Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Boston College Preview: Is BC Ready to Compete For An ACC Title?

Boston College enters season two under head coach Frank Spaziani with hopes of returning to a third ACC Championship Game in four years. To get a better look at the Eagles, I contacted Soaring to Glory to find out what we can expect from BC this season.

Q: BC is a program that has won at least 8 games the last 5 seasons and had double-digit wins in 2 of those seasons. Do you think they get the respect they should in the ACC and nationally? If not, why?

A: No respect I tell ya, no respect at all. On the ACC side, while I feel fans of many of the teams have accepted over the course of the last few years that we're a member of the conference now, there is still the perception of our school being as too far away from the center of the ACC and therefore we're less relevant.

Nationally, I think all you have to do is read Heather Dinich on ESPN to find out what is thought of us. If it weren't for basketball guys like Andy Katz and Jeff Goodman, I don't think we'd get much of any respect at all.

We're just not part of that college sports "in" crowd, though honestly, it doesn't keep me up at night.

We've got a consistent program that tends to outperform expectations on a yearly basis (partially because the talking heads in the media set the bar pretty damn low). Andre Ware (another ESPN know-it-all) predicted BC would win 2 or 3 games last year and other columnists and bloggers didn't think too much better.

I think we're perceived as usually being good but not good enough and we're not one of "those" schools that people instantly recognize as a college football power.

Respect must be earned, I understand that, but BC has had 9 straight years of at least 8 wins -- winning 7 bowl games in that time -- and no losing seasons since 1998. You'd think we'd be a little more than an underdog every year or the pesky team that doesn't go away.

This is a good program that brings in talented players.

Q: What does Mark Herzlich's return from a battle with cancer mean to this team on and off the field?

A: Mark means a tremendous amount to the football team, the program, and Boston College. As I've said on my own site, he is the embodiment of the kind of character we like at BC: he held his head up high and didn't quit even when the odds were long. How he has fought and defeated that disease is truly an inspiration to us all.

Last season, he was on the sidelines with the team every week motivating the guys and wearing Coach Spaziani's towel (when Spaziani was the DC, he would always be seen wearing a towel around his neck - last year, he bestowed it upon Herzlich as a sign of honor).

I don't pretend to know anyone on the football team but I can only guess that his being there was a big morale boost, not to mention, he was still of help as a de facto member of the coaching staff.

Now, we simply don't know what we're going to get when he steps back on the field. We want him to succeed and have things be like old times, but we have to keep in mind what he's been through. Optimistically, however, I'd like to think that if Herzlich can stare down cancer and win, then surely he can make an impact on the field once more.

Q: QB Dave Shinskie had his ups and down in his first year. Does he have the job locked down? And if not, who is pushing him?

A: It depends on who you ask; I am of the opinion that he does not. Shinskie was quite inconsistent last year but we put up with it because it was his freshman year.

Now we expect to see some improvement -- but in what little we've seen this year, the spring game, he was terrible. I know it's a small sample size and we've still got a long way to go until the season starts, but nobody was impressed with what they saw of him in April. He was making the same old mistakes and had poor body language, and if that's how he looks in the fall, he will not be the starter for long.

Keep in mind, however, that unlike most college sophomores, he's 26. He's closing in on his developmental peak already so he may not improve much more on top of where he already is.

His most likely replacement would be Mike Marscovetra. Mike is also a sophomore but has had limited playing time. Almost everybody liked what they saw of him in the spring game, however. He just seemed to manage the game better and not make the stupid repetitive mistakes that Shinskie does.

Of course we don't how things would play out in a real game situation, but if Shinskie crumbles again, I would be comfortable with going to the bench for Marscovetra.

Q: Is it safe to say as goes RB Montel Harris, so goes BC's offense?

A: Yes, to an extent. Montel is certainly one of the most important parts of the offense but, of course, there are so many other components to make things work.

I need to go back to another topic for a moment: last year, in BC's losses, a common thread was lousy QB play, though Montel did not shine in a few of those, either. If Montel has another solid season that will surely make the offense that much better, but at the same time, I know that we're only going as far as Uncle Dave (or Marscovetra) takes us offensively, and by that I mean not making a lot of back-breaking mistakes.

Montel is the star, no doubt, but the quarterback also wields quite a lot of influence on BC's offensive fate. I would, then, amend your statement to say that "as go Montel Harris and Dave Shinskie, so goes BC's offense."

Q: The Eagles line has had 12 NFL draft picks over the last 14 years and return nine of their top 10 from a year ago. Where does this line compare with recent ones?

A: The offensive line is still a strength this year despite losing Matt Tennant, and on par with some of our recent successful lines. Despite not being one of the top of the top schools like USC or Texas that produces gobs of NFL talent every year, we know that at BC, we'll always turn out solid pro offensive linemen.

This year, the guy everyone is looking at is LT Anthony Castonzo. He has proven himself already (All-ACC first team) and, with a solid 2010, will have his name called at Radio City next April.

Our other starting linemen are Rich Lapham, Thomas Claiborne, Emmett Cleary, and Nathan Richman, who is the center replacing Tennant. All of these guys are veterans, but Richman is sliding over one spot from left guard (and Cleary, formerly a tackle, will be the new LG).

Richman, I think, is the key. If he can succeed at center, I think this offensive line will once again be very good. What I've heard and seen about his performance so far has been good, so I have some confidence that he will.

Q: BC has had a very stout rush defense the last few years. But can this unit generate a pass rush to improve on the 10th rated pass defense in the ACC?

A: I can see the pass rush (or lack thereof) being a problem once again in 2010 without certain key players stepping up.

The primary defensive ends, Brad Newman and Alex Albright, have got to do a better job than they did last year. Ifeanyi Momah, a former offensive player, will also be plugged into the defense for just this reason, but he could contribute if he gets settled in.

I want to believe in this group but I do have my doubts. Let it be said, however, that BC's defense two years ago (and these guys were here at that time) did, in fact, generate pressure on the QB. I guess we'll find out in the fall if 2009 was a fluke.

On run defense, I see it continuing to be very good. BC will have some nice players up the middle, particularly Damik Scafe and Dillon Quinn. Scafe is the kind of guy who might get drafted in April 2011 with a good season and I've heard nothing but great things about Quinn, who is a red shirt freshman. Both are big, explosive, and fast.

Teams won't be able to run on this unit very well, which makes an improved pass defense all the more important.

Q: How did Luke Kuechly, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, do in his move to MLB in the Spring?

A: Kuechly was, as expected, still a force to be reckoned with. In watching the spring game, two things I heard an awful lot were "tackle made by Kuechly" and "tackle made by Pierre-Louis." It would seem to me that he hasn't missed a beat.

Now it would be hard for him to top his breakout freshman year, and I want to temper my expectations a little bit, but I think he's the real deal.

Q: Boston College lost both returners and their placekicker. How do the replacements look for special teams?

A: The new faces are old faces so to speak. The new apparent kick returner is DeLeon Gause and the kicker is Ryan Quigley, the punter. Quigley has made some steady progress as a punter, but as a kicker, apparently he hasn't tried putting one through the uprights since high school.

Our last kicker wasn't even a football player when he got the job, so that doesn't worry me too much. If he's not careful, however, RS freshman Nate Freese could take over the kicking duties, which I could see happening down the road anyway.

Gause only got his feet wet as a returner in the past but he does have speed. I think the replacements will end up being alright.

Q: Which freshman could see significant playing time this season?

A: A freshman you will start hearing a lot about is Kevin Pierre-Louis on defense. As a true freshman, he made the two-deep spring roster and many feel that he's an impressive young player. He may or may not start, but he will get on the field.

The aforementioned Dillon Quinn is another name to look at. He is a defensive tackle who came to BC with high regard. He is going to start this year and could have a breakout season.

Freshman WR Shakim Phillips is not at the top of the depth chart but he was a solid recruit who, in time, will see significant playing time and could probably contribute in some way right off the bat if given the chance. We'll see.

Q: Despite not being a conference affair, is Notre Dame the most important game on BC's schedule? And why is the series not continuing after this year?

A: I won't flatter Notre Dame by saying that it is. Honestly, despite all the hype and the obviously rich rivalry between these two schools, it's not the most important game.

Last year I called it the most meaningful meaningless game on the schedule, and it's true -- our conference games are far more important to us now than an out-of-conference matchup.

BC/ND is big for the fans and the boosters, perhaps more so than any other game on the schedule, but in terms of the impact it has on BC's season, it's basically just for bragging rights. If you ask me, the game against Florida State looks far more crucial.

The series was very recently extended until 2019, so there will be more BC-ND games to come.

Q: Describe a successful year in Chestnut Hill. Describe a disappointing one.

A: A successful year is getting to a bowl game and winning it, however I should say that BC has been close to making the BCS several times in the last few years but never getting over the hump. Getting into a BCS bowl (via winning the ACC) would also definitely be considered a successful season, win or lose. Winning the Atlantic Division but losing in the title game for the 3rd time out of 3 would piss a lot of fans off.

A disappointing one would be having a year as bad as the national media typically thinks we'll have. Considering our schedule, I think 6-6 would itself be very disappointing, and anything worse than that would be a complete disaster.

Q: What is your prediction for the season?

A: Many have suggested that this is BC's easiest schedule in years and I don't disagree. So long as they don't have regular meltdowns from the QB position like last year, right now I would put them at a 9-3 regular season.

I don't think they'll do any worse than 8-4 and probably no better than 10-2. I believe BC will finish either 1st or 2nd in the ACC Atlantic, though there are three legitimate contenders for the division (the others being Clemson and FSU). I'm not bold enough to predict individual games except to say that Weber State and Kent State will be in the win column.

My take on Boston College…

I was very interested in what the answer to the first question would be on the respect the BC program gets. The amount of success they have had over the last 5 years despite all the coaching changes is remarkable in my opinion.

I think many fans look at BC and don’t see the 4 and 5 star recruits and think they can out run them. But where BC is so strong has been on the line of scrimmage where games are won and lost (and where people don’t pay attention to recruiting).

You wouldn’t ever think it by their crowds, but Boston College has one of the best home field advantages statistically in the ACC.

Their four conference home games are all winnable, including Va Tech whom they have beaten in the regular season before. The away games are against NC State, Wake, Duke, and FSU so three road wins here is attainable.

If Shinskie can just play Trent Dilfer and not screw up that game, BC has a good chance at 8 or 9 wins and an Atlantic Division title.


8-4, 2nd in Atlantic Division

Thanks again to Soaring to Glory for their insight.

What are your thoughts on Boston College this year?

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