Monday, July 28, 2008

season preview: Boston College

Season's Greetings! (In this case, the season is summer.) As promised, we begin our tour of the ACC. Over the next couple weeks we'll look at each team in turn, intermixed with regular blogging activities. First in the alphabet, and thus, the series, are the Eagles of Boston College.

8/30: @Kent State
9/6: Georgia Tech
9/20: Central Florida
9/27: Rhode Island
10/4: @North Carolina State
10/18: Virginia Tech
10/25: @North Carolina
11/1: Clemson
11/8: Notre Dame
11/15: @Florida State
11/22: @Wake Forest
11/29: Maryland

Skip: Virginia, Duke, Miami

Projected starters:

QB: Chris Crane (5Sr.)
RB: Josh Haden (Fr.)
FB: James McCluskey (RSo.)
WR: Brandon Robinson (5Sr.)
WR: Rich Gunnell (RJr.)
TE: Ryan Purvis (5Sr.)
LT: Anthony Castonzo (So.)
LG: Clif Ramsey (5Sr.)
C: Matt Tennant (RJr.)
RG: Thomas Claiborne (RSo.)
RT: Rich Lapham (RSo.)

LDE: Alex Albright (Jr.)
LDT: Ron Brace (5Sr.)
RDT: B.J. Raji (5Sr.)
RDE: Jim Ramella (RJr.)
SLB: Mark Herzlich (Jr.)
MLB: Mike McLaughlin (RJr.)
WLB: Brian Toal (5Sr.)
SS: Paul Anderson (Sr.)
FS: Marty Bowman (RJr.)
CB: Roderick Rollins (Jr.)
CB: DeLeon Gause (So.)

K: Steve Aponovicius (Sr.)
P: Ryan Quigley (Fr.)

Coach: Jeff Jagodzinski (2nd season)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 4th place, Atlantic Division

All ACC selections:
2007 1st team: QB Matt Ryan (graduated), TE Ryan Purvis, S Jamie Silva (graduated)
2007 2nd team: RB Andre Callender (graduated), OT Gosder Cherilus (graduated), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (graduated), CB DeJuan Tribble (graduated)
2007 HM: WR Brandon Robinson, DE Alex Albright, DT Ron Brace
2008 preseason: TE Ryan Purvis, DT Ron Brace, LB Brian Toal

Boston College got their 2007 season off to a roaring start at 7-0. A look at their schedule, and it might seem they have a chance at repeating that feat. Up until November and the beginning of the hellacious part of the Eagles’ schedule, the only really fearsome roadblock to a repeat 7-0 start is Virginia Tech.

Oh! And the BC offense.

Last year’s offense was led by near-unanimous All-ACC ballchucker Matt Ryan and the extremely versatile Andre Callender, who led the team in both carries and receptions. This year’s offense will not be, and neither will they have OT Gosder Cherilus, who was a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions, to pave the way. BC’s defense will be looking to pick up the slack for the offense, which is a nice way of saying the BC defense might not want to put down their helmets when they leave the field.


Chris Crane is the guy under the microscope. For better or for worse, he’s the guy. The head honcho, the Quarterback, the BMOC. 5th-year-senior Crane is the only quarterback on the BC roster who’s thrown a college pass, and the backup is redshirt freshman Dominique Davis, more mobile but without Crane’s arm. Crane has seen some action but entirely against the likes of Buffalo, Army, Ball State, and their ilk – he has yet to see ACC game time except against Duke, which doesn’t count.

Crane’s major problem (and truthfully, Boston College’s) is not a lack of experience or targets, it is this: Last year the team netted 1,416 yards on the ground, and returns exactly six of them. Fullback James McCluskey picked up a total of 14 yards on the season, though his value is not measured in yardage, as he was a reliable goal-line presence. The only other returning players on the rushing stat sheet are Crane and WR Billy Flutie, who lost four each. Callender is gone, as is L.V. Whitworth, who gave the Eagles four very solid years. BC’s coaches have pinned their hopes to early enrollee freshman Josh Haden, who is speedy, sporting Callender’s #1, and going to get hurt if they think he’s good for 25 carries a game. McCluskey figures to get more carries than the eight that he racked up last year. Next up on the tailback depth chart in the spring were a converted safety (Dan Mulrooney) and a walk-on (John Siravo); BC will be hoping at least one of their crop of entering freshman RB’s makes a name in fall practice.

At least Crane will have someone to throw to, if not hand off to. Callender and Kevin Challenger are gone, but Crane will have three of last year’s top four receivers back in all-ACC TE Ryan Purvis, and WRs Rich Gunnell and Brandon Robinson; additionally, redshirt-junior Clarence Megwa can fill in the hole left by Challenger with little trouble. The loss of versatility that Callender brought by catching passes out of the backfield will hurt, but truth be told his running game will be what the Eagles miss. As thin as they are at RB, they are that deep in targets for Crane.

The offensive line loses ACC second-teamer Gosder Cherilus, but three of last year’s five return, including budding star Anthony Castonzo protecting Crane’s blind side at left tackle. Castonzo started all 14 games last year as a true freshman.


The running game will be a very tricky spot for BC this year; stopping the run, fortunately for them, is a completely different affair. BC took some hits on defense, but mostly in the secondary, where All-ACCers S Jamie Silva and CB DeJuan Tribble depart and take their combined 12 picks with them, as well as Tribble’s counterpart Taji Morris. That leaves FS Paul Anderson and three position battles. DeLeon Gause and Roderick Rollins have the lead and some experience at corner, but freshman Donnie Fletcher enrolled early and should get a look at nickel back and possibly push one or the other for time.

The defensive line was all set to bring back four returning starters. DE Alex Albright was an ’07 all-ACC honorable mention, DT Ron Brace is a preseason all-ACCer, and DT B.J. Raji returns from academic issues after an ’06 season that earned him second-team all-conference honors. All Brady Smith had to do was not get charged with rape and breaking and entering; at this he failed, and was kicked off the team in late April. So three out of four, but it’s a potent three. And they’re backed up by some linebackers who know what they’re doing. The two leading returning tacklers are Mark Herzlich (97 tackles) and Mike McLaughlin (64); they’re joined by Brian Toal, who is BC’s third preseason all-ACC selection. Getting Toal back from the shoulder injury that forced him to miss all of last year should make up for the loss of Jo-Lonn Dunbar and his 90 tackles.


Steve Aponavicius returns for his senior season; BC fans may not be too jazzed about that, as he honked a third of his FG attempts last year. 5 of his 6 misses were in the 30-39 range where kickers make their money (metaphorically speaking). The Eagles don’t even list a punter on the spring depth chart, so the spot is open.


Time for Jeff Jagodzinski to earn his keep. Last year he pushed the Matt Ryan button and it spit out an 11-3 season, complete with ACC championship game appearance and bowl game win. 11 wins is a successful season no matter how you slice it. This year, the complete and utter absence of a proven running game is going to test him. The front seven alone should make BC a bowl team; the light and frosty nonconference schedule (Notre Dame notwithstanding) should put them halfway there. Three or four wins in eight ACC games is doable, but more than that may be asking a bit much unless Jags is as good a coach or better as 11 wins say he is.

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