July 18, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Eagles. Part of ACC Week.
• You are entering a no-run zone. Twelfth consecutive bowl bid notwithstanding, 2010 was Boston College's worst season in more than a decade. But you could still set your watch by Frank Spaziani's defense: The B.C. D held opponents under 21 points per game from the sixth consecutive year, and finished in the top 10 against the run for the fourth time in the same span — and did it without producing a single defensive draft pick among seven departing senior starters.
That will change in the next year or two, when tackle machine linebacker Luke Kuechly finally makes every single tackle over the course of an entire game — his high last year was a mere 21 stops against Duke, tied for the best single-game total by anyone on the season — and decides it's time to fulfill his destiny as a likely first-rounder. Altogether, Kuechly led the nation with a truly absurd 183 total tackles after finishing second nationally in 2009, doubling up the No. 2 tackler on the team both years.
• OK, let's try that one again, kids. As good as the defense was, the offense was every bit as bad, crash-landing at the bottom of the conference in both yards and points per game in spite of the presence of the best running back in the conference, Montel Harris. Excluding warmup wins over Weber State and Kent State in the first two games, the Eagles failed to reach 24 points again all year.
That was due mainly to an inexperienced, turnover-prone trio of quarterbacks stuck throwing to an inexperienced, pedestrian group of receivers — by the end of the season, the starting quarterback (Chase Rettig) and most productive receivers (Bobby Swigert and Alex Amidon) were all true freshmen. Normally, that means dramatic improvement is right around the corner. But Rettig didn't progress much over the course of nine starts, and even with progress he's still catching up to the curve.
• Our surgically repaired spark. The one obvious — yet oft-overlooked — bright spot on offense is Montel Harris, who would already have Derrick Knight's school rushing record if he hadn't blown out his knee with 125 yards to go last November. Harris was healthy enough to suit up in the spring with limited contact, and the trajectory of the young quarterbacks — and of the offense in general — will depend largely on how close Harris can come to his old workhorse routine of roughly 25 touches per game. Other reliable weapons are few and far between.
• Fasten your seat belts. Spaziani signed a two-year extension last December locking him up through 2015, and has another insurance policy if the season takes a southward turn: His athletic director's pride. Spaziani was promoted in January 2009 to replace his boss, Jeff Jagodzinski, who was canned by AD Gene DeFilippo on the heels of back-to-back Atlantic Division titles for having the audacity to interview with the New York Jets. After giving Jagz that the boot, DeFilippo said he was looking for "somebody who really wants to be at Boston College, and who is going to be here for the length of their contract," which he might as well have read directly off one of Spaziani's letters of recommendation.
But DeFilippo also wants to avoid a reputation as a meddler who goes through head coaches like socks. Even after two backwards steps in his first two seasons as head coach, Spaziani seems safe barring a worst-case collapse. Unfortunately, the front-loaded schedule that lent itself to a stark midseason turnaround after a 2-5 start last year is reversed: A stretch run that features trips to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami, a visit from Florida State and dates with Atlantic Division equals Maryland and N.C. State in between is a recipe for coming up short of a bowl game.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.