The first road and conference game of the year for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons will have a northern twist, as Jim Grobe and his team head to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. This early season tilt could have profound implications for a bowl game for either team by the end of the year. It is crucial for not only the Deacs to get out to a hot start, but also for new head coach Steve Addazio to appease the Boston College faithful as well.
Addazio comes to Boston College by way of Temple University, where he lead the Owls to a 13-10 record in two years. That included a 37-15 win over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, marking the first bowl win at Temple since 1979. He also worked under Urban Meyer at Florida, where he oversaw the offense.
The Eagles are coming off of a 2-10 season, including a 28-14 loss to Wake Forest on November 3rd (also known as the Michael Campanaro game). There is no doubt though, that Eagles players and fans expect to be better and bounce back to respectability.
Fortunately, Coach Addazio will have 16 returning starters from last year's team, but like Presbyterian, is it a good thing when you return that many players from a 2-10 team? Time will tell.
The offense last year for Boston College was extremely pass heavy, but produced only 19.8 PPG, ranking 111th in the nation. New offensive coordinator Ryan Day is a name that Boston College fans are familiar with, as he coached the Eagles WR corps from 2007-2011 before becoming the OC under Addazio at Temple last year. It is notable that he played QB under Chip Kelly at the University of New Hampshire. It will be interesting to see if Addazio and Day will keep up with the rush heavy philosophy, or if they will throw in any quick no-huddle plays that may have been picked up under Kelly. I expect a healthy balance of passing and running to complement one other.
At QB, the Eagles return QB Chase Rettig, who is entering his senior year at The Heights. Rettig threw for over 3k yards, with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on the year. He also threw the ball 467 times. He set the school record for any freshman, sophomore or junior in passing yards, and became just the fourth QB in Boston College history to throw for over 3k yards in a season.
Despite all of those numbers, Rettig finished in 10th the ACC in passing rating, due to his struggles with completion percentage (54.2%), and his low yard per attempt (6.5 YPA). A lot of this was because of poor protection, having to throw the ball a lot to play from behind, and the lack of a consistent WR outside of stud Alex Amidon.
I would expect Rettig to continue to mature, and with the help of a more established running game improve his passing rating by cutting down on INT's and incompletions. He has a good skillset, but has been put in compromising positions the past couple of years that have not been advantageous.
In the running game, the Eagles will without a doubt rely heavily on SR. Andre Williams after the departure of Rolandan Finch in the spring. Williams came on strong his freshman year to help out former BC running back Montel Harris. He gained 461 yards on 95 carries and two TD's, and then followed that up with 517 yards on 124 carries his sophomore year. Last year he managed 584 yards on 130 carries (4 TD's), and will be expected to shoulder the majority of the load this year.
The receiving started and ended with Alex Amidon last year. He caught 78 balls for 1,210 yards, both school records, and came onto the scene as one of the best receivers in the ACC. A feasible second option would have been SR. Johnathan Coleman, but he decided not to return for his fifth season, leaving the second option vacant currently.
That spot could be filled by Spiffy Evans, who demonstrated great speed in special teams. With Amidon and Evans on the field at the same time, it would put a lot of speed on the field for any defense to defend. A lot of ways, the passing game seems similar to Wake Forest heading into this year. Both teams rely heavily on a primary slot receiver (flanker), and are seeking more options to help out.
Overall, the offense should benefit tremendously from experience and a more balanced game plan. There is a lot of talent at the skill positions and the Eagles should move towards where they have been in the past.
On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Addazio is making improvement an immediate priority. The Eagles ranked 100th in total defense at 456 yards per game. It was almost certainly the worst it has been since BC joined the ACC. Some of it is understood, as they lost first round LB Luke Kuechly, after the 2011 season. The talent, at least at some positions is there though.
New defensive coordinator Don Brown was the DC at Maryland from 2009-2010 and was known for bringing a lot of blitzes from many different places. Basically, the defense will have a very new aggressive look to it, and the coaching staff is banking on that wreaking havoc and lowering the numbers from last year. This absolutely has to happen because BC had a disastrously low six sacks total last year.
The linebacking corps will likely be the strength of the defense, with SR's. Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto (who combined for 177 tackles. I feel like Pierre-Louis will have a pretty big senior season for the defense and will propel himself into a top three round draft pick.
The defensive line and secondary are both pretty big questions for BC though.
On the D-Line, the starting defensive ends will be the same two players as last year in Kaleby Ramsey and Kasim Edebali. The bigger problem is at defensive tackle, where both projected starters in Connor Wujciak and Mehdi Abdesmad played at defensive end last season too. They also project to start over DT's that already had experience.
This shows that the staff may be looking at talent and athleticism over just knowing the position. Either way, this front four has to manufacture more pressure on throwing plays to get opposing QB's out of the comfort zone.
The secondary had a pretty bad year, but it is hard to attribute all of that to its own deficiencies because of the aforementioned lack of pressure in the backfield. That tends to lead to longer plays and inevitably open receivers on those passing plays.
Still, opposing teams threw for 62.5% and 2,908 yards. That can't all be on the lack of rush either. The depth chart back there looks pretty much the same as last year, and it is a bit strange that Al Louis-Jean is listed as a backup cornerback to Manny Asprilla, as I thought Louis-Jean was a very good player before his injury last year.
The defense will be very interesting to watch as the season goes on and Addazio gets to know the team better. I would not be surprised at all to see reasonable improvement on the defensive end, but one has to wonder how much better it can get until Addazio gets some of his own players in there over the next few years.
The Eagles seem to be reasonably set at two of the three sectors of special teams. JR. Nate Freese will continue to be the kicker, and Spiffy Evans will return punts and kicks. The punting aspect of it is up for grabs, as Freese is listed as a K/P, but the Eagles also have Alex Howell as a punter as well. I don't have any inside information, but asking Freese to placekick, kickoff and punt would be a pretty hefty task. I would expect for Howell to take over either punting or kicking off.
Both of those will be very important to cover up possible deficiencies on either side of the ball.
There is little doubt in my mind that Boston College will be improved from last year's 2-10 record. Steve Addazio is a very well respected and informed coach, and that will show as the year goes on. He has put great enthusiasm back into the team and the fan base in terms of excitement for the upcoming year.
While improvement is imminent, how much is another question. I think BC could surprise some people offensively, especially if Andre Williams can tote the rock and stay healthy as much as Addazio wants. Offensively, the Eagles need to find a second option at the receiver position (Spiffy).
Defensively there are more questions but I think there will be a bit of improvement there too. A lot will depend on how much pressure the front seven can generate to help out the guys behind them.
The schedule for BC doesn't do it any favorites either. It is ranked 3rd in the ACC and 36th nationally by Phil Steele.
Wake and BC should open up with victories over Presbyterian and Villanova respectively, so that will set up a nice little tilt early on in the season for both fanbases. A road trip to USC and then hosting FSU after a bye week will bring BC back to earth a little bit if they can start out 2-0.
I think 4-5 wins for Boston College is certainly not out of the question. I also believe that Steve Addazio is a guy that can get BC back on track to where the fans expect. This year will be a great building block for the future and I expect The Heights to return to a bowl game in 2014.