Boston College Eagles
2017 Record: 7-6 (4-4, ACC Atlantic)
2017 Review: When coach Steve Addazio hired Scot Loeffler to be his offensive coordinator in 2016 it seemed like a puzzling decision. After all, Loeffler was one of the main scapegoats of the downfall of Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, with Loeffler overseeing some truly mediocre Hokie offenses. Sure enough, the 2016 BC offense was bad and through the first six games of 2017, it was bad again. Addazio looked like he was going to be the second head coach Loeffler helped bring down. But then, in the final seven games of the year, the offense found its footing and started moving the ball and scoring. The Eagles scored 35 points or more in five of those seven games after never cracking 28 in the first five. By the end of the year, the stats were not pretty (although BC ranked 25th in the country in rushing yards), but BC found their identity again.
Scheme: That identity is what some term a smashmouth spread. Addazio favors a power running attack, but he will utilize tempo and spread formations to his benefit as well. He’s also willing to line up in a power I or two tight end sets. BC is fairly multiple in what they’ll do formationally, but the goal is to run the ball down your throat and then hit you with play action. And, as FSU fans know, Addazio loves a throwback pass to the tight end.
Quarterbacks: The now-departed Darius Wade started the first half of the season, but he was eventually unseated by now-sophomore Anthony Brown. While handing the keys to a freshman could have spelled disaster, Brown (1367 yards, 52%, 11 TDs, 9 INTs, 210 yds rushing, TD) was able to get the offense going. He wasn’t very efficient or consistent passing the ball and he threw too many picks, yet somehow he did just enough to put up points and win. Brown injured his knee and missed the final three games of the season and spring practice. If he is 100% recovered, he gives BC a quarterback with high upside and potential, albeit also one that needs to improve as a passer.
Brown has been a full participant at summer practices, but if he gets injured again or can’t go, BC will turn to sophomore EJ Perry, who is yet to have seen any game action.
Running Backs: The thing that really kick started the offense was not so much the emergence of Brown as it was the Eagles unleashing AJ Dillon. A big (6’, 245), powerful runner, Dillon (1589 yds, 5.3 avg, 14 TDs) is the prototypical Addazio back. He averaged 23 carries per game and that number might actually increase this year. He’ll be hard to stop and won’t leave the field much.
Jon Hilliman, last year’s backup and a sometime starter during his career, transferred out of the program for his senior year so that leaves sophomore Travis Levy as the only RB on the roster besides Dillon who has carried the ball in a college game. And Levy only has 21 career carries, although he did catch 15 passes and profiles as a nice third down back. Junior Ben Glines can play RB or WR and might see time at both spots if needed. True freshman David Bailey is built like Dillon, at 6-1, 245, and might be utilized.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The top three receivers and two tight ends return so this unit might be able to help Brown take the next step as a passer. Depth may be a question, but BC should be able to field a solid starting unit.
At receiver, sophomore Kobay White, senior Jeff Smith, and senior Michael Walker will be the main pass catchers. White (34 recs, 423 yds, 2 TDs) had a quietly impressive freshman year and is expected to blossom. Smith (25 recs, 296 yds, 107 yds rushing) is a former QB who has great athleticism and is finally starting to understand all the nuances of the position. Walker (19 recs, 168 yds, TD) is not going to wow you but he is a solid possession receiver. Depth is the question here. Junior Nolan Borgersen, the aforementioned Glines, and senior Elijah Robinson are all upperclassmen who have yet to do much. Sophomores CJ Lewis and Christian McStravick have good size and potential.
Senior Tommy Sweeney is back at tight end to again serve as a security blanket and battering ram. Sweeney (36 recs, 512 yds, 4 TDs) led the team in all receiving categories and should again be a focus of the passing game. Junior Chris Garrison (15 recs, 152 yds, TD) can serve as an H-back or an in-line TE. Ray Marten and Korab Idrizi are experienced junior backups who combined for nine catches last year.
Offensive Line: If anything will make Addazio light up, it has to be that he returns all five starters from last year and a backup who has 10 career starts. This is a big, nasty, physical offensive line that has experience to boot. This might be the best offensive line in the ACC.
At the start of summer practice, the starting five was senior Aaron Monteiro at LT, senior Sam Schmal at LG, senior Jon Baker at C, senior Chris Lindstrom at RG, and sophomore Ben Petrula at RT. Lindstrom and Schmal are the stars of the unit, having both won all-conference honors. Monteiro has 29 career starts under his belt and is a mountain at 6-7, 320. Baker was limited to one start last year due to injury, but he’s fully fit and has a lot of experience. Petrula stepped in a center last year after Baker went down, but he has kicked out to RT and certainly has the talent and size to excel. There is also the chance that juniors John Phillips and Elijah Johnson push for starting jobs on the interior. Phillips started 12 games last year while Johnson has 10 career starts under his belt, but missed last year due to injury.
2017 Review: There was bound to be a drop off after DC Don Brown left for Michigan in 2016. The Eagles remained very good on defense in 2016 under new DC Jim Reid, but BC took a big step back last year, finishing 57th in total defense and 94th against the run. The defense was still good at not allowing a lot of points and forcing opponents to drive the field, but there were definite chinks in the armor.
Scheme: Reid was the DC at Virginia under Mike London and he had a good pedigree before coming over to BC. Reid runs a 4-3 defense that is not very aggressive and tends to try to force opponents to slowly and methodically drive the field. He’ll typically ask his front four to pressure the QB while the safeties tend to sit back and assist the corners and LBs in coverage, cleaning up any messes.
Defensive Line: Only two starters return here and the Eagles lost dynamic defensive end Harold Landry. The good news, though, is that Landry missed the final four games of the season last year and that gave BC coaches a chance to get a look at what the future of the defensive line would look like. The ends have star quality and some depth, the defensive tackles are a concern.
The star power is with senior Zach Allen, a big (6-5, 285), talented, active defensive end. Allen (91 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 6 sacks, INT, 3 pass breakups) set the edge, rushed the passer, and even dropped into coverage at times in zone blitzes. He has an NFL future. Starting opposite Allen will be fellow senior Wyatt Ray, the guy who took over once Landry went down. Ray (39 tackles, 4 for loss, 2.5 sacks) is not going to be the pass rusher Landry was, but he should be solid. Sophomores Bryce Morais and Brandon Barlow and redshirt freshmen Marcus Valdez and Drew McQuarrie have promise off the bench, but none have playing experience.
At defensive tackle, the starting duo of senior Ray Smith and junior Tanner Karafa should be good, but depth is a real question. Smith (36 tackles, 1.5 for loss) is a run stuffer and gap plugger. Karafa (15 tackles, 2 for loss) has the potential to be more of a playmaker from inside. Karafa may also bounce outside and play end at times too. Depth is the problem here. Sophomore TJ Rayam and true freshman Ryan Betro are the only other scholarship defensive tackles on the roster.
Linebackers: BC dealt with a rash of injuries here, with one starter missing the whole year and seven other players forced to miss at least one game due to injury. The positive side is now BC has serious functional depth here and should field one of the deeper LB corps in the conference.
The Eagles are happy to get senior Connor Strachan back at SLB after he missed all of last season. Strachan had 11 tackles for loss and 3 sacks back in 2016 and provides an experienced playmaker on the outside. Senior Kevin Bletzer (35 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 4 PBUs) played in Strachan’s place last year and provides quality depth. The other starter on the outside should be junior Davon Jones, a slightly undersized guy who was a top backup last year. Jones (23 tackles, 2 for loss) is quick and instinctual and the coaches like his potential. Sophomore Isaiah McDuffie was limited to eight games last year but he has a legit shot to see playing time at both OLB spots.
In the middle, BC has a great one-two punch in sophomore John Lamot and junior Max Richardson. Lamot (63 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks, INT) forced his way onto the field as a freshman last year and was very good. He has a bright future. Richardson (21 tackles) was limited to three games due to injury but was super productive in those three games. Richardson may have a hard time unseating Lamot, but he is going to see the field.
Secondary: BC ranked 24th nationally in pass defense last year and was statistically better than even the elite 2015 unit. However, the stats are somewhat misleading because many teams could run on the Eagles and so they didn’t throw a lot. I’m not convinced the BC secondary is as good as the stats say they are, but they do have some talented pieces here.
Both starters return at safety and each has all-conference potential. Senior Lukas Denis (79 tackles, 6 INTs, 8 PBUs) is the prototypical FS—quick and great at reading QBs. He isn’t a dynamite athlete or very big, but he won’t make many mistakes either. Classmate Will Harris (73 tackles, 4.5 for loss, INT, 2 PBUs) is back at strong safety and provides a hard-hitting presence. Junior Mehdi El Attrach has a little experience behind Harris, but BC is going to need some young guys like sophomore Mike Palmer and redshirt freshmen Ben Stewart and Jahmin Muse to provide cover here.
The Eagles lost Isaac Yiadom and Kamrin Moore at corner, who combined for 15 pass breakups and over 90 tackles. The duo were wily veterans, but BC played four corners last year and senior Taj-Amir Torres and junior Hamp Cheevers return. Torres (29 tackles, INT, 3 PBUs) has played a lot in his career. He is a bit undersized at 5-9, 180, but makes up for it with athletic ability and technique. Cheevers (17 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 2 INTs, 4 PBUs) is only 5-10, 180 himself, but he tends to just play bigger. He reminds me of a Tony Carter or Stanford Samuels. Again, depth is the question. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Sebastian and Tate Haynes are currently listed as the backups and true freshman Elijah Jones, the highest rated DB on the roster, will certainly get a look.
Special Teams: Senior kicker Colten Lichtenberg is back, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. Lichtenberg made just 9 of 17 field goals and only 2 of 8 from 40+ yards. He also missed three PATs. However, it does not appear there is a viable second option so he needs to improve. Sophomore Grant Carlson is penciled in as the punter after Mike Knoll graduated. Senior Michael Walker is just okay as a wide receiver, but he is a very good punt returner and a solid kick returner.
Schedule: A lot of people are bullish on BC as a dark horse in the ACC, but the schedule may tamp down enthusiasm. The non-conference schedule (UMass, Holy Cross, at Purdue, Temple) should provide at least three wins. The ACC slate is a bear, though. Road games with Wake, NC State, VA Tech, and FSU are all challenging. Home games with ACC Atlantic foes Louisville and Clemson will be very difficult and BC draws Miami, albeit at home, out of the Coastal.
Overall: It probably will not show up in the overall record, but this is one of the best teams Addazio has fielded since he has been in Boston. Addazio wants to have a power running attack and he surely should with a great offensive line, a power back in Dillon, and a QB who can run in Brown. The offense could look a lot like the attack BC fielded in 2014, with runner Tyler Murphy at QB and a strong offensive line. Brown’s inconsistency as a passer with surely hurt the Eagles in some games, although they’ll still win their share by pounding the rock. The defense seems to be feast or famine. The starting 11 should be good, but depth is an issue everywhere except LB. If any injuries occur along the defensive line, BC could be in serious trouble. Even with guys like Landry, though, BC’s run defense was not very good last year and they still won 7 games. Addazio will certainly lean on his offense to eat up the clock and protect the defense. The schedule, though, is rough and BC will probably be an underdog in every road game they play and three of their home games. Therefore, as much as this looks like a prototypical Addazio team, I just can’t see them doing better than 6-6 in the regular season. Still, though, this team is going to play people tough and it wouldn’t shock me to see them pull an upset or two.