maximally productive as you could expect of a fourth 'backer when the first three average over 100 tackles apiece.  Sean Duggan will man the middle; he had a very good 2012 season (again, for a reserve) but all but disappeared last year.  He may be pushed by true freshman Connor Strachan for playing time, or he may break out and collect 100 tackles of his own.

Up front, there's a lot of turnover.  After a pitiful 2012 in which the Eagles collected only six sacks all season, the D-line turned it around last year and became a productive unit.  Connor Wujciak returns as a long-time starter; he's a line-clogging, 300-pound DT who'll be joined by Mehdi Abdesmad, who had 17 tackles in only four games before going down for the season with an injury.  The Eagles also like sophomore lineman Truman Gutapfel, who played in 10 games last year as a true freshman.  That should be a very solid defensive tackle rotation.

End is a little trickier, as no starters return.  Brian Mihalik has played well as a veteran reserve and will get a good chance at a starting gig this year; he's started the odd game in the past and has plenty of experience.  Nobody else has much, though.  Kevin Kavalec got in three games as a true freshman last year and Nick Lifka is a redshirt junior with only a handful of games under his belt.  There's an opening for heralded freshman Harold Landry to make an immediate impact.  Landry committed to BC early in the 2014 cycle and stuck with it when everyone - OSU, Auburn, FSU, South Carolina, Miami, and a whole host more - tried to pry him away.

Helping with the transitions at linebacker and DE will be a very veteran secondary.  Safeties Sean Sylvia and Dominique Williams are both fifth-year seniors with a ton of experience, and both are more than solid players.  Cornerbacks Manny Asprilla (also a senior) and junior Bryce Jones picked off two passes each last year and it's fair to expect them each to continue to improve on that production.

BC always relies heavily on its linebackers, and this defense could go a long way if the newcomers to the starting lineup can fill those very large shoes.  There's high hopes for Keyes in particular.  They'll need once again to find a pass rush and they'll likely ask Keyes and Daniels to play big roles there in order to help out the inexperienced defensive ends.  With veteran safeties and DTs, this should be a very stout run defense, and having veteran corners will be a big help when the pass rush isn't up to snuff.  But I think this unit will be solid overall.

-- Special teams

Nate Freese was a good enough kicker to actually be drafted (by the Lions, in search of some stability after the retirement of Jason Hanson) and he handled punting duties too, so a big hole is left.  True freshman Mike Knoll and senior Alex Howell will be the primary kicking competitors; Howell looks very likely to be the punter, though his experience consists of five kickoffs in three years.  Fun fact: Howell is the younger brother of former UVA punter Jimmy Howell.

-- Outlook

The media pegs this team as the 6th-best in the Atlantic Conference.**  I'm not convinced it's that desperate.  Granted, this is the tougher of the two to win; having FSU, Clemson, and now Louisville on the schedule makes things hard, and it's not any easier since BC crosses over against VT.  Their other crossover this year is Pitt, a game they play early and which will serve as a bellwether for the season.  Add USC to that and you've got a tough schedule.

However, the Eagles should also be able to find three wins in the OOC with little trouble.  VT isn't quite what they were, either, and the Eagles did knock them off last year.  (This year, that game is in Blacksburg, though.)  BC can certainly go bowling; they probably need to beat three of Pitt, NC State, Wake, Syracuse, and VT to do it.  I think they will, and though they're not really contenders for the conference title, I think they outperform their sixth-place finish in the media poll.

**I'm still on my kick of calling these things conferences and not divisions and I will be until they fix this shit.  You're not in the same conference as a team you play once every six years.  NFC teams play the AFC more often than that.  Hell, National League teams play the American League more often than that.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Pretty spot on preview. Nice work.

Nitpicky: Alex Howell will be the kicker AND punter. Silberman has locked up the RT position on the line.

Keep up the great work.