The rough and tough Boston College Eagles enter the 2014 season with a lot of question marks, but there’s no doubting the respect head coach Steve Addazio deserves after what he’s been left with from the previous regime.
The most notable absence from the 2014 Eagles team is Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams (2,177 rushing yards), who clearly would have won the award if it measured the impact a player has on his individual team. However, BC is also faced with the departures of its starting quarterback, both defensive ends, two linebackers, both offensive tackles and top receiver. This is an obvious concern for a team that is coming off a seven-win season and inherited a glaring lack of depth from ex-coach Frank Spaziani.
QB Chase Rettig is gone, but the Eagles don’t appear to look too much worse for wear thanks to Florida Gators transfer Tyler Murphy, who does not have the same deep-ball ability as his predecessor, but should make up for it as an open-field threat (39 rushes for 248 yards in 2013). Murphy does not have a ton of experience, but did start six games for the Gators in the SEC last season. He will be a fine player given Boston College is not looking to operate through the passing game, anyway.
Replacing Williams would appear to be the biggest issue, but the Eagles will run the ball just fine this season with a collection of backs filling the void. The leading returning rusher, Myles Willis, was very effective in limited time as a true freshman (5.8 yards per carry) and could be a 1,000-yard back in 2014, as he figures to get the most carries in an offense that was born to run under Addazio. Just how many carries he gets, however, will be determined by sophomore Tyler Rouse (125 rushing yards) and the group’s collection of freshman, which is led by four-star recruit Jonathan Hilliman.
The backs will be running behind a line that replaces two starters, but sends out five seniors — including its interior starters, which is very encouraging for a run-heavy offense.
The receiver position, meanwhile, does not appear as promising. The group seemingly features no pass-catcher who can stretch the field, but should at least be able to provide a few reliable players to move the sticks. Senior Bobby Swigert, who returns after missing last season to a knee injury, and UConn Huskies transfer Shakim Phillips, who will be eligible if he completes his degree, look like two solid starters, but are no guarantees, either.
The Eagles have a major rebuilding project ahead on defense, as the only unit returning a solid number of production is a very shaky-looking secondary that finished 120th nationally in passes completed of 10-plus yards. BC’s pass rush was excellent in 2013, but mostly all of that production is gone. There are a couple returning pieces to help put together another aggressive pass rush, however, including Brian Mihalik (27 tackles, six for-a-loss) and x-factor Mehdi Abdesmad, who impressed in early 2013 before he was lost for the season to injury.
Boston College has featured some great linebackers in recent seasons — Luke Kuechly, Mark Herzlich and Jo-Lonn Dunbar to name a few — and leading returning tackler Steven Daniels (88 tackles) could be next up at the weakside spot. Seniors Sean Duggan and Josh Keys look like the likely candidates to man the middle and strongside, respectively.
Boston College’s secondary will be junior and senior-laden, although little of that experience seems beneficial. Despite having a stellar pass rush up front, the Eagles routinely allowed the big play in 2013, which remains a cause for concern with even less experience on the line and at linebacker. Interestingly enough, this group does feature some real playmakers, including corner Manny Asprilla, who proved versatile enough to mix seven tackles for-a-loss with eight passes defended. The top-five tacklers from the unit return, but some younger players may need to be worked in if the upperclassmen continue to struggle.
There is room for cautious optimism for Boston College in 2014, but a second-year drop-off — like Addazio experienced in his previous stop with the Temple Owls — may be inevitable.