Boston College Eagles
2014 Record: 7-6 (4-4, ACC Atlantic)
Scheme: There really is no surprise here: BC is going to run the ball early and often. Head coach Steve Addazio might have his teams line up in fancy spread formations, but much like many other spread teams, the Eagles are trying to create space for running lanes. It certainly worked last year, as BC ranked 15th in the country in rushing at 254.4 yards per game. The problem, though, is that BC has struggled mightily to create a consistent passing game, especially down the field.
Quarterbacks: When Tyler Murphy transferred from Florida to BC, it was an afterthought in the college football world and many, myself included, did not think Murphy would provide much to the BC offense. After all, Murphy had done little in his time at UF and when he was forced into action due to injuries, he did not wow anyone. Murphy made anyone who doubted the impact of his transfer look silly, running Addazio’s “power spread” to perfection. Murphy rushed for over 1,300 yards (not including sacks) and while he struggled at times as a passer, BC would have never won 7 games without him.
But that was a one-year tease and now sophomore Darius Wade has been handed the keys to the offense. The top backup last year, Wade only appeared in three games so he is inexperienced, but athletically gifted. The coaches are cautiously optimistic, but expect BC to be pretty conservative against better defenses until Wade is more comfortable. Technically, sophomore Troy Flutie is pushing Wade for the job, but the more likely eventual backup will be true freshman Elijah Robinson, a high 3-star recruit with potential. Robinson was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice. If Wade struggles, it would not be surprising to see Addazio turn to Robinson rather than Flutie.
Running Backs: When you rush for 254 yards per game as a team, it isn’t just the QB who is making plays. BC returns one of the best corps of runners in the country with junior Myles Willis and sophomores Jon Hilliman and Marcus Outlow. Willis (459 yards, 5.2 average, 2 TD) is the most explosive of the group and can break one at any time. However, he has been relegated to a backup role due to a fumbling issue and the emergence of the sophomores. Hilliman (860 yds, 4.1 avg, 13 TD) is a load at 224 pounds and will once again get the lion’s share of the carries. He isn’t a breakaway threat, but he will consistently churn out yards. Outlow (243 yds, 4.1 avg, 11 receptions, TD) is probably the best all-around athlete of the trio and is the most effective receiver of the group. Expect Outlow to see more carries this year as he has really turned heads in August practices. To add even more depth, BC has junior Tyler Rouse (214 yds, 4.4 avg, 3 TD), who is a bit undersized but can be used effectively in situational packages.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: As much promise as there is at RB, there is equal trepidation at WR. Only two players caught more than 20 passes last year and both have graduated. The Eagles are relying largely on sophomores and freshmen to emerge.
The top returnees are sophomores Charlie Callinan and Sherman Alston, opposites if there ever were ones. Callinan (13 recs, 149 yds, TD) is a big guy at 6-4, 220 while Alston (16 recs, 175 yds, 2 TD, 352 yds rushing, 10.4 avg, 2 TD) is undersized by even slot receiver standards at just 5-6, 163. Hopes are that those two can be the security blankets for Wade and Alston is super dangerous on fly sweeps as well. The coaches are hoping upperclassmen Bobby Swigert, Dave Dudeck, and Harrison Jackson are there to assist. Swigert has missed the past two years due to injury and has rarely practiced so far, but he finished first or second on the team in receiving from 2010-2012 so anything he adds would be helpful. Dudeck (13 recs, 148 yds, TD) is experienced and reliable, but won’t wow anyone. Jackson missed last year due to injury, but has potential and is a former 4-star recruit. Although he rarely played last year, many eyes have been on junior Drew Barksdale to emerge. One name coming out of August practices that was not expected is freshman Ben Glines, who caught six passes in a recent scrimmage and appears to be winning a role due to his toughness and hands. The Eagles have at least five more sophomores and freshmen to throw into the fray as well.
BC returns three players at tight end, but this is as unglamorous a position as there is, with BC rarely throwing their way. Seniors Michael Giacone and Louie Addazio and redshirt freshman Tommy Sweeney will again serve as blockers.
Offensive Line: In something that FSU fans can certainly relate to, BC goes from having one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country in 2014 to one of the most inexperienced in 2015. Just two players who have ever started a game return, one coming off a season-ending injury, and BC is banking on seniors who have rarely played and redshirt freshmen to take over starting jobs and continue the rushing success the Eagles have enjoyed. One thing BC has going for them is that Addazio spent 16 years as an OL coach before he became an offensive coordinator.
The “sure” things are senior Harris Williams and sophomore Jon Baker. Williams missed all of last year with an injury, but he has 14 career starts and should be an anchor at RG assuming he avoids the injury bug. Baker started once last year, but saw plenty of playing time as part of the rotation and should be solid at LG. Beyond that are major question marks. Dave Bowen, Frank Taylor, and Jim Cashman are all seniors but none have played much so far. However, reports out of practice seem encouraging regarding Bowen, who appears to have locked down the LT job. Taylor is leading to start at the pivot and Cashman is getting a look at RT. Some young guys to look out for are redshirt freshmen James Hendren, Sam Schmal, and Anthony Palazzolo, all of whom could be a factor at the open RT spot. At minimum, those three will be top options off the bench. Initial reports out of camp haven’t been encouraging and that could mean that the young guys are forced into action sooner rather than later.
Scheme: Defensive coordinator Don Brown blitzes and attacks a bit out of his 4-3 alignment more than former coordinator and head coach Frank Spaziani did, but in a lot of ways the defense Spaz used to such success during the late 1990′s and early 2000′s is what Brown uses now—a big, stout defensive line to smother the run and a LB corps that is equally effective at stopping the run, blitzing off the edge, or dropping into coverage. The biggest difference is that while Spaziani relied almost exclusively on zone coverage to force opponents to dink and dunk down the field, Brown utilizes man-to-man coverage almost exclusively and some opponents have hit the Eagles for big plays in the pass game.
Defensive Line: A couple of contributors have moved on, but BC should still field one of the conference’s best run-stopping units. This group is not full of pass rushers, but they should be stout against the run.
The interior group looks the best and deepest. Senior Connor Wujciak (33 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 3 sacks) is a good all-around NT, able to hold up against the run, but also provide a push on passing downs. He will push for all-conference honors. The battle to line up next to him will be between junior Truman Gutapfel and senior Mehdi Abdesmad. Gutapfel (26 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks) isn’t the biggest at 6-3, 280, but was productive in the rotation last year and the coaches hope he can take on a bigger load this year. Abdesmad is a former starter who was limited to four games in 2013 and missed all of last year due to injury. He oozes potential at 6-7, 290 but he has never quite lived up to the hype. Still, if he can just provide some snaps off the bench, that will be a boon. Senior Evan Kelly, a graduate transfer from Richmond, will add even more depth. Kelly will likely be used as a situational player, as he showed good pass-rushing skills at Richmond.
The Eagles have more bodies at defensive end, but less proven commodities. The one exception is junior Kevin Kavalec, a former two-star recruit who had a breakout year last season. Kavalec (40 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks) is not a great pass-rusher, but he is stout against the run and can make plays behind the line. The coaches expect him to only get better. Senior Malachi Moore is the other likely starter. Moore (17 tackles, 6 for loss, 4 sacks) is a career backup who showed flashes last year and has great size (6-7, 270). Sophomore Harold Landry (11 tackles, 1.5 for loss), a former four-star recruit who got his feet wet last year, is expected to be a top option off the bench. Sophomore Jack Cottrell and redshirt freshmen Kevin Cohee and Joseph Vitiello are in the mix as well.
Linebackers: BC has churned out some very good linebackers in recent years and despite losing a starter and top backup from last year’s squad, this unit should be sound yet again. Senior Steven Daniels (72 tackles, 7 for loss, 1.5 sacks) is a big, tough run-stuffer who also makes plays. Senior Mike Strizak (43 tackles, 5 for loss) is back at WLB and while he won’t wow you or make many “splash” plays, he is more than capable. The open spot is at SLB and junior Matt Milano (18 tackles, 3 for loss) seems the likely candidate after being the top backup last season. Milano is a bit small at 6-1, 220, but he has potential as a blitzer and in coverage. Depth will be provided by sophomores Connor Strachan at MLB, Tim Joy at WLB, and Christian Lezzer at SLB. The coaches are really high on Strachan (12 tackles), a former four-star recruit who got his feet wet last year. Boasting a mix of size and athleticism, many around the program think Strachan could be the next BC linebacker to make it big in the NFL.
Secondary: As good as the front seven often was at slowing down opposing rushing attacks, the secondary was almost equally as bad at giving up chunks of yards, or leads late in games, through the air. Opponents completed 62% of their passes for 230 yards per game and had 20 touchdowns against just 9 interceptions. The Eagles were involved in many close games last year and blew many late leads due to a poor secondary and pass rush. And with three starters and two top backups having graduated, concern on The Heights is that the BC pass defense will be an Achilles heel again.
If there is good news, it is probably at CB where four players who appeared in at least 8 games return. Junior John Johnson and sophomore Kamrin Moore are the likely starters. Johnson (25 tackles, 2 pass breakups) was limited to 8 games due to injury, but he was productive when he played and has good size. The coaching staff likes the potential of Moore (22 tackles, 4 PBU), who showed play-making ability as a freshman and seems to have natural instincts. The top options off the bench are sophomores Isaac Yiadom and Atem Ntantang, both of whom played last year, but mostly on special teams. Yiadom (13 tackles) played some last year in the nickel and dime and has nice size at 6-1, but it isn’t known how well he will hold up over the course of a year. Same goes for Ntantang, who essentially only played special teams last year. True freshman Lukas Denis has really come on in practices and is currently listed on the two-deep.
The real issue is at safety, where only one player with any game experience returns. That would be senior FS Justin Simmons and while he is a keeper, this spot is worrisome. Simmons (76 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 ints, 5 PBU) is a jack of all trades who can play the run or pass. He will push for all-conference honors. The battle is at FS, where currently redshirt frosh Cameron Seward leads sophomore Kevin Bletzer, a converted LB. Neither has ever seen the field and will certainly be attacked early and often.
Special Teams: Senior Alex Howell is back after kicking and punting last year. He was not so great at the former, but good at the latter. Howell (42.5 avg, 5 of 11 FG) is the clubhouse leader to do both jobs again, but the coaches are giving sophomore Mike Knoll (3 of 4 FG) every chance to win the kicking job. The problem is Howell has the better leg, but Knoll was more accurate. The return units are very good, with Myles Willis a dangerous kick returner (26.3 avg, TD) and Alston a solid punt returner.
Schedule: This isn’t a super hard schedule by any means, with only four true road games and one neutral site game, but three of those road games (Duke, Clemson, Louisville) are tough and the neutral site game is versus rival Notre Dame. The success of the season will likely hinge on home games versus FSU, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech, and NC State. Win two or three of those plus games against Maine, Howard, Wake, and Syracuse and BC could be back bowling again.
Overall: It seems to me that BC under Addazio so far has been a lot like some of the Wake Forest teams under Jim Grobe. Namely, underestimate them at your own peril. Few people expected BC to make a bowl in Addazio’s first year, but they did. Most people expected the Eagles to fall back last year, but instead they won 7 regular season games and other than a 19-point loss to Louisville, their other five losses were by a combined 21 points. 21! So you can see how close BC came to winning 9 or 10 games if a few breaks went their way. However, at the risk of looking like a fool, surely this is the year Addazio’s team does actually fall back. BC is expecting underclassmen to carry the load at QB, RB, WR, OL, and in the defensive backfield. And sophomores and freshmen make up pretty much all the backups across the board. While some of those guys are quite talented, one would assume that such a young team, relying on new starters at QB and OL especially, would struggle. Despite all the new starters along the line, one would think given Addazio’s acumen that BC will cobble together a decent running game. But opponents are going to really stack the box and force the Eagles to throw some. While guys like Alston are nice at WR, BC lacks any serious threats, at least so far, at wideout and that will be an issue. The front seven looks stout (although depth along the d-line is iffy), but the secondary could be a major problem. All that being said, the schedule does set up in a way that the Eagles could put together 6 or 7 wins and go bowling again, but if they slip up against an NIU or NC State and don’t pull off any upsets, they could be looking at a 5 win year. Either way, I would expect BC to be a tough out yet again.