GREENSBORO, N.C. — The most popular Boston College player at the ACC Kickoff is one that did not make an appearance at the Grandover Resort, and one that will not be putting on an Eagles uniform this fall. He’ll be wearing Giants jersey instead, and he’ll be sorely missed in Chestnut Hill.
The loss of running back Andre Williams, a Heisman finalist after leading the nation with 2,177 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, will not go unnoticed for Boston College in 2014. If anything, everything the offense is capable of piecing together in his wake will be compared to the 2013 campaign, one defined by giving Williams 355 carries and letting him inflict whatever damage he could on opposing defenses. It wasn’t much — coach Steve Addazio’s Eagles scored just 27.7 points per game, 70th-most in the country — but it was enough to reach bowl eligibility and provide a stepping stone for the program.
His feats did not go unnoticed nationally, nor by his own coach.
"He completed the ninth-best rushing season in the history of college football," Addazio said back in December before the team’s bowl game. "I’m going to say that again: He completed the ninth-best rushing season … in … the … history … of … college … football."
Adding in the bowl loss to Arizona, Williams finished with the fifth-highest single-season rushing total in FBS history, besting the likes TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson, Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett and Nebraska’s Mike Rozier. He was the unquestioned workhorse — no other player on the roster rushed for more than 350 yards — which now leaves the Eagles looking for someone else to shoulder the load.
Center Andy Gallik does not believe that replacement process starts in the backfield, though. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound senior believes it starts up front … as should be expected of a 6-foot-3, 304-pound lineman.
"I think that when you look at last year’s success that we had in the run game, it was a little bit of both Andre and the system of us blocking scheme up front," Gallik said. "What I said to a lot of people earlier was having five fifth-year seniors on the same offensive line, that’s something I’ve never been around, I’ve never heard of, and I think that’s really special."
Special enough for another 2,000-yard rusher, though?
"Last season we had a great offensive line, as well," Gallik said. "I just think that the potential and the ceiling for this offensive line this year is much higher, and we’re putting the work in so that it can pay off this fall."
That spells out good things for Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis, last season’s backup backs who project to play much larger roles this time around. Rouse, a rising sophomore, is a compact runner molded into a similar frame as Williams, while Willis, one of Addazio’s top-rated recruits in the 2013 class, offers a potential change of pace. Both players combined for just 86 carries as freshmen last year.
"I think their toughness and run-over mentality are right in the same ballpark," Gallik said. "But obviously both of these young casts that don’t have that much experience that want to be good, they’re going to have to prove themselves this preseason camp to see where they go in the fall."
The Eagles are also breaking in a new quarterback, so the running game is expected to be equally important in 2014. For a little perspective: Boston College finished 7-2 when Williams eclipsed the 100-yard mark … and 0-4 when he didn’t.
Don’t expect another darkhorse Heisman campaign, but perhaps the combination of a yards-by-committee and an experienced offensive line can prevent a complete drop-off on the ground for Boston College.