ACC Countdown: No. 11 Boston College

Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, entering his second year at the helm, defied expectations a year ago. Can he keep that positive momentum going? 

When Steve Addazio strolled into Chestnut Hill for his first season at the helm of Boston College’s program, which was coming off of a 2-10 season, he made a splash right away. His talk of "Be a Dude" and his strong personality raised some eyebrows, certainly. Yeah, he might be a good hire, but it would take awhile to turn around that team.

Turns out, it didn’t — Boston College finished 7-6 and made a bowl game on the strength of an aggressive defense and a fantastic running back. But unfortunately for The Dudes entering this season, there are just 10 returning starters and not a ton of depth. That’s the part that is going to take time for Addazio to rebuild.

Can he defy the odds two years in a row? Perhaps, but even if he doesn’t, there’s still reason for optimism for the BC program going forward.

Most of the offensive line returns, which is the biggest thing Boston College has going for it going into this season. The Eagles didn’t have their full complement of linemen in the spring game, and Rouse and Willis were the only backs, so the spring wasn’t a good indication of what the group will do.

The left and right tackles graduated (Matt Patchan and Ian White), but the interior of the line all returns and all three will be seniors (left guard Bobby Vardaro, center Andy Gallik and right guard Harris Williams). And even the replacements will be experienced. The replacement for Patchan at left tackle will be rising senior Seth Betancourt, while the replacement at right tackle will probably be Florida transfer Ian Silberman, who will also be a senior.

The secondary is back as well — everyone on Boston College’s final two-deep, in fact, including all four starters. Sean Sylvia and Dominique Williams are returning senior starters, while Manuel Aspirilla will be a senior starter at cornerback joined by Bryce Jones (a rising junior) at the other corner spot. Even the backups will be upperclassmen, for the most part — of the 10 players on BC’s final two-deep of the season, just two were freshmen last year, and one was a redshirt freshmen. That’s plenty of experience.

How much it will matter remains to be seen, as this unit is certainly vulnerable — opponents passed for 26 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and averaged 267.9 yards through the air against BC a year ago — but it can’t hurt.

A lot. Heisman finalist Andre Williams, he of the 2,177 rushing yards last year, is gone. That’s a tough guy to replace, and it will likely be by committee. Sophomores Myles Willis (36 yards, 5.8 per carry) and Tyler Rouse (125 yards, 4.8 per carry) are obviously going to have an increased work load, and there are freshmen coming in that could see some time as well.

The Eagles under Addazio are going to be a run-heavy offense even without Williams, and if his replacements can pick up the slack, the Eagles are probably going to be able to move the football. But they’re going to need some help from the other dimension of this offense, help that didn’t exist last year — the passing game.

Quarterback Chase Rettig is gone. But replacing him will be Tyler Murphy, who started six games for Florida last season before going out with an injury. He graduated and will be eligible immediately, and Addazio — who coached him at Florida — is close with Murphy already. That preexisting relationship can only benefit this team, as can Murphy’s experience (however unpleasant) a year ago. Murphy has mobility, which will help as the new-look offensive line jells.

Wide receiver is a question mark, though. Alex Amidon is gone, as is Spiffy Evans (a senior) is going to have to step up to be that go-to guy, along with Dave Dudeck (a junior). Last year’s second-leading receiver was a fullback, if that’s any indication of how one-dimensional the offense was, with just 14 catches to Amidon’s 77. 

Perhaps most importantly, though, a lot of the front seven is gone on defense. Linebackers Steele Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis — the Eagles’ top two tacklers — graduated, and BC also lost defensive linemen Kasim Edebali and Kaleb Ramsey. Those four accounted for 20.5 of Boston College’s 36 sacks from a year ago.

There is experience at linebacker, as one starter returns there, but not a ton of quality depth. On the defensive line, there’s some talent, but there has to be a dropoff from last year in terms of the pass rush, considering the talent level of the players the Eagles lost up front. And that front often hid a weak secondary, which is certainly going to have to be better.

Heck, even kicker Nate Freese is gone. It felt like he’d been kicking field goals and nailing punts for the Eagles since the dawn of time. Now, it will be — well, no one knows who it will be yet. Kickers and punters are often overlooked until they are needed. Alex Howell made 1-of-2 field goals in the spring game, but he’s far from a sure thing to be the starting kicker.

The offense is going to have its struggles, especially early. While Williams was fantastic a year ago, the defense was sometimes what kept the Eagles in games. It wasn’t consistent, but it was a defense that was able to get to the quarterback and make plays.

When it didn’t work, it was a disaster (see the New Mexico State game, when Boston College allowed what felt like 1,200 yards). When it did, it was a thing of beauty, as it did early against Florida State when Boston College got out to a 14-point lead.

Boston College lost a lot of really good players on that defense, and there’s just no telling whether or not they’re replaceable. If they’re not, the secondary is going to have to do a lot more, and that could be trouble. Considering the kinds of offenses Boston College is going to face this season — pass-heavy offenses like Clemson, or just plain old dangerous ones like Florida State — if the Eagles can’t get pressure up front, they’re going to be in for a lot of long Saturday afternoons/evenings. The BC offense will be okay, but not great, probably — there’s no Andre Williams coming to save the day, though. The defense has to maintain a similar level to a year ago for the Eagles to have a shot at a bowl game.

… the Eagles don’t backslide too much. Addazio had a fantastic debut season at 7-6, and it was certainly unexpected. But now he loses one of the nation’s best running backs, not to mention most of his defense from a year ago. If he can figure out a way to scheme his way to 5-6 wins — not to mention being just competitive in general — it will be a success.

Addazio’s energy and general Dudeness has created a new sense of enthusiasm around the team, and that’s a great thing going forward. Even though this team doesn’t have the same level of talent and experience that last year’s group did, Addazio has to keep the good feelings going in Chestnut Hill. So the Eagles have to avoid another 2-10, 3-9 type of disaster while continuing to show signs of progress. 

Oct. 11, at N.C. State. This game will likely determine the futures of both teams’ seasons. In theory, Boston College should go into that game with at least three wins, and it will be coming off of a bye week. And so to have any shot whatsoever at reaching another bowl game, the Eagles are going to have to win that game.

Carter-Finley Stadium is a tough place to play, though, and there’s not too wide of a gap between these two teams. After the N.C. State game, Boston College has six games left — Clemson at home, at Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech, Louisville, at Florida State, Syracuse. That’s … difficult. So the N.C. State game is a near must-win for the Eagles.

Boston College should win three of its four non-conference games, and if it does that, it puts itself in great position to make another bowl game.

The problem is the ACC schedule, which is ghastly, particularly the back half. Two of the "easiest" games on BC’s slate are on the road (at Wake Forest and at NC State). Fail to win either of those and the Eagles hit the meat of the schedule — at Virginia Tech, Louisville and Florida State — in need of multiple wins without multiple opportunities to get one if they want to make a bowl.

Chalking that USC game on Sept. 13 as a loss, that gives Boston College little to no margin for error with the equal-to-lesser teams, even if they can take care of business against UMass, Maine and Colorado State. This season might feel like a let down, but it won’t have to — and it will likely be only temporary if Addazio can keep rebuilding this program in his image.